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Do senior dogs sense when the end is near? Here’s what experts say

No one wants to think about their dog’s final moments, but it’s an inevitable part of life that every dog owner will have to face. Hopefully, though, knowing what to expect can replace some of the fear and uncertainly with a sense of peace. Thinking through this life transition may be emotionally taxing, but asking the important questions (such as, do dogs know they’re dying? Do dogs fear death?) can make the process as easy as possible for everyone.

Take a deep breath, give your dog a little pet, and scroll on if you’re feeling ready to learn about this important — yet difficult — time. We’ll let you know how to care for your senior dog, how your veterinarian will be helpful during this time, and what to expect as your dog’s final moments draw near.

Do dogs fear dying?

We know how scary this question can be, but Dr. Ann Brandenburg-Schroeder hopes to provide some serenity for pet parents going through a difficult time. After experiencing the peaceful passing of her own beloved dogs, she found her calling to provide an at-home euthanasia service to give that gift to other pets. On her website, Beside Still Water, she assures owners,  “Animals know when they are dying. They are not afraid of death, at least not in the sense that we people are. Nearing death, they come to a place of acceptance and try to communicate that to us.”

Keep on reading if you’re ready to learn how exactly a dog may communicate that they’re ready to pass on.

An elderly golden retriever stands outside in the sunshine

What do dogs do when they are about to die?

Since dogs who are approaching death are often aware and ready, they may begin to act differently in their last moments. Before you read too much into these signs, though, know that many of them can appear due to other, much more minor causes. If you’re feeling unsure, please don’t hesitate to enlist the help of your veterinarian.

Dr. Ann Brandenburg-Schroeder lists the following as common clues that a dog is ready to cross the rainbow bridge:

  • disinterest in attention or interaction
  • lack of eating or drinking
  • disinterest in favorite activities
  • incontinence
  • hiding or wanting to be alone
  • limitations from pain

Of course, no one knows your pet as well as you do. Her warning signs may differ from those on this list, or they may be exactly the same. Your trusted veterinarian will always be there to help you interpret any new behaviors from your dog, so don’t hesitate to give them a call.

A portrait of a senior Rhodesian Ridgeback dog looking to the side.

How do you comfort a dying dog?

As a dog reaches his final days, there are many ways you can keep him comfortable and content. Senior dog care isn’t always difficult, especially once you’ve done some research. Regaining some sense of normalcy may be comforting to your dog as well, but it may also help to keep in mind what symptoms your buddy has been battling if you don’t know where to start.

Pain management can take the form of mediation, mobility support, or a number of different therapies — your vet will likely recommend something based on your dog’s symptoms. If you’re able to keep your buddy hydrated, even a little bit, this will also be of huge comfort to her. Once that is taken care of, you can try your best to give your four-legged friend some fun and loving final moments.

If your pet’s passing is planned, there are a few additional ways you can comfort him as the moment approaches. Hillcrest Veterinary Clinic posted a message from one of their veterinarians that went viral in 2018 encouraging pet parents to stay with their fur babies until the process is complete. The heartbreaking post explained how pets often look around for their owners in their last moments when their humans choose not to remain in the room. Instead, offering love and comfort until their passing can be a more peaceful experience for everyone, especially your dog.

Whatever you’re feeling during this difficult time is totally okay. Just as no two dogs experience the end of life the same way, no two pet parents cope the same way. As long as you’re able to be there for your beloved furry friend, you’re doing just fine.

Remember to take advantage of your veterinarian’s support during this time, too. You can ask as many questions as you need to, and you don’t have to make difficult decisions on your own. This way, you can focus all of your attention on showering your best buddy with as much love as possible.

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