Do Dogs/Pets Ever Die in Their Sleep?

Updated on December 16, 2011
E.M. asks from Boulder, CO
24 answers

I have a very large (113 lb) dog who will be 12 in February. Her back legs are getting weak, she sleeps all the time, but she still loves to chase after balls, chew on bully sticks and has a great appetite. But her time is limited....big dogs have shorter life spans and I know I am lucky to have had her this long. I am starting to feel nervous all the time about the inevitable. I pray that she will pass away in her sleep because I can't bear the idea of "making the appointment" and bringing her in. In fact, I had a horrible dream about it last night...that it got to the point where she couldn't walk anymore and we were going to put her down. Do I have any hope that she might pass away in her sleep? I feel like putting our pets to sleep has become the norm these days but I sooooo dread it. Any thoughts?

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So What Happened?

Thanks for your kind words. We are not there yet. Bear is still enjoying life and doing well for an old lady--I know that her healthy appetite, desire to play and interact and chew bones still means she has quality of life right now. But this may be our last Christmas with her and I worry all the time. Here's a poem I wrote for her a couple of years's about having your dog and then children and how I feel bad that I can't give her as much attention anymore.

Family Dog

You were my first, my little girl.
The hairiest baby in the whole wide world.
It was just me and you.
Remember all the things we'd do?
We'd go on hikes, we'd throw the ball,
Romp and swim, we did it all.
I even tucked you in my bed
And fluffed the pillow under your head.
Now I have so much to do,
I have no time at all for you.
You look at me with big brown eyes.
You're bored and lonely--no surprise.
I wish that we could walk alone
And the leave the chaos back at home.
But I am the mother dog, you see.
And now my other pups need me.
And I know that when you die,
I will cry and cry and cry
And wish I'd had more time to spend,
Just you and me, at the end.
But until then, here's a treat.
I'll try to pet you with my feet.

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answers from Raleigh on

I had to face putting my beloved cat of 14 years down about a month ago. He had been in declining health, and one day, I just knew it was time. The look was in his eyes- like he was begging me to make it better. Making that appointment that morning was so hard, and I was a mess. My mother coined it beautifully- Making that decision, as hard as it is, is the most loving, unselfish thing you can do. I was there when the time came, and I was the last thing he saw as he passed, the last voice he heard. He was calm, not alone, and at complete peace.
If it comes that you have to make the decision one day, try not to think of it as a scary and negative thing. As heartbreaking as it was for me, it was beautiful, too.

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answers from Austin on

Yes, we had a dog die over night when I was a child.
I also have a co worker who in the morning found their cat had died over night.

We recently about a month ago, had to put my business partners dog down he could not move. almost completely paralyzed. He had Cancer and had not eaten in 4 days.

The sad part is my business partner also has cancer.. There she was so thin, weak, bald and completely heartbroken. She is the one that said he needed to be put out of his misery.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

Yes, pets do die in their sleep sometimes, and it can be a peaceful passing. When I was a child, I had a kitten who had something wrong with his lungs. he died in my arms while both of us were sleeping. It was sad, but I felt like he went painlessly and peacefully. I've also had a dog go to bed in her doghouse and not come out the next morning. She was ancient for her breed, five years past the average lifespan. My best friend's old dog also passed that way. I wouldn't put an animal down unless it had health problems severe enough that it lived in pain or misery.

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answers from Washington DC on

Yes, dogs have died in their sleep.

If you have young children it's VERY traumatic for them to happen upon the dog they can't wake.

If she's in pain all the time, I would love her enough to put her down. I know how much it hurts. We put Obi down at 14.5 years...he had cancer and it was bad. I understand your dread. but it's much easier to put them down rather than find them in the morning or during the day....then you need to call the pound, etc. to come get her - when they do - they literally strap her legs to a pole and carry her out...if your kids see that?! what a nightmare.

Sorry - not trying to be rude...but that's what happened to us when Skippy died in his sleep. Thank God I was 17 years old. It was still horrible finding him. We called the Humane Society, they came out, took off his collar, tied his legs to a pole and carried him out. Made me think of a pig roast.

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answers from Minneapolis on

yes some do, generally they do not. They are animals and sense when something is not right with their bodies. They will normally like to sneak off to a quiet, secluded place to pass away. The reason being, they feel vulnerable and unable to protect themselves due to the state they are in.
Had a 22 year old cat that loved sleeping in front of a heat register, and that's where I found her after she passed. Our dogs almost always had to be helped along with Euth. Only one of our dogs died naturally. That was after a long battle with cancer. we just made her comfortable and let nature do the rest.

