In this week’s episode of Dog Cancer Answers, Dr. Demian Dressler answers that common question: how do I know when my dog is dying?
It’s not always obvious, Dr. D makes plain. But there are two signs that he thinks show up consistently, in most cases.
The episode is called Signs a Dog Is Dying: A Vet Reveals What Your Dog May Be Experiencing.
The conversation in this short episode (just over 15 minutes) gets deep on an emotional level. At least, it did for me as a listener.
But it’s not sentimental. While Dr. Dressler quickly lists the physical symptoms you may observe, depending upon the cause of the dying, what he says next is more important.
Dogs seem to isolate and disengage from their family. They also seek to be outside.
Dogs Isolate and Want to Be Outdoors
Dr. Dressler’s explanation for why this is may just be a guess … but it’s an educated one. There are lots of folks who are researching the ways dogs’ brains work. And as Dr. D points out, dogs have been dying for a long time. They have strong instincts around that process.
Personalities matter. We are all individuals as humans, and dogs are all individuals as canines. So one dog may act differently than another dog.
But in the end, they seem to 1) disengage and 2) want to be outdoors.
Dog Lovers Talk About This All the Time
We run a private Facebook group for readers of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. I’ve heard some version of the following story over and over in that group. (Don’t worry, it’s not the only thing we talk about!)
I’m changing the details and leaving out names for privacy, but here’s one version of the story.
“Last night my girl was trying to leave us. She never leaves my side, but last night, she kept getting off the couch and going over to lie by the front door. When I took her out, she didn’t want to come back in. She would have stayed out all night if she could have.”
“He just won’t look at me anymore. It’s so weird. It’s like he doesn’t know who I am. I feel like I’m an intruder in my own house.”
“She just … disappeared! We looked everywhere for her. When we finally found her, she was under a neighbor’s porch. She had passed away. She has never, ever gone in their yard. It’s like she was hiding.”
All of these stories are about dogs who, in the days before they died, disengaged. They didn’t want to play, refused to eat, and barely acknowledged pets.
They were going inward, as Dr. Dressler says in this episode.
They were preparing for the next stage in their life, the one where they transition out of life and go wherever dogs go.
When a Dog Dies, They Leave a Giant Hole In Your Heart
It is really hard for me personally to think about any dog dying. It makes me feel so, so sad. I instantly remember every dog I ever loved, and the way they died.
I feel the unbelievable heartache, the sheer physical pain of the loss. (Yes, grieving causes very real physical pain, and can even cause a heart attack.)
I know I am not alone. Everyone who, like me, thinks of their dogs as members of the family… as friends … feels it.
That’s one of the reasons I really loved today’s episode, called Signs a Dog Is Dying: A Vet Reveals What Your Dog May Be Experiencing.
It makes me feel more connected to my dogs who are alive now to know that when it’s their time, I’ll know it.
You Really Will Know When It’s Time
Sometimes folks doubt their own instincts. They think that their dog wanting to be alone, or be outside, is something to DO something about.
They know on some level that it’s their dog preparing to leave. But they don’t trust that knowledge. Then later they worry that they weren’t present.
So I say, after all these years of working with folks … trust yourself, and your dog. If your dog is acting disengaged, she’s doing so for a reason. If he only wants to be outside, it may be because he feels more connected out there.
Take it seriously, and be present to your dog’s needs.
And if you aren’t? Don’t beat yourself up. Just like there is nothing we can “do” about a human dying, there is nothing that we can do about a dog passing.
We all go on our own timetable, and the actual moment of death is not for someone else to decide. I can tell you that even with euthanasia, there is no one consistent time of death. Some dogs take longer than others, some go quicker than others.
It’s all on their terms.
I hope this podcast episode touches you the way it did me. Here’s the video version. You can also read the transcript on the episode page on the Dog Cancer Answers website.
Feel free to share this article or the podcast itself with your veterinarian and their staff.
Further Reading & References:
Molly Jacobson is a writer and also the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, published by Maui Media. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting readers of this blog since the beginning. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. Her fascination with health is both personal and global, and she is most proud of how this site and the associated publications have revolutionized not only our approach to dog health, but our own health.