A death rattle in dogs sounds similar in sound to the death rattle occurring in people.
If your dog died naturally or you recently had your dog put to sleep, there are chances you may have heard a rattling type of breathing.
You may even have heard it prior to dying as your dog got weaker and weaker.
This sound may have troubled you, but something good to know is that a death rattle tends to occur once the dog is already unconscious.
What is a Death Rattle?
A death rattle, as the name implies, takes place when there are fluids in the windpipe of a dying animal of person.
What Does a Death Rattle Sound Like in Dogs?
The presence of fluids accumulating in the dog's airway creates a wet, rattling sound, hence its name.
However, the sound may vary, ranging from a soft, moan-like sound, but to snoring or gargling or rattling.
What Causes a Death Rattle in Dogs?
The death rattle can occur when a dog is in the process of dying or right after dying.
The noise is causes by the accumulation of fluids in the airway.
Death Rattle in a Dying Dog
In a dog who is in the process of dying, the noisy rattling breathing is most likely due to the accumulation of fluids in the airways.
Such accumulation often occurs as a result the animal being weaker and no longer capable of swallowing or coughing.
Based on the type of secretions accumulated, the death rattle can be categorized as type 1 death rattle and type 2 death rattle.
Type 1 Death Rattle
This type of death rattle takes place when the accumulated secretions consist of saliva and mucus.
As the dog gets weaker or in an and out of consciousness, saliva accumulates and a rattling noise is heard upon the dog breathing in and out.
In studies on dying humans, this type of death rattle is associated with a high rate of mortality, with the majority of patients dying within 48 hours.
Type 2 Death Rattle
In type 2 death rattles, the accumulated fluids consist of bronchial secretions.
In this case, the dog is too weak, or is in and out of consciousness, and therefore, unable to cough to clear up the airways.
Can the Rattling Sound be Reduced?
Fortunately, death rattles are not as common in dogs as in humans.
If your dog is in the process of dying, positioning the head to the side on top of some towels may help drain and absorb some excess fluids.
Consult with your vet to ensure your dog is comfortable, and whether it's time for compassionate euthanasia if he's suffering.
Is a Death Rattle a Sign of Suffering?
In human hospice, a death rattle is described as being more disruptive for relatives than for the patient. There are chances, the same can be said for dogs.
One primary reason humans find the sound disturbing is because it's often associated with choking or drowning, but the person or animal in most case is not actually in pain and is usually unaware of the noisy breathing.
The noise is simply a symptom of the dying process.
What if the Death Rattle Happens Right Before or After the Dog Dies?
If your dog died naturally or was put to sleep, it is possible to hear a death rattle.
Many dog owners find the sound disturbing, but the dog has in most cases already passed.
What happens in this case is that once the dog has died, fluids accumulate in the airway, and agonal breathing causes the dog to "gasp" producing a rattling, noisy breathing sound.
These "gasps" or episodes of open-mouth breathing may appear to the dog owner as if the dog is struggling to breath, but the good news is that most cases, agonal breathing, along with the noisy gasps, take place once the dog is unconscious.
"At this point, we believe the animals brain is already gone and they do perceive anything," points out Doctor Evan.
More about dog agonal breathing is found in the article: " dog gasping for air before dying."