The 15 Ways to Prepare for Last Days of Your Dying Dog

Sooner or later, aware or unaware, you will spend your last days with your dying dog.

This is a painful topic none of us dog owners really want to talk about.

Losing a pet is sometimes harder than losing a human loved one.

As Certified Pet Loss Counselor Leigh Ann Gerk brilliantly puts it:

Human relationships can often be problematic and difficult; they take work. The relationships we have with our pets are so SIMPLE. They are always happy to see us when we get home, they forgive easily, and they love us with pure, unconditional love… What a beautiful gift to be understood without words! They love us the way we need to be loved.

Scientists have explained that grieving over a pet's death is enough to cause depression and emotional distress to dog owners.

But preparing for this in advance can help condition our brains into thinking that our dogs are finally at peace.

It's very difficult and challenging, especially if you have regrets.

Trust me; I know.

Early this year, my baby Lucky crossed over the rainbow bridge.

My dog Lucky
My mixed-breed dog Lucky

It's difficult to move on when he's been a part of my life for only 3 short years.

But he got sick when I gave birth to my son.

He stopped eating and socializing. He won't even come when I call his name.

I knew then what was about to happen.

Looking back, I feel like I could've done more to bond with him and make our last memories together more memorable.

But it is what it is.

I want to draw from my personal experience and help you, fellow pet guardian, to learn how to say goodbye before your pooch closes this final chapter in his life.

This will also be an opportunity for you to slowly accept what's to come and gradually become ready to move on.

But before we get to that, first, let's discuss signs that your dog may be nearing his last farewell.

RELATED: The Rainbow Bridge – What to Do When Your Dog Dies?

The 15 Ways to Prepare for Last Days of Your Dying Dog

6 Signs Your Dog Is Near His Last Days

My Lucky was sickly. Vet visits are a regular thing for us.

If your dog is the same, or he's a senior dog who's seen better days, then saying goodbye to him may have crossed your mind even before it happened.

But before jumping to conclusions, there are tell-tale signs you can look out for.

These indicate that your furry loved one might be close to passing away.

1. Failing Bowel Control

As your dogs grow older, they will frequently experience problems related to their bowel movement.

It is usually due to the poor functioning of their digestive tract, particularly the intestines.

Sometimes, your dog may have reservoir incontinence.

This means their rectum fails to hold stool, causing them to defecate quickly.

It happens especially when they're weak and lying down.

The pressure will cause their bowels to act up and involuntarily defecate.

As pet parents, if there are times that your dog soils his bed, understand that he cannot voluntarily control his body anymore.

This and the next thing we'll discuss will be a regular occurrence, so expect you'll need to clean them up every time.

2. Loss of Bladder Control

Urinary incontinence is common when a dog is nearing its last chapter.

Your dogs lose control of where and when they urinate.

You'll probably notice that his urine drips from behind without him really stopping to pee.

The skin around his genitals will also look red and swollen because of irritations.

Cleaning him will be extra difficult, especially because of this next sign.

3. Lethargy

You'll see your dog lethargic all the time.

It's as if he's extremely fatigued.

Trying to give him a bath or even just wiping him down will be difficult.

His body temperature also rapidly changes, and he won't move around like he used to because of his weakening muscles.

You'll also find him sleeping more often, and he always wants to be alone.

4. Poor Appetite

Your dog's weakness and appetite changes indicate they might be highly ill or, worse, experiencing a life-and-death situation.

They will either avoid eating or would only want to eat certain foods that they like.

I remember with Lucky, I couldn't even get him to drink water.

I also tried hand-feeding him his favorite food (boiled chicken liver and gizzard) to no avail.

Not only does he lose his appetite, but his general interest in things.

5. Loss of Interest

As dogs reach a certain period where they feel weak and immobile, your furry friend will also lose interest in several things they used to enjoy before.

My Lucky loved playing with his rope toy.

He loved his treats. He loved curling in my lap or just lying near where I was.

But weeks before he passed, he stopped doing these things altogether.

If your dog loses his interest, too, it only means he's trying to hold on to his energy left.

6. Labored Breathing

When dogs are dying, they get odd breathing patterns that indicate they aren't breathing well.

