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German Shepherd End Of Life Symptoms: 10 Signs Your Dog is Dying

German Shepherd end of life symptoms

Our beloved German Shepherd dying is not an easy topic to discuss, but being aware of the various stages of natural death will help you through the grieving process.

I have personally gone through this process twice in my life, with two of my beloved German Shepherds, Todo and Rocky.

From changes in appetite and energy levels to noticeable weight loss and difficulty breathing, some signs can serve as end-of-life symptoms for a German Shepherd.

Understanding these signs can allow you to provide your dog with the care and support they need during this delicate final stage of their life.

German Shepherd End-of-Life Symptoms

If you think your beloved GSD may be nearing the end of its life, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian. Let them know if you’ve noticed any of the following signs, as they could indicate that your dog’s time is coming to an end:

1. Physical pain and discomfort

When a German Shepherd is dying, physical pain and discomfort may become pronounced and harder to manage. The GSD may exhibit signs of distress, such as whining, whimpering, or vocalizing when touched or moved.

They may also show signs of restlessness or agitation, constantly shifting positions or pacing. In some cases, dogs may become more withdrawn or seek isolation as a way to cope with their pain.

What you should do: Closely observe your pet’s behavior and consult with a veterinarian if they notice any signs of physical pain or discomfort. A veterinarian can assess the dog’s condition and guide how to manage their pain effectively.

Palliative care, including pain medication and supportive therapies, can help improve the dog’s quality of life during their final stages.

RELATED: What Is A German Shepherd’s Average Lifespan

pain is an end of life symptom for German Shepherds

2. Loss of appetite

When a dog is dying, it often loses interest in food and may refuse to eat altogether. This lack of appetite can be attributed to various factors, such as pain, discomfort, nausea, or a decline in organ function.

In some cases, your dog’s loss of appetite may be accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

What you should do: Monitor your German Shepherd’s eating habits closely and consult with a veterinarian if you notice a persistent loss of appetite.

While it is not always indicative of imminent death, a significant and prolonged decrease in food intake can be a sign that your dog’s health is deteriorating.

RELATED: What Do German Shepherds Usually Die From?

3. Unexplained weight loss

Rapid & unexplained weight loss in dogs can be a sign of a serious underlying health issue and may indicate that your dog is dying.

One possibility is cancer, which can cause weight loss as the tumor grows and affects the dog’s metabolism. Another possibility is organ failure, such as kidney or liver disease, which can lead to a loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss.

RELATED: German Shepherd Cancer Symptoms

Additionally, diseases such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism can also result in rapid weight loss in dogs.

What you should do: Consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to perform a thorough examination and run diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the weight loss. Also, try offering your German Shepherd their favorite treats.

RELATED: What is the Lifespan of a Female German Shepherd?

4. Loss of interest & withdrawal

When a dog is nearing the end of their life, they may start to lose interest in activities and interactions that they once enjoyed. They may no longer want to play, go for walks, or engage in their usual routines.

This loss of interest can be a result of physical discomfort or pain, as well as a decrease in energy levels.

Additionally, dogs may also withdraw socially and become more distant from their human family members and other pets. They may prefer to spend more time alone, seeking out quiet and secluded areas in the home.

This withdrawal can be a way for dogs to conserve their energy and focus on their own needs as they approach the end of their life.

What you should do: Make sure your German Shepherd has a cozy and secure spot to rest. Keep an eye on other pets or kids to make sure your dog is in a calm and relaxed environment.

5. Lethargy

When a dog is nearing the end of its life, it may become increasingly lethargic and show little interest in activities or interactions. Lethargy can manifest as excessive sleepiness, lack of appetite, and a general lack of enthusiasm.

It is important to note that while lethargy can be a sign of impending death, it is not always indicative of this outcome.

What you should do: Allow your dog to rest and avoid putting any pressure on them to engage in activities. Instead, focus on creating a calm, tidy, and secure environment where they can relax comfortably. Talk to a vet as there are many potential causes for lethargy in dogs, such as illness or injury.

