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How Do I Know If My Dog Is Dying or Just Sick? - PawSafe

How Do I Know If My Dog Is Dying or Just Sick?

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

how to know if dog is dying or just sick

We all dread the thought of losing our beloved pets, so when our dogs get sick it’s easy to panic and wonder if our dog is just sick or if they are dying. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, especially if you’re not familiar with the signs and symptoms. In this article, we will discuss how to know if your dog is dying or just sick.

Of course, there’s plenty we can do to keep our dogs alive and well, from investing in a secure dog seatbelt while traveling to making sure they are safe, to investing in pet multivitamins to keep our fur babies healthy. Regardless, sooner or later dogs will get sick or injured, and it’s vital to know how serious the situation is.

The first thing to keep in mind is that dogs are very good at hiding their pain and discomfort. This is a survival instinct that they have developed over thousands of years. As a result, it can be challenging to tell if your dog is sick or dying until it’s too late and you often need to enlist your vet for a quality of life assessment when you have a sick dog. However, there are some signs that can help you tell if your dog is sick or dying.

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One of the most obvious signs that your dog may be dying is a lack of appetite. If your dog is refusing to eat anything, even their favorite treats, this could be a sign that they are in the final stages of their illness. Other signs to look out for include lethargy, difficulty breathing, and a lack of interest in their surroundings.

On the other hand, if your dog is simply sick, they may still have some appetite and energy. They may be lethargic, but they may still show some interest in their surroundings and may even be willing to eat a treat or two even if they won’t eat their dinner. Of course, not every illness is serious, and you can often treat conditions like a cold at home.

Note: Many illnesses that can lead to death start off with mild symptoms like not eating, like parvovirus. This is why it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as you notice any signs of illness in your dog. Catching an illness early when the symptoms are mild is the best way to prevent it from progressing to a more serious or deadly condition.

If you’re unsure whether your dog is simply sick or if they are in the process of dying, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary care. Your vet can help you determine the severity of your dog’s condition and provide you with the best course of treatment.

If you clicked on this article, chances are, you’re concerned about your four-legged family member. You’re probably observing some behaviors or symptoms that are making you uneasy. Trust me, I get it. The well-being of our fur babies is crucial to us, and we’d do anything to ensure they’re okay.

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13 Signs A Dog May Be Dying, Not Just Sick

Sometimes, despite all the love and care we give them, our pets reach a point where their bodies tell us they’re nearing the end. It’s a heartbreaking reality that no one wants to think about, but it’s crucial to know what signs to look for. So let’s look at the signs a dog may be dying.

1. Eye Changes

First off, if you notice that your dog’s eyes are looking dull, cloudy, or vacant, it’s a significant indicator that something isn’t right. The pupils may be dilated or not respond to light. Eyes are the windows to the soul, they say, and if those windows seem foggy or shut, you should be concerned.

2. Loss of Appetite & Anorexia

Next up is the dinner bowl scenario. Is Fido ignoring his kibble and won’t be persuaded by their favorite snack? Refusing to eat can be a huge red flag. Dogs live for mealtime, so when they start ignoring their food, it’s usually a sign that they’re not feeling well.

3. Mobility Issues

If your usually energetic pup is collapsing, struggling to stand, or barely moving, you need to take it seriously. These are often signs of extreme weakness and could indicate that your pup is in distress. This includes if your dog is weak and uncoordinated when trying to walk (ataxia).

4. Pale, White, Blue, Or Yellow Gums

Another thing to watch out for is the color of their gums. Pale or white gums can be a sign that your dog is dangerously anemic. Blue-tinted gums means shock or a lack of oxygen in their blood. And, yellow gums can indicate liver disease or failure.

5. Severe Dehydration and Fever

If you’re dealing with a pooch that’s got severe dehydration or a high fever, it’s an immediate red flag. These symptoms are a clear sign that their body is struggling to cope.

To check a dog’s Capillary Refill Time (CRT) as an indicator of hydration, lift the dog’s upper lip and gently press your finger against the gums until they turn white. Release and count how many seconds it takes for the gums to return to their original pink color; it should be 1-2 seconds. A CRT longer than 2 seconds could signify dehydration or other issues. 

