Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying? Science-Backed Facts

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

man hugging a golden retriever

Nothing is much harder to bear than the loss of a pet. Often, we know the score, especially if your dog has been sick for a while. As far as your pup is concerned, it’s safe to say that we can’t tell for sure if it is aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Your vet will likely keep you informed and let you know if you should prepare yourself for the worst. Other times, it may occur suddenly and without warning. Cats are notorious for hiding their pain until they can’t any longer.

On the other hand, dogs often wear their emotions outright. You probably can read your pup’s feelings well. The question you may have is, what is the extent of those emotions? Do dogs know when they are dying?

Divider 5

Signs of an Impending Death

Weight loss, lethargy, and appetite changes are telltale signs that your pet isn’t feeling well. Other symptoms include loss of bladder control, shock, and coma. A dog may breathe heavily and seem to struggle with every gasp. Many pups will try to hide or experience behavior changes. A lot depends on what is causing the symptoms and whether your pooch has the strength to conquer it.

As a pet owner, you probably don’t need anyone to draw you a picture. It’s evident when they lose interest in the things they used to enjoy, such as walks, treats, and toys. The question is whether your dog is conscious of it, too.

hand holding paw
Image Credit: Pixabay

Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying?

A dog will probably know something is up, even if it doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. It’ll feel pain and an instinct to hide when it feels so vulnerable. Nature took care of that task. It’s hard to say exactly what a pup feels as it nears death. We know that canines experience emotions. You can see clear evidence of it when you come home from work.

We also know when our pup feels under the weather. It is crankier than usual. A normally loving dog may snap and growl. It’s essential to remember that you’re seeing displacement and instinct in action. Your pooch isn’t upset with you. It just feels cruddy. Think about how you respond when you’re sick. It’s not much different with your canine friend.

The other thing to bear in mind is that some pets will go in and out of shock as death approaches. They may not even know you’re with them. Animals in this state aren’t conscious of anything and won’t know that death is near.

What Do Dogs Do When They Are About to Die?

Most of the evidence we have is anecdotal. Remember that these accounts come from pet owners who are in tune with their dogs. They will likely notice when something is wrong before a stranger would. Therein lies the question of whether a dog knows it’s dying. People may interpret a pup’s actions differently than someone looking at the situation out of the loop.

The other problem is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to view the question from a scientific point of view objectively. Every scenario is different, even with pets suffering from the same conditions. With a means to evaluate it statistically, science can’t draw any firm conclusions no matter how emphatic the anecdotes are.

Animals understand death. Researchers have confirmed that elephants mourn losses. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that pets can grieve when their owners pass. Whether that translates into their demise is not well understood. What’s clear is that there are similarities between human and canine brains. The capacity to grasp what’s going on may exist.

sad dachshund and owner
Image Credit: Light Studio, Shutterstock

Reading Your Emotions

The other thing to remember is that feelings are a two-way street. Your pet can read your emotions as well as you can interpret theirs. Therefore, entirely plausible that your dog is following your lead and responding to what’s going on with you. If your pup has a chronic health condition, you’ll likely show it in your emotions and the attention you give your dog.

If you’re sad, your pup will probably mirror those feelings. What you’re seeing isn’t its acknowledgment of its impending demise but your reaction to it. One of the most amazing things about dogs is how sympathetic they are to what you feel. As you grieve thinking of the imminent loss, so does your pet experience what’s going on inside of you.

After all, we call them our best friends for a good reason.

Divider 5

Final Thoughts

Dogs have earned a special place in our lives and hearts through all the years of domestication. The ironic thing is that they support us even in their deaths. We don’t know for sure if they know their fate. However, one thing is sure—they will try to comfort you even during these challenging times.

Featured Image Credit by: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database