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Do dogs smell when dying?

Do dogs smell when dying?

Your dog is a member of the family. You share a special bond that is unforgettable. Unfortunately, your dog will likely pass away before you do. Understanding the process of dying, and what you can expect, can make the transition easier for you and your canine companion. 

Nothing will stop the pain you experience when losing your beloved pooch, but you can be with them throughout the process. 

Do dogs smell when dying?

Yes, in many cases, a dog will smell when dying. The exact cause of the odor will depend on what’s going on with your dog’s body. It’s important to know that a bad odor alone doesn’t mean your pooch is dying. 

However, it is a sign of many serious health conditions that become more common at the end of your dog’s life. This occurs because their body is no longer functioning properly. 

Kidney Disease or Failure

The kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from the urine. When a dog develops kidney disease, or their kidneys begin to fail, they cannot function properly. This allows toxins to build up in the blood, particularly urea nitrogen. 

Urea nitrogen has an ammonia odor. If your pooch has kidney failure, you will smell ammonia on their breath, due to the build up in the blood. 


Your dog’s urine can smell for a few reasons. A urinary tract infection can cause your pooch’s urine to smell very strong. It may also smell like infection or rotting flesh. 

At the end of their life, dogs will often drink very little. This leads to dehydration. This will result in very concentrated urine, which will also have a very strong smell. 

Skin Infection 

Skin infections will also cause a bad odor. As your dog’s immune system declines, they are more susceptible to infections, including skin infections. They can cause a foul musty odor. The odor can also be yeasty or fishy, if yeast is the reason for the infection. 

You may also notice patches of hair loss, skin lesions, and discharge from skin lesions. 


When a dog or a person has diabetes, ketones can build up in the blood. These can cause their breath to have a sweet smell. 

Cell Death 

Dead cells will begin to rot. This causes a death odor that can be particularly pungent, or even sickening. Dead cells are often caused by cancer or malignant tumors. Just as dogs can smell cancer in humans, we can smell it on them in some cases.

However, as your furry friend nears the end, their body will begin to fail. This can also cause cells to die, which will cause the odor as well. 

How do dogs behave when they are dying?

Dogs will behave differently than normal when they are dying. Behavioral changes can vary greatly based on your pooch’s condition and personality. However, there are some signs you should watch for.

Withdrawn or Clingy

Some dogs will become withdrawn. They will want to be left alone. They may avoid everyone, including other pets and their owner. 

Other pooches become Velcro dogs. They are seemingly velcroed to their owner. They want to be with you constantly, and may show signs of anxiety when left alone or unattended. 


Depression is also common when a dog is dying. They may lose interest in things they used ot enjoy. Part of this may be a lack of energy. However, there’s also an emotional or psychological component. 

Just like a human experiencing depression, fatigue is only part of the story. They may appear listless, sleep much more than usual, and just stare off into space rather than interacting with their environment. 


Dogs can also become restless near the end of their life. Some dogs become depressed, and seem to have no energy. Other dogs may appear on edge constantly. If they are able, they may pace. 

They may lick themselves constantly. Panting is another sign that your pooch is restless or anxious. They can also become destructive when restless, if they have the physical capability to do so. 

Signs that a dog is dying

It’s the hardest thing about being a dog owner. Eventually, your pooch’s life will come to an end. As hard as it is, knowing the signs can help you navigate the process. 

Pain or Stiffness That Limits Movement 

Changes in mobility can simply indicate old age. However, they can also indicate that your pooch is nearing the end. It typically starts off slowly. They may walk instead of run. They may no longer be able to jump on the couch. They may even show signs of pain, like whining, when moving. 

A decrease in mobility is a natural part of dog aging. However, if they suddenly lose significant mobility, this can be a sign they are nearing the end. 

What You Can Do

If your pooch is struggling with mobility, you can help. Keep essentials like food and water nearby. Purchase steps to help them get on the furniture, if they are allowed. If mobility is severely limited, you may need to use puppy pads for potty breaks, even if they were housetrained. 