To check for a fever, you can use a dog-specific thermometer to measure the dog’s rectal temperature. A normal range is around 99.5-102.5°F; temperatures higher than this may indicate a fever and warrant a visit to the vet. However, if your dog’s head or ears feel unusually hot, it’s usually a sign of a fever.

6. Severe Vomiting, Diarrhea, and Indoor Accidents

Extreme vomiting (especially if you’re seeing blood in the vomit), diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea, but yellow or green poop is also a bad sign) or indoor soiling are signs you can’t ignore. Your dog’s digestive system is telling you something is wrong.

7. Breathing Difficulties

Pay close attention to your pup’s breathing. If they’re having labored or difficulty breathing, it’s time to take action.

8. Ascites and Odor

Ascites (that’s fluid build-up in the abdomen) and a foul smell emanating from your dog are also signals that things are awry. The odor is sometimes sickly sweet, or metallic. But it is a very distinct scent that you would not have smelled on your before.

9. Seizures and More

If you notice seizures, collapsing, foaming at the mouth, or an erratic pulse, get to the vet. Dogs may also become disorientated, weak, or have trouble walking, such as stumbling or walking in circles. These are severe signs that your dog’s health is rapidly deteriorating.

10. Mental and Behavioral Changes

Don’t ignore signs like mental confusion, behavioral changes, hiding, or sudden agitation. If your usually jolly pooch starts acting off, it could mean they’re unwell. Dying dogs will often find one spot to lay down and refuse to move, but on other occasions they may be agitated or struggle to settle (especially if lying down makes breathing harder). You may also see dogs circling or hiding.

11. Swelling and Bloat

Sudden extreme swelling of the face or a bloated stomach is never a good sign. These could indicate an acute medical emergency. Like bloat.

12. Lack of Interest

Lastly, if your normally perky pooch suddenly shows no interest in treats or activities they used to love, it’s a sign their quality of life is deteriorating.

13. Veterinary Prognosis

The best way to know if your dog is sick or dying is to have your vet examine and diagnose your dog. A professional opinion and treatment plan is essential whenever dealing with a sick animal. If your dog is chronically ill, a vet can also perform quality of life tests to help you decide if euthanasia is the best option.

Using The Quality of Life Scale To Know When Your Dog Is Dying

One of the hardest aspects of being a pet parent is figuring out when your dog is suffering and how much. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, and sometimes our love for them can cloud our judgment. To help pet owners make more objective decisions, Dr. Alice Villalobos, a renowned veterinarian in pet hospice care, created the HHHHHMM Scale, sometimes simply called the Quality of Life Scale for pets.

What is the HHHHHMM Scale?

The acronym stands for Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad. Each category is scored on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the best quality of life possible. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Hurt: Is your dog in pain, despite medication?
  • Hunger: Is your pet eating enough? Is hand feeding necessary?
  • Hydration: Is your dog dehydrated?
  • Hygiene: Can your dog keep itself clean? Are there issues like sores or odors?
  • Happiness: Does your dog seem happy and interested in doing things or has he lost interest in life?
  • Mobility: Can your dog move around well enough to satisfy their needs or do they need assistance?
  • More Good Days Than Bad: Self-explanatory, but sometimes hard to judge.

How to Use the Scale

Aim for a score above five in each category. The total score will give you an idea of your dog’s overall quality of life. Remember, this is a tool to help you assess things but it should not replace veterinary advice. Always consult with your vet for the most accurate health information and advice on managing symptoms.

If you find that your pet’s score is dipping, it might be time for a serious conversation with your veterinarian about your dog’s quality of life and possible next steps. Whether it’s additional treatments or even making the painful decision to say goodbye, understanding the quality of life can provide some clarity in a difficult time.

By regularly assessing your dog’s condition using this scale, you can make more informed decisions and potentially catch problems before they become severe, ensuring that you’re doing your best to maintain your furry friend’s quality of life.

Owner Intuition: How You If Your Dog Is Dying Or Their Time Has Come

I can’t stress enough the importance of trusting your gut in these situations. One of the ways we know when we will lose a pet or if they are just sick is simple intuition. 