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answers from Rockford on

For your sake, I hope she does go in her sleep, w/out pain and while dreaming of chasing her tennis balls and chewing her bully sticks! Making the decision to finally put them down is THE hardest and most sad and awful thing ever. I'm so sorry you are facing this. I have had to make that decision 3x (in a 5 yr period...and one of our dogs was only 6 but very very ill) and I always second guessed myself and my husband would ask "but what if he gets better." *sigh* So sad and so hard to say goodbye...BUT, when that time comes, take comfort in knowing she will be up there with LOTS of other awesome, fun and loving dogs! :) Also, it might be fun for you to take some pictures on her good days and make a cast of her paw print soon.

Hang in there and enjoy the days you have left with her! *hugs*

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answers from Boston on

For what it's worth, we had to make this decision in June for our 14yo black lab. Like you, I'd watched him fade for some time. I'd talked with my vet. My husband & I talked about it -- a lot and for months. How would we know? Could we (well, I) even do this? What was the right thing to do?

When it came down to it, I made the call. Our vet said he'd come to our house or we could come to his office -- whatever made sense for our family and would be easier on our old guy. And, honestly, as much as I loved that dog and miss him still, I was saddened by the need to make the choice, but totally comfortable with it because I knew it was the right thing for him and that, as someone who loved him, I owed him a comfortable, compassionate passing in my arms, with people who loved him right there helping him along. And once he was gone, I was relieved. Not because of the difficulty caring for him had been, but because he was free and, I believe, running like a puppy in his next life.

As I type this, I'm tearing up because even though we have 2 other dogs they aren't HIM -- and I miss my big black lug. But, still, I feel really good about how long we were able to keep him comfortable AND that, once I couldn't be sure he was OK and it seemed his good times were only moments in an increasingly difficult string of days, we did the right thing. He was ready, and I was finally ready to let him go.

I hope it's easy and a non-choice for you & that she just goes in her sleep. Still, if your old girl needs you to do that for her, your love for her will help you through it. Really. It'll be OK.

Hug --

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answers from Santa Barbara on

Yes, they can absolutely die in their sleep but may experience gasping that might wake them up right before.

I was a registered veterinary technician and had many clients who had giant dogs who passed away at home. We were called to remove the beloved pets because it is really difficult to handle such a heavy, stiff animal that has urinated and lost control of her bowels on herself.

Please, please when the time comes I hope you consider euthanizing your sweet girl before she suffers too much, this is for her not you. Thank goodness we have this option for our pets and to hold them and make them feel comfortable until the last moment. This is awful and I'm so sorry you are going through it.

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answers from Washington DC on

Animals do die in their sleep. My grandmother's cat before this one just curled up and never woke again. We knew she was failing and had kidney issues.

Some of my pets passed naturally and some had to be helped. Either way is still hard. Many hugs to you for having to think about this eventuality.

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answers from Portland on

It is a tough situation, so hard for the loving family of the pet. But it's often the kindest thing you can do. My mom had an Old English Sheepdog that she couldn't bear to put down, and that poor dog ended up lying for several days in her own pee and excrement because she could no longer stand up.

It even hurt her too much to get her up when my husband and I found out how helpless she was and were going to take her to the vet ourselves. So we found a vet who made housecalls to put the poor dog out of her misery. My mom was grateful – we paid the bill, too, but I am still disgusted that she let that poor, brave dog get into such a miserable condition.

Please do the right thing. You will probably know when it is time. I'm sure that animals do occasionally die in their sleep, but those are the ones that wear out from many, many years of active living. I doubt that a 12yo dog will die that way. So sorry!

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answers from Dallas on

I have no doubt it is possible. You know my sister had to evaluate "making the appointment" with her and her husband's dog (she was almost 14 yo golden retriever - precious). They decided that when she had more bad days than good, that was when they would make the call.
It was the saddest thing for all of our family. This dog preceeded almost all of the grandchildren and was an extended family staple (on both sides!).

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answers from Houston on

Yes they do, just like people do. My inlaws little mutt died in his sleep, it was good for them b/c they had just made the appointment to put him down and he died the day before.

Just know though, that often times, bringing her in can be the best thing for her if she gets to that point. I worked at the vet and have seen many animals go on too long in misery. Also, they can make her final moments comfortable and you can even hold her and comfort her as she passes.

I hope you the best during the time, it's always so sad to lose our loved companions! Mine is 10 now, had her before I ever even met my husband and it's hard to think about having to make that decision in the next few years.

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answers from Detroit on

Sometimes they do. But usually they have something truly terminal, such as advanced heart disease or cancer. And it's not always pretty. Things like arthritis will effect her quality of life without necessarily shortening it.

What you are wishing for is very normal, and it's something I hear from people all the time. But the truth is is that it does not always happen that way. I only know of it happening once, and it was our friends' 13 year old Lab who had already been diagnosed with lymphoma. They had elected only to keep him as comfortable as they could for as long as they could. About a month after the diagnosis, he spent a few days not eating much and eventually lost his appetite completely. They were figuring they would have to make an appointment to bring him in, but he ended up beating them to it. They just went to bed one night and woke up the next morning to find him gone.

