It’s an awful day in any household that includes a dog. The day the dog passes away.

There is so much pain and grief that overwhelms the members of the family upon losing their beloved pet. The only one who seems peaceful about the whole affair is…your dog.

In fact, it seemed like he already knew the end was coming and had accepted it. Maybe he even sought everyone out shortly before, as though he wanted to say goodbye before it was too late.

The stories of a dog's behavior right before their death led many to wonder if dogs know when they are dying. Since we can’t ask them, there is no way to know for sure. But let’s explore the question and discuss ways you can help your dog in their final days.

senior german shepherd dog care

Two End-of-Life Behavior Patterns

There are generally two types of very opposite behavior exhibited by dogs who are about to die. Some dogs will suddenly seek out their owners even at inopportune times. For example, they may wake their owners in the night, begging for affection.

Other dogs withdraw from everyone and go off by themselves. They don’t seem to want to be touched or hugged. They just want to be left alone.

Experts say the former dogs may be seeking out their owners to say goodbye before they go. They may come with renewed energy they haven’t been demonstrating for a few days, but their eyes are sad. Their behavior may seem almost desperate like they have to do this right now because they know that soon they won’t be able to.

The behavior exhibited by dogs who withdraw may be linked to ancestral behavior. If a wolf was sick or slowed by old age, staying with the pack could endanger the rest so they would go off alone to die. Thus, don’t take your dog’s disinterest to heart, he may be protecting you in his own way.

Signs Dogs May Be About to Pass

What are clues you can watch for that your dog may be about to pass? Though your observance of these clues won’t change the inevitable, you can make your dog comfortable in their final moments, as well as ensure the two of you get a proper goodbye.

Watch for the following:

  • Lack of interest in food or water
  • House soiling
  • Lack of interest in playing or socializing
  • Withdrawing or hiding away from the family
  • Restlessness at night
  • Changes in their sleeping habits
  • More time spent lying in one place
  • Increased signs of discomfort and pain, e.g. crying, pacing, panting, etc

All of these signs can be indications of other problems as well, so don’t take this list as a sure sign that your dog is about to die. However, if your dog is already old or sick and these behaviors or changes in these behaviors appear suddenly, your dog may be telling you something.

loving senior golden retriever

How Do Dogs Know the End Is Near?

This brings us back to the question, do dogs know when they are dying? If they do know, how?

More research is needed to know the answer to this question and we may never truly know. After all, we humans still have a lot of questions and unproven theories about our own deaths — and we can talk to one another!

Regardless, researchers have a few theories.

Their Sense of Smell

One possible explanation is the dog’s acute sense of smell. With over 100 million scent receptors (compared to 6 million in humans), dogs can smell between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than people.

How strong is that? Well, dogs can detect a substance in as tiny a concentration as one part per trillion. To put that in perspective, that means they can find one drop of liquid in an amount of water equal to 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

How does this relate to knowing that death is coming?

There are changes in the body’s chemistry that come with illness and death. Cancer markers in skin, urine, and sweat carry a certain odor that dogs seem to be able to detect. In fact, researchers are experimenting with using dogs to detect cancer or other illnesses in people.

From there, it isn’t too far of a jump to assume that dogs can smell changes in their own body chemistry that happen right before the end.

Cognitive Changes/Dysfunction

Another possible explanation for their odd pre-death behavior may simply result from their brain giving out. We’ve seen quite clearly in people that old age sometimes comes with cognitive dysfunction, loss of memory, confusion, and other neurological changes.

Perhaps your dog’s behavior changes happen simply because his brain is changing.

However, there are holes in this theory. For example, brain dysfunction and illnesses don’t affect everyone the same way, so why are dogs’ pre-death behaviors so similar? And it doesn’t seem to matter what illness they suffer from. They all tend to exhibit the same behaviors.

And they seem to happen most strongly right before death. This is what leads many people to believe that the dog knows that death is coming.

A senior labrador dog sitting in a brightly lit home

Helping Your Friend Over the Rainbow Bridge

We wish we could say there was a way to change the inevitable. But, there isn’t. Whether or not you are aware of your dog’s indications that death is near, the end is coming.

But by being aware, you can make your dog’s passing less stressful or painful for him. Perhaps you can even ease your own grief a little. After the fact, you will cherish those final moments you spent together or appreciate that you got to be there, holding your pup’s paw right up until the very end.

Pain Management

As your senior dog ages, they may exhibit pain, limited mobility, and other symptoms. If you notice your pet seems uncomfortable, a visit to the vet is in order.

Your vet can prescribe pain medication, mobility support, or other treatments that will ease your dog’s suffering.


Make sure your pet has a comfortable place to sleep in a spot where they feel relaxed and safe. If you believe the end is near, try to keep the house calm and quiet. Your dog may be feeling anxious and keeping things low-key can help keep him calm.

Be With Your Dog

Try to be with your dog at the end, especially if your dog’s death is planned. Vets indicate that when people choose to leave the room, the dog seems more anxious and is looking around — as though they were looking for their owners. When the owner is present, dogs don’t tend to exhibit this same behavior.

As hard as it is for you, your presence at the end is one last gift you can give to your best friend.

The End of an Amazing Run

Nothing can take away the pain of a dog’s passing. Dogs infiltrate our hearts and souls in ways that sometimes even other people can’t do.

And their time with us is so short. Dogs give us their best every day of their lives. They deserve your love and best even through the last days.