What signs of failure do I look for?

Lack of Coordination

If your pet becomes unsteady, has trouble standing, and their balance is off, that is a sign of weakness or nervous system failure.  Often, older pets have arthritis and when disease causes weakness on top of arthritis, the symptoms can be quite obvious.  Your pet may know that they are unable to move well and will choose to stay down, unless the motivation to move is very high.

Fatigue and Weakness

An animal nearing the end may not have much energy to move.  They will stay in one spot and not even get up to eat, drink, or for purposes of elimination. 

Complete Loss of Appetite

Your pet may sit at the food bowl and look at their food or water but not eat or eat only very little.  Sometimes if he eats he may only be able to keep the food down for a short while before vomiting it up.


Although vomiting happens for many reasons and can happen in very healthy pets.  Lots of chronic vomiting may mean that your pet has a serious health problem.  In many deadly disease this type of vomiting is seen.  Vomiting can be caused by biochemical and toxic changes in the body such as when the kidneys shut down and nitrogen wastes start to build up in the blood.  It can also be a physical intestinal problem like cancer or foreign material obstructing the intestinal flow.  Continued vomiting can lead to electrolyte imbalances which when severe can shut off the heart.


Pets that are terminally ill frequently do not have the energy to control their urine or fecal output.   They may have some control of their sphincters but be unable to rise to make it outside. During this time it is important to help keep them clean and dry.  There may need to be frequent changes of bedding or potty pads.

Lack of awareness

As with people “as death nears” many pets will keep to themselves and retract into an inner world.   They may act like or be unable to see or hear you if you call.

Shortness of breath.

There are many conditions near death that manifest with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.  If a pet is loosing or not making enough blood as the body becomes more and more depleted of oxygen the respiratory rate is increased to try to keep every last red blood cell oxygenated to the maximum.  If there is fluid in the lungs from heart disease the fluid will become harder and harder to breathe through. Your pet may cough to try and get this fluid out of the lungs. Sometimes cancer or abdominal disease can put pressure on the lungs making it impossible for them to fill adequately. All of these are signs of end of life.