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

Some people think that there is this thing called ‘old people smell’ and funnily enough, we associate it with our dogs when they reach old age too. But is this phenomenon true? Do dogs smell before they die?

A dying dog may emit a different smell than it usually does, but it is not necessarily a bad or pungent smell. This could be due to their organs reaching breaking point, or it could be due to rotting tissue caused by cancer. Most of the time though, the smell is imperceptible or nonexistent.

Are you facing such an issue currently and causing some serious concern? Before you determine that your dog is dying, check out the rest of the article as there are other situations where your dog might smell strange or different too.

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Do dogs give off a scent when dying?

Many dog owners report that their dogs developed an unusual smell when nearing death, but not necessarily a bad smell; they just describe it as “different.” As loving pet owners, we do get accustomed to our dog’s natural smell and can tell when something is off. 

Though there are multiple reasons why your dog may smell different than usual, it is true that as your dog is reaching its final days, they start to smell a little differently.

Their bodies will start to break down and their organs will start deteriorating. The liver and kidneys commonly emit a distinct smell when they are failing, and rotting tissue caused by cancer also has an odor. 

Doggy says, read this too: Why do dogs like to sleep with their bums facing you?

Why does my dog smell like it’s rotting?

Dogs have no reservations about playing in dirty water or rolling around in rotting garbage, so try a good bath to see if the rotting smell goes away. 

It is commonly known that a wet dog has an awful smell. The reason for this is because there is healthy, normal yeast and bacteria living in your dog’s fur.

When the fur gets wet, smells from these organisms get released into the air causing that yucky, rotting smell. In order for the smell to go away, your dog needs to be cleaned and thoroughly dried.

Often a towel dry isn’t enough and they will need a blow dryer or the sun to help eliminate that strong odor. 

If the rotting smell isn’t from a wet or dirty dog, it may be indicative of certain diseases. Read below for more information. 

What is my dog’s smell telling me?

Some of your dog’s bizarre smells can be indicative of illnesses or diseases. If you notice some of the following odors with accompanying symptoms, you may need to take your dog to the vet. 

Skin problems

Many dog owners assume weird smells are coming from their dogs’ fur when in reality it’s often coming from their skin. Certain dog breeds are more prone to having skin issues due to overlapping folds in their skin. Pugs, Shar Peis, Bulldogs, and some Mastiffs are examples of dog breeds that have characteristic excess skin folds. The skin folds can trap and retain moisture which is a perfect breeding ground for microorganisms that can cause an infection and have a strong, pungent odor. 

Doggy says, read this too: How to stop your dog from peeing on the deck?

Anal gland issues and infection

Just the name of this is pretty self-explanatory. All dogs have two small glands on their bottoms. These glands are a natural and necessary part of your dog’s anatomy and why dogs greet each other by sniffing the butts of their companions.

Normal, healthy glands should not smell bad, however, many dogs have issues with these glands becoming infected. This will cause discomfort, messes, and a definite nasty odor.

Besides the smell, another sign your dog is having issues with those glands is when they drag their bottoms on the ground, called “scooting.”

Dental disease

Bad breath is normally the result of poor dental hygiene that leads to tartar build-up, bacteria, and tooth infections, all of which produce an odor.

Dogs can also develop gum disease from small bits of food that get trapped in their gums which produces a rotten smell. However, a rotten smell can also be indicative of something far worse.

Sudden onset of your dog’s breath smelling like rotten garbage can be a sign of oral cancer. 

Doggy says, read this too: Why do dogs sleep with their tongues out?

Yeast/Ear infection

Believe it or not, a dog’s ears can be the source of some pretty strong smells. Many types of bacteria and yeast live in the ear canal and can lead to yeast infections.

If there is too much yeast building up in the ear, it can start to smell pretty bad. When a dog gets a yeast infection, it has a strong smell that resembles old, spilled beer.

A light smell might mean the ear just needs a good cleaning, but strong smells coming from the ears will need medical attention.