Along with this symptom, they might also experience a quickened heart pace due to palpitations and lung pressure.

The more signs you see your dog experience, the more likely he will pass away soon.

Prepare for Dogs Last Days

15 Ways to Spend Last Days With A Dying Dog (and Deal with Grief)

The end of life is no joke.

But all we can do is look at it with rose-colored glasses and look at it in a positive light.

Your pet lived! He made a difference in your life, as I'm sure you made a difference in his.

So celebrate it with happiness because your dog wouldn't want to leave the world sad.

Below are 15 ways and suggestions to spend your time well and celebrate the end of your pet's life.

1. Measure the Cost of Medical Interventions and Tests

Love can't be measured, but when a dog suffers from an illness or old age, you must consider certain costs before making medical decisions.

A treatment or test might be available, but it might not be worth it.

No, I'm not talking about money.

I'm referring to the emotional and physical costs to you and your dog.

You might be able to get more time or more knowledge, but if it doesn't add to the quality of your lives together, you might regret it.

2. Do the Quality of Life Check-List

There's something called the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale for dying dogs. This will help you judge the quality of your dog's life by evaluating the following:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

This is what pet owners casually call “When to Put Down Your Dog Checklist.”

So think about ways to improve these issues for your dog, and ask your vet for advice:

  • How much pain is your dog in?
  • Can the dog breathe normally?
  • Can the dog see and hear normally?
  • Are hygiene and grooming needs being met?
  • Is the dog able to perform its favorite activities?
  • How much control does the dog have over its body and mobility?
  • Is the dog able to eat and drink normally?
  • Does the dog seem comfortable and content?
  • Are you both able to sleep? Is the dog sleeping all the time?
  • Is the dog able to socialize normally, or are they isolating themselves? Are they visibly anxious or depressed?
  • Is the dog able to think, communicate, and behave normally, or do they seem disoriented, confused, or stressed?

Answering these questions will help you make a decision that's best for your pet.

3. More Compassion and Understanding

We've already discussed the signs and changes your dog will experience if he's near the end.

This includes incontinence, where it'll be difficult for him to hold off his urine and stool.

Understand that this also brings humiliation to him.

It can be difficult and shameful for a dog to lose the ability to control his bladder and bowels or throw up.

He's probably expecting some punishment for “misbehaving.”

Be gentle and compassionate when you explain to your dog that it's okay and a natural part of what's happening to their old or ill body.

Please do what you can to make your dog comfortable.

Covering furniture, use dog diapers and pee pads.

Just don't let your pet hide alone with a feeling of guilt during their last days of life.

Our Beloved Pets Never Really Leave Us

4. Help Your Dog Say Goodbye, Too

It's easy to focus on the human side of things, but this isn't just happening to you and the two-legged family members.

Your dog probably knew something was wrong before you did.

Even if that isn't the case, your puppy is sensitive to your emotions and feelings.

You don't want your dog to think it's their fault that you're sad because they did something wrong.

Any pet lover knows how much animals can understand.

Talk to your Fido, and let them know it's okay to let go. Tell your pet what will happen, and they will always be in your heart.

5. Live Together in Those Last Days

When you know the end, make the most of the time you have left together.

Use it to celebrate your bond.

This was my number one regret with Lucky.

I was still recovering from a C-section surgery, so I had him and my other dog stay at my parent's place.

I try to visit every day, though.

But looking back, it wasn't really enough to spend our last days together.

So if you can, make time to live together with your dog.

Don't make their passing away the highlight of your days.

Do what you and your pet's favorite things together.

Spoil him a little and make plenty of new memories for the future—something to carry with you that's not just about his death.

Better yet, you can do the next suggestion we have for your dog and your family.

6. List the Final Things You Want to Do with Your Dog

Create a family bucket list.

Let everyone in your family, and even your friends who love your dog, brainstorm a list of final things to do together before saying goodbye to a dog.

