Signs Your Pet is Dying: Mammals, Birds, Fish & Reptiles

Updated September 19, 2018
Petting a sick dog

You form an extraordinary bond with your pet, so it can be devastating to even think about your pet dying. Whether they're furry, feathered or scaly, there is no doubt they are special to you. When the time does come, your beloved companion will exhibit signs indicating they are very sick and may be near death.


The notion of dogs as just scrap-eating mutts is long gone. The attachment to your canine friend is undeniable and it can be extremely difficult when it comes time for them to leave. A few of these telltale signs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Incontinence
  • Labored breathing.

The article "Warning Signs a Dog is Dying" contains much more in-depth information on this topic.


Cats have personalities that range from total sweethearts to ornery grouches, but you love them just the same. Their life span can be 15 years or longer. There are signs of decline that your cat may exhibit when the end is near. These include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unkempt coat
  • Hiding and social withdrawal
  • Inactivity and disinterest
  • Incontinence
  • Labored breathing.

This is discussed further in the article "What Is the Dying Behavior of Cats?"


Sometimes when a bird is sick, they have an innate, instinctual ability to hide their symptoms so they are not a victim to their prey. For birds that are pets, it may be too late by the time you recognize the symptoms. Some of these signs are:

  • Stops eating and drinking
  • Inactivity
  • Unsocial and may sit on the floor of the cage
  • Lethargic and quiet
  • Stops grooming or preening
  • Discharge or dullness in eyes
  • A puffy appearance
  • Drooped wings
  • Unusual smell or appearance to droppings
  • Difficulty or labored breathing


Watching fish swim around in their tanks or aquariums can be therapeutic. Plus, they are simply fascinating to observe. But when fish get sick, they also show signs of illness or impending death, just like any other pet. Some of these signs are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Gasping at the water surface
  • White spots on the fish's body (may indicate disease)
  • Strange swimming patterns like swimming frantically, crashing into things or rubbing on the gravel
  • Rapid gill movements
  • Fins clamped to its side or frayed fins
  • Bloating
  • Enlarged eyes
    Goldfish suffering a fin infection


Rabbits make great pets and their adorable quotient is off the charts. If you spay or neuter your rabbit, you can even train them to use a litter box. When rabbits get sick, they also hide their symptoms. That's because in nature, if they show weakness, they will easily become prey. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Stops eating and drinking
  • Diarrhea, no stools or excessive stools
  • Drooling
  • Poor grooming habits or missing hair
  • Nasal discharge, sneezing, or coughing
  • Head tilt (also known as wry neck or torticollis; may indicate balance is affected)
  • Difficulty breathing


Ferrets are fun pets, but when out of their cage, they need to be closely supervised. They tend to be very curious and adventurous. When they become sick or older, they also show universal signs that they may be near the end. These signs are:

  • Lethargy
  • Stops eating and drinking
  • Has trouble urinating
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Will allow you to wrap them in a blanket and hold them (they generally don't allow this when they're healthy)
Veterinarian examines a pet ferret

Hamsters and Other Rodents

Guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice are great starter pets for your young ones. It's amazing how attached you become to these little pets. When they get sick and are close to death, they exhibit telltale signs as well.

  • Excessive diarrhea and loss of appetite (could be attributed to the wet tail)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Ruffled coat
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty breathing


Turtles are great, low maintenance pets. Unfortunately, they don't always show symptoms that they are sick until it's too late. Some signs to look for include:

  • Listlessness
  • Change in eating habits or loss of appetite
  • Bubbles forming from its nose or mouth
  • Wheezing noises
  • Change in swimming routine
  • Bloody or loose stools
  • Soft or discolored shell or skin
  • Losing scutes (shell pieces that are unhealthy)


Lizards are amazing pets and there's quite a variety to choose from. There are geckos, chameleons, green iguanas and bearded dragons, just to name a few. Typically, lizards have a very slow metabolism, which makes it difficult to recognize signs of illness until it's progressed and may be too late. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fewer droppings
  • Weight loss (may show tail thinning and protruding ribs)
  • Sunken eyes, sticky mouth mucus and incomplete shedding of skin (signs of dehydration)
Lizard shedding its skin


You either love them, hate them or have a full-on phobia of them. Regardless, snakes make fascinating pets and are interesting to learn about and observe. When a snake is ill or near death, the general signs they show may include:

  • Lethargy (may hide or bury themselves)
  • No interest in food
  • Sunken eyes, sticky mouth mucus and incomplete shedding of skin
  • More prominent vertebrae due to weight loss
  • Too weak to stick out tongue repeatedly (as it did when it was healthy)
  • Pink or reddish color on its underbelly
  • Lies limp
  • Blows bubble from nose
  • Breathes open-mouthed

Bring Your Pet to the Vet

It is imperative that you call your vet if your pet is showing any signs of distress or illness. Oftentimes, your pet can be treated and even make a full recovery. If your pet is very sick or near death, however, the veterinarian will let you know your options. The most important thing is to be there for your pet and comfort them in their final hours.

Signs Your Pet is Dying: Mammals, Birds, Fish & Reptiles