Unfortunately, what is more typical is as an animal begins to gasp for breath and it's not necessarily a quick peaceful process. It can be agonizing to witness while having them euthanized is actually quicker and they "go" more smoothly. It simply involves the veterinarian giving the pet an IV injection of a powerful barbituate and essentially the pet is overdosed on anesthesia. They quickly lose consciousness and then they stop breathing and the heart stops beating. Sometimes they can be given a mild sedative beforehand to help them be more relaxed. Owners who have elected to stay with their pets and witness it always comment on how quick and peaceful the whole process was.

I'm sorry that you are going through this but it is good that you are thinking about it now - losing a pet is never easy, but we can always do what is best for them, rather than for ourselves. It's their quality of life that is most important and if it is no longer there, and we feel they are suffering, being able to let them do can be the kindest gift that anyone can give them. In the meanwhile, you can talk to your vet about what your options are now as far as pain medication and what can be done to keep her comfortable, then what to do when you feel the time has come. Best of luck to you...

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answers from Washington DC on

To answer your question directly, yes, of course they do sometimes. The thing is, since they can't speak for themselves or understand why they feel sick or pain, people feel more compelled to have it done medically. I guess I would feel glad to have that option of helping control their pain. Having done this more than once, it IS terrible, but there is some relief in the undertaintly and worry being over. I woudl be so much more terrified ot just find my pet dead to be honest.

There is no way to feel good about this, and I complelely understand your feelings. However, I strongly urge you to enjoy your pet and not live in fear about this as it is not fair to her - she can sense anxiety and stress in you and that isn't good for her. Appreciate her. As for big dogs having shorter lives, I don't believe that to be true. I think it is more about the breed. I think it is likely you have years left.. take her to the vet and do your best to keep her quality of life high. But enjoy her!

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answers from Fort Collins on

I don't know for certain, but I believe our dog passed away in his sleep. He was 13 years old - a shepard/husky mix. He was such a good dog. He had a pretty difficult last year - his legs slowly got weaker and eventually gave out at the very end. We struggled with the idea of putting him to sleep - dreaded it, and didn't do it.

About 13 months after he started having issues, we had an out of state trip for my sister's wedding. We had a friend lined up to dog-sit. We knew our dog couldn't jump into the truck (like he used to) so we were going to bring him to our friend's house in our station wagon. He couldn't jump up that far either. So my husband gently picked him up by his middle and Buddy bit my husband's face! Luckily he didn't break the skin. We were shocked! Our dog had never even growled at a person or attempted to bite! He was super gentle with everyone - adults and children. We knew he was in pain. We didn't know it - or didn't accept it - before this. We knew we had to bring him to the vet, but we were literally on our way to the airport. We arranged for our friend to come to our house for pet-sitting, since we couldn't transport Buddy. We knew we would have to bring him in as soon as we returned.

Sadly, Buddy didn't make it the week. Our friend called us a few days into the trip to say that Buddy wasn't able to stand up anymore. They had to carry his dish over to him so he could eat and drink. They stayed with him and loved him and petted him, since we weren't able to. I spent the next several hours on the phone trying to find a vet who would come to the house to see him and possibly put him to sleep. I wasn't able to find anyone who would come. All of them required that he be brought in to their offices.

The next morning our friend called to say that Buddy didn't make it through the night. We were devastated that we were not able to be there with him, but soooo thankful to our friend that she was here and gave him love. Although it was extremely hard, we were thankful that he went in his own time and on his own terms. We hope it was peaceful and hope that he wasn't in too much pain. We were thankful we didn't have to make that decision for him. He was such a good dog. It's been almost a year and a half already and we still miss him terribly.

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answers from Richmond on

Oh no, that dream would have freaked me out :(

I'm so sorry your dogs so old!! (I can't even think about that with my dog, and he's only 3)...

But to answer your question, yes, they can pass away in their sleep. Our friends had a wolf mix who was 10 and they found him one morning curled up on his doggy bed, stiff, not breathing, but totally looked like he was sleeping :(

On the flip side, if you DO have to put her to sleep... just know that if and when that time comes, that you're doing a good thing by not letting her suffer. The fact that you worry about it speaks volumes for your love for her!


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answers from Providence on

My friends cat recently passed away in his sleep. He had cancer, and was getting weaker and weaker, and she also did not have the heart to put him down. He couldn't walk, either. She had to carry him on her bed at night, and put him down in the morning. It was very hard to watch.

For me, when i see animals in pain, and in that condition, it's worse seeing them suffer. I had to put my cat to sleep when I saw that she could no longer make it to her litter box, and wasn't eating or drinking. Her quality of life was very poor. It broke my heart to make that decision, but it was the most selfless thing I did.