Here are some ideas of the things to do with your dog before they die:

  • Visit a favorite place together one last time
  • Give your dog treats or favorite foods, and spoil your pup
  • Surround the dog with favorite toys
  • Do a cherished activity together or cuddle
  • Make an exceptional bed to help ease your dog's last days
  • Take photos or spend some time looking at pictures of the good old days together and reminisce with your pet
  • Comfort yourself by creating a relaxing atmosphere, playing music, lighting candles, or whatever helps you personally deal with the situation
  • Remove unneeded distractions like the telephone, TV, and the Internet
  • Create a paw print ornament (or get creative with a nose print!)
  • Have a simple DIY photoshoot
  • Save up some fur or nails as a keepsake

7. Use Rituals for Comfort and Plan Ahead

It might be difficult and uncomfortable to discuss, but decisions are needed to decide your dog's final arrangements.

Do you prefer to bury your dog or cremate him?

If you are religious, incorporating your beliefs into these final days might be helpful too.

There are pet funeral homes and cemeteries, or you might want to look into cremating your dog.

But for Lucky, I chose aquamation.

I believe this is a gentler way to say goodbye to him, as they use water instead of fire.

Lucky in his final viewing
Lucky in his final viewing

We had a final viewing for Lucky before he went into the aquamation process.

Funerals can help everyone in the family process their grief.

If you choose to bury your dog so you have a place to visit your pet in the future, you will need a different set of arrangements, so plan for that.

You may want to get a pet memorial stone and/or bury the dog in a special casket.

For Lucky, I chose to put his remains in a ceramic jar. I also asked for a box with his photo, paw print, teeth, and fur.

This way, I can still introduce him to my son when he grows up.

Lucky's remains and box memorabilia
Lucky's remains and box memorabilia

This might be a little too much for you as you're still trying to process things in your head.

I understand that.

But having someone (it doesn't have to be you) plan ahead what you will do once the day comes will make things much easier to deal with later on.

8. Learn About Euthanasia and Hospice

The last days of a pet will be some of the most challenging things a dog owner has to go through.

Sometimes, you'll just find yourself praying for them to pass away peacefully.

Their pain ends, and they don't have to make difficult decisions anymore.

Sometimes, however, the only thing we can do is ease our canine companions' passing and end the dog's pain.

Ask if the vet makes home visits for euthanasia or if hospice care is an option, so the dog can pass away naturally but still be pain-free.

Remind everyone, especially yourself, that this could be your final act of love for your dog.

Learn About Dog Euthanasia and Hospice

9. Explain Things Carefully to Younger Children

This was a small silver lining on my part, as my son was only a month old when Lucky died.

But if you have small children who have grown close to your dog, his passing can be even more devastating for them.

It's better to tell them honestly what happened and let them say goodbye in their own way.

Just explain the situation in an age-appropriate way.

Young children often don't fully understand death, so they'll have many questions that you'll probably have to answer repeatedly.

Children's books might help them understand the situation better, and you can read them with your dog.

Some books you may want to look for include:Dog Heaven

Tell your child that it's no one's fault.

The death of any dog is a natural part of life.

Be careful about describing what will happen because children are too impressionable and may take things literally.

For example, if you tell your kids that their dog will have to be put to sleep, it could make them afraid to go to sleep themselves.

Or if you say their pet has to go away, they might think their dog will return.

10. Let Older Children Get Involved

Older children can understand the illness, age, and dying process better.

Allowing them more participation can give older kids a chance for closure.

Let them talk to the vet and ask any medical questions they might have.

Be open and honest about any decisions you make about treatments, tests, or euthanasia of a family dog.

It's unfortunate, but learning how to handle sadness and difficult situations like this is essential to growing up.

11. Deal With Your Shock, Denial, and Grief

You will probably go through several emotions as you say goodbye to your beloved dog, as I had.

The process of grief begins as soon as you hear your pup's diagnosis, not just after your dog dies.

It might not even seem real in the beginning.

Guilt, anger, and depression are everyday things to feel.

You might even start to bargain and look for ways to control what's happening.

These are all understandable and natural emotions to feel.

Honestly, what helped me cope with my dog's passing was lots of crying.

Don't hold back your emotions; let them flow as they should.

Know When to Reach Out

12. Know When to Reach Out

You don't have to deal with all of this by yourself.

Sometimes, the pain and grief over the loss of a pet can be overwhelming to bear by yourself.

You might only feel better when you have someone to talk to.

Ask your veterinarian about local support groups or telephone hotlines.

