Do Dogs Smell Before They Die? Dog Dying Odor or Something Else

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

I have researched the topic of whether dogs smell before they die and found that it is a surprisingly common question among pet owners.

As a dog owner myself, I understand the emotional pain of losing a beloved pet.

While the thought of our furry friends passing away is difficult to bear, we must learn to recognize the signs of a dog’s decline in health and be prepared for the inevitable.

According to my research, dogs may emit a distinct odor in the days leading up to their death. This odor is caused by changes in the dog’s body chemistry as it begins to shut down. While not all dogs will emit an odor before they pass away, it is a common occurrence and can be a sign that the end is near.

However, you should know that there are other causes of bad odor in dogs, such as dental disease or ear infections, so be sure to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of the odor before jumping to conclusions!

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Dear Dog Owner

What Causes A Dog To Smell Before They Die?

do dogs smell before they die

A dog’s smell before death can be attributed to various factors, usually underlying health issues.

Common causes include:

  1. Kidney Disease or Failure: Ailing kidneys can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body, contributing to an unpleasant odor.
  2. Skin Infections: Infections can cause skin odors, and as a dog’s health declines, they may become more susceptible to skin issues.
  3. Diabetes: Poorly managed diabetes can result in a distinct, sweet-smelling odor.
  4. Urinary Incontinence: Loss of bladder control can lead to urine retention and associated smells.
  5. Cell Death: As the body’s cells break down, it can produce offensive odors.
  6. Anal Sac Issues: Problems with anal glands can lead to discomfort and odor.
  7. Flatulence: Digestive issues or changes in diet may cause increased gas production and odor.

How to Minimize Your Dog’s Smell?

The best thing you can do to minimize your dog’s smell is to keep them clean!

  • Dogs should be brushed regularly as brushing removes dirt, dead skin cells, and anything else trapped in your dog’s fur.
  • If they have knots and “dreadlocks,” these can trap moisture and allow smelly bacteria to grow. Some dogs need more than good brushing.
  • Certain breeds need to visit groomers to help keep their fur short, cut the nails, and clean hard-to-reach places like the ear canals.
  • Dogs should also get a good cleaning from a bath or shower every month or so.
  • If you have a dog with lots of excess skin and skill rolls, make sure to clean in between the rolls often and dry them well.
  • You should also brush your dog’s teeth a few times a week and give them bones or treats to chew on that help reduce tartar build-up. 
  • Regular ear cleaning may also be important for your dog. Dogs with floppy and very hairy ears will need regular cleanings to reduce the build-up of yeast and bacteria.
  • Also, hormone levels and allergies can affect the yeast in a dog’s ears, as well as with dogs that spend a lot of time in the water.

Signs a Dog May Be Dying

Losing a pet is never easy.

However, as responsible pet owners, we need to know the signs that your furry friend may be reaching the end of their life.

1. Behavioral Changes

One of the first signs that your dog may be dying is a behavior change.

A normally active and playful dog may become lethargic, lose interest in their favorite activities, and become less responsive to their surroundings.

They may also become more restless or anxious, and seek out solitude.

2. Physical Symptoms

In addition to behavioral changes, several physical symptoms may indicate that your dog is dying.

These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Incontinence
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Pale gums or tongue
  • Irregular heartbeat

While these symptoms can be caused by a variety of conditions, they may also be indicators that your dog is nearing the end of their life.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to meet with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your pet.

By being aware of the signs of a dying dog, you can provide your furry friend with the care and support they need during this difficult time.

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Quality of Life Scale for Dogs (HHHHHMM Scale)

As a dog owner, it is important to monitor your furry friend’s quality of life, especially in their final days.

One way to do this is by using the HHHHHMM Scale, which stands for Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad.

This is a useful tool that helps assess a dog’s quality of life based on a point system.

Each category is rated on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being the worst and 10 being the best.

A total score of 35 or higher is considered acceptable for a pet’s quality of life.

Here is a breakdown of each category:

  • Hurt: Acceptable levels of pain control, especially the ability to breathe correctly, are a baseline for pain. Many pet owners are unaware that breathing properly is one of the most crucial pain management strategies.
  • Hunger: Is your pet eating enough? If your pet is not receiving adequate nutrition, by hand or force feeding, then a feeding tube should be considered, especially for cats. Malnutrition develops quickly in sick animals if the caregiver is not knowledgeable about pet nutrition.
  • Hydration: Is your animal hydrated? Dehydration can quickly lead to malnutrition and other health problems.
  • Hygiene: Is your pet clean and comfortable? Incontinence, bed sores, and other hygiene issues can lead to infection and discomfort.
  • Happiness: Does your pet still enjoy life? Is your pet interacting with you and other animals? Does your pet still enjoy going for walks or playing?
  • Mobility: Can your pet move around without pain or difficulty? If your pet is having trouble walking or standing, it may be time to consider a mobility aid.
  • More Good Days Than Bad: Are there more good days than bad? This category is subjective, but it is important to consider whether your pet is suffering and if their quality of life is declining.