It's a painful thing to go through, and I understand your feelings. However, it seems to me that your dog is doing quite well for her age. I wouldn't worry about the inevitable, fearing it will only make it worse. Your dog probably can sense your fears as well. Enjoy the time now that you have with her. Talk with her vet about your fears, and let them know your insecurities in making that kind of decision. I am sure you are not the only owner to feel this way. Maybe they might have some advice for you.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Yes, they can, but something to consider is that unfortunately, they can't tell us the level of pain they are experiencing. We had to put our dog down two years ago and it was incredibly difficult to do. The only thing that made me feel a little bit better is that I could tell she was suffering so much. And if I could tell, I knew it must have felt pretty bad. You'll know in your heart if it comes to that point. I'm sorry, it's so hard when our furry friend family members time is limited! Best of luck to you.

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answers from San Francisco on

I had three big labs and they lived to be 14, 15 and 17. The 14 year old died naturally. I had to have the other two put to sleep due to health issue (no longer had a quality of life). My vet came to the house for the 15 year old and did it there (it was still sad and tough to go through). I moved to another town and had to take the 17 year old in, he could no longer walk (all legs were not working....he still had a good appetite, so I got a to go from the Olive Garden and he (Richie) my other little dog Frankie, and I all had veal scolapini for dinner. I then took him to the vet, a friend met me there and I just held him and stayed with him a while.

It's never easy to lose a pet, but they are so worth it for all the joy, love and companionship they gives. I am crying as I write this, but I do not regret one single day that God gave me with my beloved pets.

I wish you and your dog all the very best and pray that you have much more time together.


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answers from Houston on

There is alot you can do to aid her backlegs to become vet has all the answers...he can help prolong life...but not forever. It has to be one of the saddest things besides family dying...well....mine were like family anyway. Either way...if you have to put her down or she may just go to sleep at home...I hope you are with her because they say that is the best thing you can do for your animal is to be with them when they pass...they deserve at least that from the one they loved the It was horrible for my 2...but believe me.....I sat on the floor and they were right in my lap. Feel for you...but your vet is your best bet now....don't let her legs go limp...when there is so much good medicine for them.

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answers from Atlanta on

Hi McK5,

Yes, I agree with the others, they can die in their sleep. But, don't rush lab just turned 16. He does sleep alot but he still likes to play first thing in the morning...for about 4 or 5 minutes...then the rest of the day is sleep and eating...

Glucosomine is fairly inexpensive and will help with his back legs. I give it to my lab. If she has a great apppetite she's probably going to be around for awhile.

God bless,

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answers from Denver on

Only you can make the decision for your beloved pet. I would say, if your dog is in pain you really should put her down. How unfair we are to our dear pets when they are suffering and we keep them around for our benefit. However, if your dog is just aging, tired and seemingly not in pain, just slower, then let it ride.

We actually had a dog that was very sick and we knew she was dying. On the day she died, she waited all day for my husband to come home. She greeted him like she always does then died shortly after he got home. As sad as it was, it truly was a beautiful moment my husband had with her.

Only you know your dog, just be sure to make a decision that respects her needs and comfort.

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answers from Denver on

I had a rottweiller/ black lab that died naturally at home around age 15. She had bad arthritis and we gave her shots at the vet and medicine and glucosamine for the last half year or so. During the last month I had to help her get out of a sitting position several times because her back legs didn't work that great. Once I had to carry her out to the bathroom, but it wasn't too bad really. She didn't seem to be suffering that much, but she did sleep a lot. Anyway, one day I was eating lunch and she was in the front hall and I heard a strange thump. I thought she was just trying to lay down and had to "flop" because her legs didn't work that great. But it turned out she had suddenly died and fallen over. She lost all her bowels and urine at the same time. I guess she must have had a heart attack or something. It was sort of shocking, since I hadn't dealt with death before, but in the end I was really glad we didn't have to put her down. I had already been thinking about how I would decide when to do it and my college aged daughter had been very opposed to it, so this way I didn't have to decide.

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answers from Denver on

As long as she is doing well and not in any pain don't even think about the end. Enjoy the time you have now. As far as having her euthanized, that is a personal decision. My thoughts are as long as she is not in alot of pain at the end if you want her to die naturally at home let her. But I truely believe that if a pet is in alot of pain that it is better to end there pain then let them suffer. There are vets who make house calls if you want that to. Just something to consider if she does die at home. What are you going to do with the body? Sorry I know that this is morbid but 113lbs is alot to try to pick up/move. I only say this because I am a vet tech and it sometimes takes 3 -4 people to move a very large dog. I hope that you enjoy the time you have and in the end your heart will make the right choice for you and your family.

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