I had a Neapolitan Mastiff named Hudson — a massive bundle of love who’d been with me for years. Hudson had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, so we knew our time together was limited. One fateful day, he wandered into my room and sat at the end of my bed. His gums were pale, and he was breathing heavily. Sure, those were signs I could have picked up from a vet’s guide, but it was the way he looked at me that stopped me cold.

His eyes had that certain indescribable something. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it was as if he was telling me he was tired and ready to go. It was a look of love, exhaustion, and acceptance all rolled into one. Within half an hour, Hudson had passed away.

That day, my intuition didn’t need any vet’s guidelines or online articles to know what was happening. I just knew. So often, you’ll find that you, as a pet parent who knows your furry family member better than anyone else, will just “know” when the end is near. Don’t ignore that feeling; trust it.

Our beloved pets often have a way of communicating with us beyond words, and sometimes, our intuition is the best tool we have to understand them. If you get that gut feeling, pay attention to it. It’s one of the most heartbreaking realizations you’ll ever come to, but it’s also the most crucial moment for you to be there for your pet, just like they’ve been there for you.

So, if you’re going through this challenging time, my heart goes out to you. Take it one step at a time and consult with your vet. But also trust yourself. You know your dog, and you’ll know when it’s time.

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How do Dogs Act When They are Sick?

If you’re a concerned dog parent, knowing the signs of various canine diseases can be incredibly helpful to help you identify illness or whether your dog’s life is at risk. The symptoms can be broad, overlapping, or subtle, so it’s always best to consult with your vet for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Below is a table to help you get an idea of what to watch out for:

Disease/SyndromeCommon Symptoms
ParvovirusVomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite
ArthritisLimping, stiffness, difficulty standing, yelping when touched
DiabetesExcessive thirst, excessive hunger, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss, lethargy
Cushing’s DiseaseIncreased appetite, excessive thirst, hair loss, pot-bellied appearance
Ear InfectionsHead shaking, scratching at ears, discharge, odor, redness
Skin InfectionsRedness, bumps, itchiness, scabs, hair loss
Allergies & ShockScratching, swollen face, hives, vomiting, difficulty breathing (shock)
Heart Disease & FailureCoughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, pale gums
Liver & GallbladderJaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst
Kidney DiseaseIncreased thirst, frequent urination, vomiting, lethargy
UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)Frequent urination, straining to urinate, blood in urine, crying during urination
CancerLumps, unexplained weight loss, lethargy, difficulty breathing
PoisoningVomiting, diarrhea, seizures, disorientation, difficulty breathing
Internal InjuryLethargy, groaning, avoiding touch, limping
HeartwormCough, lethargy, weight loss, difficulty breathing
Parasitic InfectionsVomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, visible worms in stool
MangeItchy skin, hair loss, redness, scabs
Kennel CoughDry, hacking cough, retching, sneezing, runny nose 
DistemperFever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite
BloatSwollen stomach, restlessness, trying to vomit but can’t, rapid breathing
PancreatitisVomiting, diarrhea, hunched back, abdominal pain
EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency)Weight loss despite normal appetite, greasy stools, diarrhea
Inflammatory Bowel SyndromeChronic diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss
Heat StrokePanting, drooling, red gums, vomiting, collapse
DehydrationSunken eyes, dry gums, lethargy, skin elasticity loss
FeverHigh temperature, lethargy, shivering, loss of appetite
DysplasiaLimping, stiffness, difficulty getting up, reluctance to run or climb stairs
Bite or Sting WoundRedness, swelling, limping, licking or chewing at site (see: spider bites or bed bug bites)
Injury & Broken BonesLimping, yelping, visible deformity, swelling or open wounds : See dogs dislocated hips and broken paws
Epilepsy & Neurological ProblemsSeizures, disorientation, stumbling, tremors
Spinal Cord IssuesWeakness in legs, paralysis, incontinence
Eye DiseasesRedness, discharge, squinting, excessive tearing

What is the Number One Cause of Death in Adult Dogs?

When it comes to the leading cause of death in dogs, cancer takes the top spot. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), almost half of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer at some point in their lives.