Dog Dying Process: How Long Can it Take?

As with humans, the dying process in dogs takes place over some time and we need to recognize that the process of dying starts happening well before actual death occurs.

Here is a timeline of what to expect in the months, weeks, and days leading up to a dog’s passing.

  • 3 months before passing: A dog may start to show signs of aging and decreased activity. They may also experience a loss of appetite, weight loss, and decreased interest in their surroundings. It is important to take note of these changes and consult with a veterinarian to ensure your dog is comfortable and receiving appropriate care.
  • 3 weeks before passing: As the dog’s condition worsens, they may become more lethargic and have difficulty standing or walking. They may also experience changes in breathing, such as panting or wheezing, and have difficulty eating or drinking. It is important to monitor your dog’s condition closely and provide them with comfort and support during this time.
  • Days before passing: In the days leading up to a dog’s passing, they may experience a change in behavior, such as becoming more withdrawn or restless. They may also have difficulty controlling their bladder or bowels, and may experience seizures or other neurological symptoms.

Look, every dog’s experience with the dying process is unique, and there is no set timeline for how long it can take.

Just be ready to provide all the support and love you possibly can.

Average Lifespan for Dogs by Breed

Having spoken to many dog owners in the past, I realized that not many are aware of the average lifespan of their pets.

So I thought this table might be useful for some of you:

BreedAverage Lifespan
Chihuahua12-20 years
Pomeranian12-16 years
Yorkshire Terrier11-15 years
Dachshund12-16 years
Beagle12-15 years
Bulldog8-10 years
Boxer10-12 years
Labrador Retriever10-12 years
German Shepherd9-13 years
Golden Retriever10-12 years

Please take note that these are just averages, and some dogs may live longer or shorter than the expected lifespan.

Factors such as genetics, diet, exercise, and healthcare can all impact a dog’s lifespan.

End-of-Life Care: How to Help a Dying Dog

How to make your dog’s last days comfortable

I know that it can be heartbreaking to watch your furry friend reach the end of their life, having gone through it a few times myself.

Although it’s a difficult time, there are things you can do to make your dog’s final days more comfortable.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is an approach that focuses on improving the quality of life for dogs with terminal illnesses.

This type of care can help manage pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

Your veterinarian can help you develop a palliative care plan that’s tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

Memorials and Imprints

Creating a memorial for your dog can be a way to honor their memory and cope with your grief.

You can create a scrapbook or photo album of your dog’s life, or commission a portrait or sculpture of your dog.

Another option is to create a paw print or nose print imprint as a keepsake.

Final Arrangements

Making arrangements for your dog’s passing can be a difficult but necessary step.

You may choose to have your dog cremated or buried, and you’ll need to decide on a final resting place.

Some pet cemeteries offer individual plots or communal areas for pets.

You may also choose to have a memorial service or private ceremony to say goodbye to your furry friend.

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Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying?

As a former veterinarian technician, I have observed many dogs in their final moments.

The thing is, the extent to which dogs may be aware of their impending death is not definitively understood.

While some studies suggest dogs can sense changes in their health, there is no conclusive evidence that they possess a clear understanding of their imminent demise.

In my opinion, though, I do think they have a sense of what’s coming, as evidenced by the changes in behavior in their last days.

Do Old Dogs Smell Before They Die

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take for a dog to die naturally?

There isn’t a specific time frame for an old, sick dog to pass naturally. It could happen slowly over a few days, or happen quite suddenly. In the final moments, their breathing and heartbeat will slow down and you might notice some small muscle spasms. They will get a vacant look in their eyes. 

Do dogs smell bad when they are sick?

Yes, certain illnesses can make a dog smell differently, and sometimes it smells bad. Diabetes will make your dog smell a bit sweet, whereas a UTI will have a more musty, urine smell. The liver and kidneys commonly emit a smell when they are failing. Rotting tissue caused by cancer also has a distinct odor.

What are the signs of a dog’s organs shutting down?

Dogs will experience different symptoms depending on which organs are failing. Kidney failure will cause increased drinking and urination, a chemical smell to the breath, and blood in the urine. Liver failure causes jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eye whites and gums. However, symptoms such as appetite loss, vomiting, loss of balance, weakness, and depression are associated with all types of organ failure. 

Do old dogs smell before they die?

Yes, old dogs might indeed smell before they die. Many dog owners report that their old dogs developed an unusually foul smell when nearing death, but not necessarily a bad smell; they just describe it as “different”.

Doggy says, read this too: My Dog Screamed and Died [Finding Closure]

In Conclusion: Do Dogs Smell Before They Die?

It’s sad but true: Good things don’t last forever.

When our dogs pass before us, the amount of grief can be overwhelming, but I think it would be wise to think of all the good memories formed during their lifetime and how lucky you were able to spend it together.

Do dogs smell different when they are dying? As it nears the end of its life, it might smell somewhat different from before, but it is highly unlikely that it will smell bad.

Take the time to give them all the love and care you possibly can and show your gratitude for all it has done for you.

Do you have an experience to share? Leave a comment down below.

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

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