6. Changes in breathing pattern

As dogs age, their respiratory system may become weaker, making it harder for them to breathe properly. This can manifest as labored breathing, rapid breathing, or shallow breathing.

Dogs may start panting even while at rest, develop a cough, or have increased difficulty drawing a normal breath.

What you should do: If you notice that your older dog is struggling to breathe or if their breathing seems abnormal, hold him and prepare yourself to let go.

7. Incontinence

As dogs age, their bodies go through various changes, including a decrease in muscle tone and control. This can lead to weakened bladder or bowel control, resulting in accidents or leakage inside the home.

While other dogs may find it difficult to stand up and go outside to relieve themselves, requiring assistance from their owners or family members to maintain cleanliness.

What you should do: Try to keep your furry friend’s bed clean. Make sure it stays dry and fresh, and you could even put a waterproof pad underneath them. If needed, you might want to think about having your senior German Shepherd wear a diaper.

8. Confusion

When your German Shepherd is nearing the end of their life, they may experience cognitive decline and confusion. This can manifest as disorientation, difficulty recognizing familiar people or places, and changes in behavior.

Your dog may seem lost or unsure of their surroundings, and may even forget basic commands or routines that they previously knew well.

What you should do: When your dog is confused, it’s important to be patient, cautious, and kind. They might get irritated or growl unexpectedly because they’re scared and don’t know what’s happening.

9. They want to cling to you

When dogs are nearing the end of their lives, they often seek comfort and security from their owners. They may become more clingy and want to be by your side at all times.

This behavior can be a way for them to find solace and reassurance during their final days. Additionally, dogs may also become more snuggly as they approach death.

They may seek physical contact and cuddling as a way to feel safe and loved, and also to let you know that you were loved.

What you should do: If you notice your dog displaying increased clinginess and snugliness, it is important to provide them with extra attention and care during this difficult time.

10. Seizures

Towards the end of its life, your German Shepherd might experience seizures. These seizures could occur due to changes in their metabolism, kidney failure, or issues with their brain.

Seizures are abnormal electrical activities in the brain that can cause convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness in dogs.

What you should do: If your dog is having a seizure, it’s crucial to protect them from any potentially harmful things, such as stairs and furniture with sharp edges. Make sure to gently hold their head and provide comfort until the seizure ends.

Quality of Life Scale for Your German Shepherd

A dog quality of life scale is a tool used by veterinarians, researchers, and pet owners to evaluate a dog’s well-being and quality of life. It’s also called as the HHHHHMM Scale.

Renowned veterinary oncologist, Dr. Alice Villalobos created this HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale as a tool to help pet parents recognize the signs that their dog is dying. The parameters for the scale include:

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

After reviewing all of the categories (Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad), give each category a grade from 0 to 10, with 0 being very poor and 10 being excellent. A total score of 35 or lower may indicate a low quality of life and may require a vet’s evaluation.

H (0-10)HURT – Is your dog’s pain under control? Do they need oxygen to help with their breathing?
H (0-10)HUNGER – Is your dog eating enough? Can hand feeding make a difference? Is it necessary to use a feeding tube for your dog?
H (0-10)HYDRATION –Is your dog dehydrated? If so, you can help by giving them subcutaneous fluids once or twice a day to make sure they stay hydrated.
H (0-10)HYGIENE: Are you able to perform proper grooming for your pet? (brushing, cleaning after eliminations, keeping them parasite-free, tending to the coat and wounds)
H (0–10)HAPPINESS – Is your GSD happy and engaged? Does your dog show interest in things around them like family members and toys? Are they feeling down, lonely, anxious, bored, or scared? Can you have your pet’s bed close to where the family spends time so they don’t feel isolated?
M (0-10)MOBILITY: Is your dog able to move around on its own or does it need help? Can it walk without any assistance or does it require a cart or human support? Does your dog show any interest in going for walks? Is it experiencing seizures or stumbling?
M (0-10)MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.
TOTALScores below 35 indicate an unacceptable quality of life and that the dog may need hospice or euthanasia considerations sooner rather than later.
Adapted by Villalobos, A.E., Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN,
09/2004,for Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology Honoring the Human-Animal
Bond, by Blackwell Publishing, Table 10.1, released 2006.