There are many different types of cancer that can affect dogs, including lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and mammary gland tumors. Some breeds are more prone to certain types of cancer than others. For example, Golden Retrievers are at a higher risk for developing lymphoma, while large breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards are more likely to develop bone cancer.

Other common causes of death in dogs include old age, organ failure, and infectious diseases. However, cancer remains the number one cause of death in dogs, making it important for pet owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease.

What is the Number One Cause of Death in Puppies?

When it comes to puppies, there are a number of health issues that can arise and cause concern for pet owners. One of the most common questions that pet owners have is what the main cause of death in puppies is trauma and infectious diseases like parvo.

According to the American Kennel Club, the number one cause of death in puppies is infection. Infections can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Puppies are particularly vulnerable to infections because their immune systems are not fully developed.

In addition to infections, other common causes of death in puppies include congenital defects, trauma, and poisoning. Congenital defects are abnormalities that are present at birth and may affect the puppy’s overall health and well-being. Trauma can occur as a result of accidents or other injuries, while poisoning can be caused by ingesting toxic substances.

It is important for pet owners to be aware of the potential health risks that their puppies may face, and to take steps to prevent illness and injury whenever possible. This may include regular visits to the veterinarian, proper nutrition and exercise, and avoiding exposure to potentially harmful substances.

Signs of Advanced Illness In Dogs


One of the most common signs that a dog is seriously ill is lethargy. This is when your dog appears to be extremely tired and has little energy. Lethargy can be caused by a variety of different illnesses, including cancer, kidney failure, liver disease, and heart disease. If your dog is lethargic and is not interested in eating or drinking, it is important to take them to the vet immediately.

Difficulty Standing or Walking

Another sign of advanced illness in dogs is difficulty standing or walking. This can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including arthritis, spinal cord injuries, and neurological disorders. If your dog is having trouble standing or walking, it is important to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Depending on the cause of the problem, your vet may recommend physical therapy, medication, or surgery.

Loss of Interest in Activities

If your dog is no longer interested in activities that they used to enjoy, such as going for walks or playing fetch, it may be a sign that they are seriously ill. This can be caused by a variety of different conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure. If your dog is no longer interested in activities that they used to enjoy, it is important to take them to the vet to find out what is causing the problem.

Remember, if you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is important to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference in your dog’s quality of life and overall health.

Seeking Veterinary Advice On Whether your Dog Is Sick Or Dying

If you suspect your dog is sick or dying, it is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible. Even if your dog is exhibiting only mild symptoms, a veterinarian can help you determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.

Regular Check-Ups

It is recommended that dogs receive regular check-ups with a veterinarian at least once a year. During these check-ups, the veterinarian can perform a physical exam, check vital signs, and perform any necessary tests to ensure that your dog is healthy.

Regular check-ups are also an opportunity for you to discuss any concerns you may have about your dog’s health. Your veterinarian can provide advice on diet, exercise, and other aspects of your dog’s care.

Emergency Situations

If your dog is exhibiting severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or severe bleeding, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. In these situations, time is of the essence, and delaying treatment could result in serious harm or even death.

When seeking veterinary care for an emergency situation, it is important to remain calm and provide as much information as possible about your dog’s symptoms. This will help the veterinarian make an accurate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.

In summary, seeking veterinary advice is crucial if you suspect your dog is sick or dying. Regular check-ups can help identify potential health issues before they become serious, while emergency situations require immediate attention from a veterinarian.

Help! Is My Dog Dead or Unconscious?

When a dog is unresponsive, it can be difficult to determine if they are dead or unconscious. Here are some signs to look for:

Signs of Unconsciousness:

  • Breathing: If your dog is unconscious, they may still be breathing, but it will be shallow and slow.
  • Pulse: Check your dog’s pulse by feeling for a heartbeat. If you can’t feel a pulse, your dog may be unconscious.
  • Response: Try to wake your dog up by calling their name, clapping your hands, or gently touching them. If they don’t respond, they may be unconscious.