Loss of Balance and Motor Control 

In addition to changes in mobility caused by pain or stiffness, as a dog nears the end of their life, they often lose their balance and motor control. They may stumble when walking, and have difficulty keeping their balance. 

They may also experience muscle tremors or loss of bladder control. 

What You Can Do

Keep everything they need close by. Don’t allow them to climb stairs or stand near drop offs. If they lose bladder control, you’ll need to use doggie diapers. 

Doggie Dementia

Technically, this is known as canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD. The symptoms are very similar to those of dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans, which makes it easier to understand what your pooch is going through. 

In the early stages, you may notice small behavioral changes or signs of confusion. They may be irritable or restless. As it progresses, they may forget where things are. They may also forget rules, like housetraining. They may get lost in the house or the yard, because their brain no longer functions properly. 

What You Can Do

Be patient with your dog. Do not scold them for breaking rules or having accidents. It’s not their fault. Give them extra love when they seem upset or confused. Use caution if they are agitated or when waking them from sleep. 

Little Interest in Food and Water 

Dogs will eat and drink instinctively. They know that they must consume food and water to survive. When they are near the end, however, they may stop eating and drinking. This can be because they don’t have the energy or the will to continue. 

They may also lose their swallow reflex. When water or food touches your dog’s tongue, they should swallow automatically. If they lose this reflex, they are very close to dying. 

What You Can Do

If your pooch is able to swallow, you can squirt drinks of water into their mouth with a needless syringe. Only squirt a small amount at one time. Feeding wet food or using enticing food toppers can help entice them to eat. 

Lethargy or Fatigue 

As your dog’s body begins to fail, they will have much less energy. They may seem exhausted all the time. A simple walk to the water bowl can leave them feeling tired. They may sleep much more than usual as well. 

What You Can Do 

Keep their food and water nearby. Let them rest as much as they need to. Give them a comfortable place to rest. A doggie bed is a great option. It’s accessible and comfortable for them. 

Lack of Temperature Regulation 

As your dog’s body begins to fail, they will lose the ability to regulate their temperature. They will be unable to keep themselves warm or cool as well as they did before. 

What to Do

If your pooch can’t regulate their temperature, you’ll need to monitor the environment. Keep them away from extreme outdoor temperatures. You may need to adjust your thermostat slightly as well. 

If they are hot, give them a fan to help keep them cool. If they are cold, a warm blanket can help. 

Labored or Abnormal Breathing

Labored breathing can be a sign of respiratory infection or failure. However, it can also occur because your pooch’s body is beginning to fail. Breathing is controlled by the nervous system. If the nervous system isn’t functioning properly, you may notice abnormal breathing. 

Signs of breathing difficulty include wheezing, gasping, and stomach moving up and down as they breathe. You may also notice their breathing rate fluctuates, speeding up and slowing down. They may breathe with their mouth open, or stretch their head and neck to open their airway. 

Near the end, your pooch may stop breathing for a moment and then begin breathing again.  

What You Can Do

If your pooch is having severe breathing difficulty or stopping breathing, this is life-threatening. You may choose to seek emergency veterinary care. Depending on your dog’s health and condition, you may also choose to allow things to take their natural course. 


Seizures are another sign that your pooch is nearing the end. They can occur due to nervous system or brain dysfunction. Brain abnormalities and metabolic imbalances can trigger seizures. 

Symptoms of seizures include uncontrolled movements or tremors, loss of consciousness, and collapse. 

What to Do

Your canine companion’s seizures may or may not respond to treatment. It’s best to speak with your veterinarian if your dog has a seizure. When the seizure is occurring, move your pooch away from anything that could cause injury if they thrash around. 

Do not put your hand in or near their mouth. Video the seizure if possible, so your vet can see exactly what occured. Once the incident is over, call your vet.