According to Dr. Villalobos, a score lower than five in the majority of categories may mean that your dog is dying and it is time to consider euthanasia.

sign that your German shepherd is dying

What Is the “Natural” Dog Dying Process? How Long Does it Take?

A natural death does not mean a peaceful death. The stages of dying can be very stressful to watch. This is why euthanasia is used to provide a pain-free, humane end of life for pets.

In general, the dying process for a dog can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. It is important to note that every dog is different, and some may pass away more quickly or slowly than others.

Factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and the presence of any terminal illnesses can also influence the length of the dying process.

Weeks before your German Shepherd passes you will begin to notice some of the following signs.

3 months to 3 weeks before your GSD passes

You may notice weight loss, a lack of self-grooming, duller eyes, dehydration, and gastrointestinal changes.

3 weeks before your GSD passes

You may notice increasing weight loss, picky eating, a change in respiration patterns, less interest in pleasurable activities, increased self-isolation, eye discharge, and skin problems.

The last few days before your GSD passes

You may notice extreme weight loss, a distant look in their eyes, a lack of interest in anything, restlessness or unusual stillness, a change in the way that your dog smells, and a changed temperament.

During this time, it is important to provide your dog with comfort and support. Ensuring that they have a quiet and peaceful environment, offering them soft bedding and familiar smells, and providing gentle physical contact can all help to ease their discomfort.

Decision Making: Palliative Care or Euthanasia

It can be an emotionally challenging and distressing time. As responsible pet owners, we want to make the best decisions for our furry friends.

Deciding between palliative care and euthanasia for a terminally ill or elderly dog is a deeply personal and often challenging decision for pet owners.

Both options have their considerations, and the decision should prioritize the well-being and quality of life of the dog.

Here are some factors to consider when making this difficult decision:

Palliative Care

Palliative care focuses on providing comfort and relief from symptoms rather than attempting to cure a terminal illness or condition. If your dog is showing signs of decline but still maintains an acceptable quality of life, palliative care may be a suitable option.

This approach involves managing pain through medication, ensuring proper nutrition and hydration, maintaining hygiene, and offering emotional support.

Signs That Palliative Care May Be Appropriate

If your dog is experiencing discomfort but still exhibits some enjoyment in everyday activities such as eating, walking short distances, or engaging with family members, palliative care may be a viable choice.

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian will help monitor your dog’s condition and adjust their treatment plan accordingly.


Euthanasia is a difficult decision many pet owners face when their furry companions are suffering from severe pain or have reached a point where their quality of life has significantly deteriorated. It involves administering medication to peacefully end your dog’s life without further suffering.

Signs That Euthanasia May Be Considered

If your dog experiences extreme pain that cannot be adequately managed by medications, has lost interest in activities they once enjoyed, struggles with mobility, or cannot perform essential bodily functions, euthanasia may be a compassionate choice.

In cases where the dog’s health is rapidly declining, and their overall well-being is compromised, euthanasia can provide a quick and painless end to their suffering.

Consider the financial and emotional resources required for palliative care. If these resources are limited, and the dog’s suffering is prolonged, euthanasia may be a more practical choice.

Ultimately, the decision between palliative care and euthanasia is unique to each situation. Open and honest communication with your veterinarian can help you understand the options available, the prognosis for your dog, and the potential outcomes of each choice.

Preparing for the Final Goodbye

Saying goodbye to your beloved German Shepherd is an incredibly emotional and challenging experience.

Here are some steps to help you prepare for this difficult moment and ensure that your dog’s last days are as comfortable and filled with love as possible:

Consult with a Veterinarian

Speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s condition. Understand the prognosis, potential treatment options, and the expected quality of life. This conversation can help you make informed decisions about your dog’s care.