Signs of Death:

  • No breathing: If your dog is not breathing, they may be dead.
  • No pulse: If you can’t feel a heartbeat, your dog may be dead.
  • Rigor mortis: After death, a dog’s body will become stiff and difficult to move.
  • No response: If your dog does not respond to any stimuli, they may be dead.

It’s important to note that if you suspect your dog is dead, do not attempt to resuscitate them. Instead, contact your veterinarian or an animal control officer for assistance. If your dog is unconscious, seek veterinary care immediately.

What Happens Right Before Your Dog Dies?

As a pet owner, it is important to be aware of the signs that your dog may be nearing the end of their life. While the specific signs can vary depending on the individual dog and their health condition, there are some common physical and behavioral changes that may occur in the final stages of a dog’s life.

One of the most common signs that a dog is nearing death is a loss of appetite. Dogs may refuse to eat or drink, and may become lethargic or unresponsive. They may also experience difficulty breathing, and may pant or gasp for air.

In addition to physical symptoms, dogs may also exhibit changes in behavior. They may become more withdrawn or less responsive to their owners, and may spend more time sleeping or lying down. They may also experience confusion or disorientation, and may have difficulty standing or walking.

As a dog’s condition worsens, they may also experience seizures or convulsions, and may lose control of their bladder or bowels. In some cases, dogs may also experience pain or discomfort, and may vocalize or cry out.

It is important to note that not all dogs will exhibit all of these symptoms, and some dogs may exhibit additional or different signs depending on their individual health condition. If you suspect that your dog may be nearing the end of their life, it is important to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

What Happens if My Dog Passes Away at Home at Night?

Losing a pet is never easy, but it can be especially difficult if your dog passes away unexpectedly at home during the night. Here are some things to keep in mind if this happens:

  • First, try not to panic. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and upset, but it’s important to stay as calm as possible.
  • If your dog has passed away, you may want to consider contacting a veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital. They can provide guidance on what to do next and help you make arrangements for your pet.
  • If you decide to wait until morning to contact a veterinarian, make sure to keep your dog’s body in a cool, dry place. You can wrap your pet in a blanket or towel and place them in a cardboard box until you can make arrangements.
  • It’s important to remember that your dog’s body may begin to stiffen and decompose within a few hours of passing away. This is a natural process, but it can be difficult to witness. If you’re not comfortable handling your pet’s body, it’s okay to wait until a professional can assist you.
  • You may also want to consider reaching out to a pet cremation service or burial service. They can provide guidance on how to properly handle your pet’s remains and help you make arrangements for a final resting place.

Losing a pet is never easy, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Reach out to friends, family, or a support group if you need help coping with your loss.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the physical signs of impending death in dogs?

When a dog is nearing the end of their life, they may exhibit physical signs such as difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, lethargy, and incontinence. Additionally, their gums may appear pale or white, and their heartbeat may become irregular or weak.

How do you know when a dog is about to die?

A dog may display a number of behavioral and physical signs that they are nearing the end of their life. Some common signs include loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and incontinence. Additionally, they may become more withdrawn or less responsive to their surroundings.

Do dogs pass away in their sleep?

While it is possible for a dog to pass away in their sleep, it is not always the case. Some dogs may pass away suddenly, while others may exhibit signs of illness or decline over a period of time.

How to comfort a dying dog?

If your dog is nearing the end of their life, there are several things you can do to help comfort them. Providing a comfortable and familiar environment, offering gentle physical touch, and spending quality time with your dog can all help to ease their discomfort and provide comfort in their final days. Additionally, working with your veterinarian to manage any pain or discomfort your dog may be experiencing can also help to provide relief.


In conclusion, it can be difficult to determine whether a dog is dying or just sick. However, by observing their behavior, monitoring their symptoms, and seeking veterinary care when necessary, pet owners can make informed decisions about their dog’s health.

It is important to remember that every dog is unique and may exhibit different signs of illness. Therefore, pet owners should always trust their instincts and seek professional advice when they suspect that their dog may be ill.

Additionally, providing proper nutrition, exercise, and preventative care can help to keep dogs healthy and prevent illness. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian can also help to catch any potential health issues before they become serious.

By being attentive and proactive about their dog’s health, pet owners can help to ensure that their furry friends live long and happy lives.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.