Pets are such an important part of the family that letting go can be incredibly painful. Many families face the impossible choice of putting a beloved pet to sleep or allowing it to die naturally. While putting a dog to sleep is faster and more painless, it could rob you of precious time with your pet.
If you are planning to let your dog die naturally at home, here is everything you need to know. This is how long you can expect to have with your dog and some typical dog behavior before death to expect.
What Is a Dog’s Life Expectancy?
Unless something tragic happens, such as an accident or sudden illness, you can expect to have many long years with your dog. The average small dog can live for up to 15 years, while larger breeds have a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years. Different breeds also have different life expectancies, depending on any genetic conditions associated with that breed.
Scientists are still trying to discover why larger dogs have a lower life expectancy than smaller breeds, as that is not a universal rule in the animal kingdom. One common theory is that large dogs grow very fast as puppies, and that influx of growth hormones leads to a faster spread of degenerative conditions later in life.
Keeping your dog’s life expectancy in mind can help you be ready for when it might be time to start letting go. When you know that your dog is getting on in years, keep a close eye on how it behaves so that you can catch any illnesses in time. Staying aware can help you extend your dog’s life expectancy and ease its passing when it is time.
Signs of Aging and Illness
Every dog ages differently. Some stay sprightly until the very end, while others slow down and show signs of illness. Here are some common signs of illness that could signal that your dog needs to visit the vet—and that you should start thinking about making arrangements for your dog’s eventual passing.
Difficulty getting around is one of the most common signs of aging for older dogs. Your dog may not be able to go for long walks, climb stairs, or jump anymore. While this could just be an ordinary sign of aging, sometimes it is a symptom of a degenerative disease such as arthritis. Arthritis can cause your dog lots of pain if not managed properly.
Lumps Under its Fur
Older dogs have a 50% chance of developing cancer, which is the leading cause of death for senior canines. However, if you catch it in time, then you don’t have to think about your dog dying just yet. Pay attention to any lumps under your dog’s skin. Although most are just fatty deposits, some could be tumors or signs of lymphoma.
You may also notice your dog’s personality changing as it gets older, not just its physical strength. Older dogs may become more forgetful and disoriented, often forgetting even basic training (including house training). Your dog may become more anxious, snappy, and afraid.
A dog that is showing signs of aging can still live for many years. However, understanding that your pet’s body and mind are changing can help you adjust your care and expectations to meet its needs. It can also help you mentally prepare for eventually letting go.
How Long Does It Take a Dog to Die?
Once you get a terminal diagnosis from your veterinarian, that means that you should be ready for your dog to die. There is no straight answer to how long does it take for a dog to die naturally. Some dogs die after a few hours, while others fight on for days and even weeks.
Before deciding to give your dog a natural death, you should be ready to accept that the process of dying might take a long time. It may also be painful for you to witness because dying is not pretty, whether it happens to pets or humans.
Many dogs experience difficulty breathing and even seizures as they are dying. The animals are also conscious of what is happening to them and they may show signs of fear and anxiety as they are dying. You must be ready because there is only so much that you can do to ease your dog’s pain until it dies on its own, and steel yourself to be there even as your pet is suffering.
Signs That Your Dog Is Dying
Here are a few changes in dog behavior before death to look out for that can help you recognize that your dog is dying soon. Many dying dogs go through stages as their condition deteriorates. These stages can help you gauge how close to the end your beloved pet actually is. However, not all dogs die in the same way, so your pet may show different signs.
Refusal of Food and Water
Weeks before the end, your dog may already start refusing food or being pickier than usual. Lack of appetite and weight loss is a common sign of pain in dogs. Hours and even days before death, your dog may refuse food and water altogether. Its body is shutting down and no longer needs fuel.
This means that you will also notice drastic weight loss and signs of dehydration as your dog dies. Signs of dehydration include dry skin and paler skin and gums.
Loss of Control
As they die, our beloved pets start to lose control of their body, the same as humans do. No matter how well house trained your dog was before, expect accidents to happen as it is dying. Many dogs urinate in the final moments before dying, while others experience diarrhea and vomiting.
Lack of Energy
In the weeks and days leading up to your dog’s death, you may notice a drastic slowdown in their behavior, even compared to their senior levels of activity. Dying dogs do not display interest in any of their usual activities, spending most of their time sleeping. You may notice a lackluster gaze and general lethargy. In the hours and minutes right before dying, your dog may start to slip in and out of consciousness.
One of the most jarring signs of death for dog owners is twitching and muscle spasms, which are common in the hours and minutes before death. As your dog loses control over its muscles and reflexes, its body will move involuntarily. It may even experience seizures. Usually your pet is too far gone to experience pain at this point, but it may still be difficult for you to observe.
In the weeks and days leading up to death, your dog may have difficulty breathing. In the moments right before passing, its breathing will progressively slow. Sometimes, even an entire minute may go by in between breaths. This is accompanied by a slowing of the heart rate. Eventually, the breathing and heart rate will stop altogether.
Choosing to allow a terminally ill dog to die at home can give you your last precious moments with a beloved pet in a setting that it feels comfortable in. Since dogs can take hours and even days to die naturally, you will buy yourself much more time with your pet.
However, be ready to provide your dog with adequate care in its final moments so that it does not experience pain.