Spend Quality Time

Dedicate meaningful time to spend with your dog. Engage in activities they enjoy, whether it’s a favorite walk, playtime, or simply sitting together. Cherish these moments and create lasting memories.

Capture Memories

Take photos and videos to capture special moments with your dog. Create a memory book or digital album to celebrate their life and the bond you share.

Share Moments with Loved Ones

Allow friends and family who are close to your dog to spend time with them. Share stories and reminisce about the joy your dog has brought to everyone’s lives.

Say Goodbye in Your Own Way

Consider having a meaningful farewell ceremony or ritual. This can be a quiet moment of reflection or a more elaborate gathering with loved ones to celebrate your dog’s life.

Consider Professional Support

If the emotional burden becomes overwhelming, consider seeking support from a counselor or therapist who specializes in pet loss. Many people find comfort in sharing their feelings with someone who understands the unique bond between humans and their pets.

Plan for the End

If euthanasia is the chosen option, plan the details in advance. Decide where it will take place, who will be present, and whether you want to be with your dog during the procedure. Your veterinarian can guide you through the process.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

Understand that grief is a natural and individual process. Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with saying goodbye and seek support from friends, family, or support groups.

Aftercare Considerations

After saying goodbye, you will want to call your veterinarian. They will be able to confirm your pet’s passing and if desired, they will be able to transport your dog for cremation.

Decide on the aftercare arrangements for your dog’s remains. Options include burial, cremation, or memorial services. Choose what feels most meaningful and comforting to you.

Remember that saying goodbye is a personal journey, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate it. Prioritize the well-being of your dog and yourself, and honor the love and companionship you shared.

How to Manage Your Grief?

Losing a beloved pet can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience. Here are some suggestions for managing your grief after your GSD has passed:

Allow yourself to grieve: It’s important to acknowledge and honor your feelings of sadness and loss. Give yourself permission to grieve and understand that it is a natural part of the healing process.

Seek support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who have experienced the loss of a pet. Sharing your feelings with others who understand can provide comfort and validation.

Create a memorial: Consider creating a special tribute to your dog. This could be a photo album, a scrapbook, or planting a tree in their memory. Having a physical reminder of your dog can help you feel connected to them.

Take care of yourself: During this difficult time, it’s important to prioritize self-care. Make sure you are eating well, getting enough rest, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and comfort.

Express your emotions: Find healthy outlets for your grief, such as writing in a journal, creating art, or talking to a therapist. Expressing your emotions can help you process your grief and find healing.

Consider a support animal: If you feel ready, adopting another pet can help fill the void left by your dog’s passing. A new pet can bring joy and companionship, although it’s important to give yourself enough time to grieve before making this decision.

Seek professional help if needed: If your grief becomes overwhelming or starts to interfere with your daily life, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide guidance and support during this challenging time.

Remember, everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate through this process. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself the time and space to heal.


Though we haven’t met, I sense your pain as you read this. My sincerest wishes for the best come your way, and I appreciate your deep love for your dog that led you to this article.


1. Can I tell if my dog is dying?

Yes, some signs can indicate your dog is approaching the end of their life. These signs include behavioral changes, detachment, physical symptoms like loss of appetite and difficulty breathing, and a decline in overall quality of life.

2. How do I assess my GSD’s quality of life during their final stages?

Assessing your dog’s quality of life involves considering factors such as pain management, mobility issues, appetite and hydration levels, overall happiness and engagement with surroundings. You can use a Quality of Life Scale designed for dogs to help evaluate their well-being.

3. What options do I have for providing comfort to my dying dog?

Providing comfort to your dying dog includes creating a peaceful environment at home with familiar surroundings and minimizing stressors. Ensure they have access to soft bedding, maintain regular grooming practices, offer gentle physical touch or massage if they enjoy it, and provide appropriate pain management under veterinary guidance.


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