Can You Smell Death Before Someone Dies?

Published August 14, 2020
Volunteer supporting dying woman

Anecdotally, some may report that they've smelled a certain odor when a loved one or patient was near death, while others haven't had the same experience in the presence of someone in the process of dying. Under certain circumstances, some odors will be produced prior to dying, as well as shortly afterwards.

Can You Smell Death Before Someone Dies

In general, death only has a scent under certain circumstances and conditions. Dr. Jawn, M.D. notes that, "for the most part, there is no smell that precipitates death, and there is no smell immediately after death."

What Does Death Smell Like

Specific circumstances can lead to odors and may be indicative that the individual is close to death. These can include "certain metabolic abnormalities, ...[and] ketosis." In these instances, there may be a, "...sweet, vaguely alcohol odor on the breath." For some, these could indicate that they are close to having a, "...diabetic coma and could pass away shortly after if not treated appropriately." Dr. Jawn also stated that, "cauterizing a patient who is near death and bleeding out can lead to a smell of roasting flesh." In examining the process of dying, other smells may include:

  • "Most people have a bowel movement during death, or within an hour after death."
  • "Usually people will urinate during death or within an hour after."
  • After passing away, "within a day, a body will start to have a fetid, decomposing odor, but this will depend on the environment they are in."
  • "The environment will impact the rate of decomposition of the body, which affects smell." For example, there may be, "...a very delayed smell and likely fainter smell if you die in a cold environment."

What Are the Signs That Death Is Near?

The dying process will vary for each individual, but just before death, many individuals will experience similar changes. In general the signs that death is near include:

Does a Person Know When They Are Dying?

Near-death awareness is a common phenomenon that many people may experience prior oto passing away. Differing from hallucinations, during near-death awareness:

  • Individuals may experience terminal clarity
  • They may speak in symbolic terms
  • People may interact with visitors who you are unable to see

If You Are With a Dying Loved One

Watching a loved one go through the process of passing away can feel overwhelming and painful. Know that you may experience a range of other, complex emotions, and there is no right or wrong way to feel during this time. If you feel specifically concerned about a potential smell that may accompany your loved one's dying process, connect with whoever is treating them. They are there to answer your questions or offer you resources regarding your questions. Always mention any new smells to whoever is caring for your loved one, as this may be helpful to those treating them.

Can You Smell Someone Dying?

Only under certain circumstances can the dying process lead to a smell. If you are with a loved one in the process of passing away and are worried about a potential odor or have smelled something that seems off to you, be sure to let their treating physician know.

Can You Smell Death Before Someone Dies?