Read next: Why Do Dogs Flip Their Ears Inside Out? 10 Reasons You Should Know

Why does my dog smell like it’s rotting

Other causes that make your dog smell

Dogs can smell for many different reasons, most commonly because they have rolled around in something gross or eaten something that’s giving them bad breath or flatulence.

Dogs will happily play with garbage, chase skunks, and role around in animal droppings. They will eat whatever they find, which can lead to some bad-smelling gas. 

Dogs may also smell because their toys and beds are dirty. Any fabrics that your dog plays with or lies in should be cleaned regularly.

Over time, the material gets visibly dirty and discolored and develops a smell. A dirty dog bed can not only make your dog smell bad but even the whole area around it. 

No matter what you do, it’s unlikely your dog will smell like sunshine and roses. Despite keeping your dog clean and grooming them often, all dogs will smell a little. 

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 roles 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.

Doggy says, read this too: How far can dogs see?

How Long Do Dogs Live?

Just like with humans, there is no definite way of knowing exactly how long your dog will live as it comes down to many factors such as their quality of life, genetics, and many others.

However, based on historical information, we are able to have a rough idea of how long our pet dogs can be with us by looking at their average lifespans.

Sad to say, not all dogs are equal and different breeds have different longevity.

Here are the average lifespans of some of the most popular dog breeds.

  • Afghan hound – 12 years
  • Akita – 10 years
  • American cocker spaniel – 11 years
  • Australian Shepherd – 12 years
  • Beagle – 12 years
  • Bernese mountain dog – 9 years
  • Border collie – 13 years
  • Boston terrier – 11 years
  • Boxer – 9 years
  • Bulldog – 6 years
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – 11 years
  • Dachshund – 11 years
  • Dalmatian – 11 years
  • French bulldog – 9 years
  • German Shepherd – 11 years
  • Golden Retriever – 12 years
  • Labrador Retriever – 12 years
  • Maltese – 12 years
  • Pomeranian – 12 years
  • Pug – 11 years
  • Shih Tzu – 13 years
  • Poodle – 12 years
  • Whippet – 13 years

Signs your dog is dying 

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, dogs will often emit a different smell when they are close to death. Sometimes the odor is not even unpleasant, just different from usual. Besides a change in your dog’s smell, here are a few more signs that your dog is nearing the end.

As dogs get older, they experience decreased mobility and poor coordination. As they near death, these only get worse. Changes in mobility are related to loss of muscle mass and muscles and nerves that stop functioning. Dogs will struggle with steps, slip on non-carpeted surfaces, and have trouble placing their feet correctly when walking. They may have trouble getting up after a nap.  

Dogs will also sleep a lot during their final days and tire very easily. They will no longer have an interest in playing, going on walks, or getting any real exercise. Instead, they will spend most of their days in bed.

As your dog is passing, there is a change in their eyes and breathing. Their breathing pattern will become abnormal and they may be panting even while resting. Their eyes will look a bit dull and watery, giving a glossy shine to them. Your dog will stop focusing on things and gaze off into the distance with a vacant look in their eyes.

How to make your dog’s last days comfortable?

How to make your dog’s last days comfortable

Depending on the condition your dog is in, you don’t want to do anything too extravagant on their final days. What’s most important is to make them comfortable and give them lots of love. 

You can make your dog a special bed full of comfy blankets and pillows. Get them nice and comfortable and keep the bed in a room you will be spending a lot of time in so you can keep your pooch company.

You can even designate a special blanket for your dog if they don’t already have one. It can keep them cozy in their final days and might help with the grieving process afterward to have something that reminds you of them.

One way to make your dog feel extra happy is to let them indulge in their favorite foods. This is dependent on your dog’s appetite and illness. If your vet gives you the ok, spoil your pup with the tastiest, most decadent food possible. 

Finally, spend lots of time cuddling your dog and showing them love, as long as it’s not causing them pain or distress. It will give you special quality time together and help you prepare to say goodbye. Your dogs are loving, loyal creatures and will appreciate every last second you share with them. 

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. 

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In Conclusion: Do Dogs Smell Before They Die?

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 its lifetime and how lucky you were able to spend it together.

When a dog 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.

Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hi, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a certified vet tech 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 check out my about page!.

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