Tell your family, friends, and those who love you what's going on, including your minister, if you attend church or get grief counseling.

Even going online to talk on dog forums or places like Reddit (/r/dogs and /r/DogAdvice), where you can reach out to other dog owners with experience in pet loss, can help you deal with stress and mental anguish.

There's no shame in asking for help. I know I did.

13. Accept that Some People Around You Won't Understand

Not everyone is lucky enough to experience the kind of bond you have with your dog.

Sometimes, other people say comforting words, but they don't think of animals as actual family members.

Don't let others make you ashamed of your feelings.

Grief over the loss of a dog is genuine and very common, and you should allow yourself to experience those natural emotions and not feel bad about it.

Again, reach out to people who may be more understanding.

14. Realize That Our Loved Ones Never Really Leave Us

It's important to memorialize and celebrate our love for our pets, not just right after they die but for the rest of our lives.

The pain will become less sharp over time, but it's okay to continue missing your dog.

It would be best to focus on when your dog was happy and healthy.

Hold on to your photos and tell the story of each to your kids as I would.

15. Find Your Ways to Cope with Your Dog's Death

Everyone in the family needs the freedom to deal with things in their own way, especially at their own pace.

Here are some things that might help you deal with a dog's death:

  • If you find yourself wanting to talk to your dog again – do it, and don't feel silly about it if that eases your pain of grief;
  • Find a special place for your dog's photo;
  • Make or buy a grave marker or special memorial for your home or garden;
  • Buy your child a stuffed toy that reminds them of their beloved dog;
  • Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays can be tricky—find a way to honor those feelings and incorporate your dog's memory into your celebrations;
  • Talk about your feelings as a family or to a professional;
  • Discuss any decisions about getting a new pet in the future, but don't do anything anyone isn't ready for—don't be pushed into anything by other people, even if they have good intentions.

Prepare for Dogs Last Days

FAQs About the Things To Do With Your Dog Before They Die

Should You Be There During The Euthanization?

The decision is up to you. Some dog owners couldn't bear the sight of losing their beloved pup.

However, your dog will appreciate it if you were there until his last moments.

The vet's clinic (or wherever the procedure is performed) may not be familiar with your dog, leaving him feeling alone and scared.

By speaking or petting your dog, it may reduce any fear and provide a sense of calmness.

But if you can't handle being in the same room, it's nothing to be ashamed of. People react differently to death.

If you can, bring along a family member or friend during the euthanization.

How Much Does It Cost to Put Down a Dog?

Checking the costs will prepare you and may even help you decide on what you want to do for your pooch in his last days and the process after death.

Here are guides to give you an overview of the cost breakdown:

How to Help Children Understand About Your Dog's Death?

Children react differently to death. They may not fully understand the concept. But once they do, it might be very painful for them to process the loss.

You can explain the concept in ways they can understand. Books and educational videos are helpful, too.

Once they have internalized that their dog is gone, be the best support system your kid could have.

Allow them to process their feelings, but also remind them of the good times they had with your pup.

Is It Bad to Get Another Pet After Your Dog Dies?

Take some time to process your grief first. This goes for the entire family.

Give it at least a few months or until you are fully at peace with your loss.

Feel free to get another pet whenever you are ready to start a new relationship with a furry companion.

Spending The Last Days With Your Dog: Before You Go…

Mourning is a critical part of healing.  It is a way to accept the reality of the death and remember the loved one you lost.  It allows you to feel and share the pain of your loss and let others help you.

Leign Ann Gerk, Certified Pet Loss & Grief Counselor

If it is indeed your dog's last days, then I hope this guide was helpful for you and your family.

Although it's a hard time, being able to take your dog home for the last few days of life can be a blessing in disguise.

It gives you time to calm your pet and help him feel loved and appreciated before passing away.

It also allows your dog to spend their last days with the family that he loves.

Life is a gift to everyone, but it is also temporary.

Know that whatever you feel hereon out is normal and that you're not alone.

Your dog's memory will always be with you, as Lucky will always be with me.

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Diana currently lives and works in London, UK and she's been an animal lover and dog owner since she was a child. After graduating high school, she focused on getting her degree in English to become a writer with a focus on animals, pets and dogs.