Signs That a Pet May Be Dying

Make a dying pet as comfortable as possible.
i portrait of old husky dog image by sarit saliman from

Losing your beloved pet is one of life’s difficulties. Domesticated pets are part of the family, and most pet lovers are in distress when their pet displays signs that something is wrong. You should recognize telltale signs of a dying pet to make the process easier for him.

Can Barely Move

Dogs and cats often do not move as well when they get older. Your dog might not be able to jump into the car or go upstairs anymore; your cat may become less able to climb onto and jump from her favorite perches. This loss of mobility doesn’t mean your pet is dying -- but if your pet can barely move, it might.

Seeks a Quiet Place

Dying pets often seek a place of shelter, almost like a den, when death is near. Animals in the wild do this to protect themselves from other animals who might disturb them and cause them more pain. Notice where your pet spends most of his time. If he has found a hiding place where he typically doesn’t go, he might be in pain and be preparing for death.


As a pet owner, you can probably tell when your pet is happy and when something is wrong. One sign that your pet may be dying is that he is not getting enjoyment from any of the things he always has before. When your aged pet no longer finds eating engaging, when he quits wanting to play and be in your presence. Also note if he stops displaying the usual signs of happiness, such as wagging a tail or purring.


Older pets that may be dying can become incontinent. They might not be able to move from the bed to urinate or defecate in their usual spot. While pooping during sleep or otherwise without moving could mean end of life, it can also be the tradeoff for severe arthritis, which is not life-threatening and can be controlled in numerous ways. Have your incontinent pet sleep on a towel or purchase a sling or a belly band to help him with his bodily functions.

Other Behaviors

A dying pet can act confused and irritated; he might even bite a family member. He might not want to eat anymore and he might stop grooming himself. If you have other pets, they might start picking on him. This happens particularly with dogs when one of the pack members becomes weak.

When to See the Vet

If your pet cannot stand or sit on his own anymore, is in obvious pain when he tries to move and displays other behaviors that are not normal, talk with your veterinarian about what is happening. You might be able to manage the pain at home, or you might want to consider euthanasia — ending your pet’s life painlessly. This personal decision is between you and your vet, who can explain the degree to which your pet is suffering and what, if anything, can be done.


When your pet dies, it often helps your other pets if they can see the body. Cat, dogs and horses often adjust better to the loss this way. If they don’t see the body, they tend to search for their friend and grieve longer, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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