Why Do Dogs Die with Their Eyes Open? The Science Behind It


Recently, I came across a discussion on Facebook among bereaved dog owners who were sharing their experiences about the final moments of their beloved pets. One recurring topic that caught my attention was how many people mentioned that their dogs died with their eyes open. Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to dig deeper to find out the truth. I reached out to a veterinarian I know and conducted some online research. What I discovered was surprising and contradicted the popular belief among dog owners on social media – not all dogs die with their eyes open. Let’s delve into this topic and uncover the truth.

Do Dogs Die with Their Eyes Open or Closed?

The reality is that some dogs die with their eyes open, while others die with their eyes closed. The position of their eyes at the time of death depends on various factors, such as whether they were asleep, awake, or passed away peacefully in their sleep.

According to a veterinarian with extensive experience, the appearance of a dog’s eyes during death is unpredictable. Some dogs may have their eyes open, closed, or halfway shut. The circumstances and timing of death play a significant role in determining the position of the eyelids. If a dog is conscious at the time of death, their eyes will likely remain open. However, if they are asleep, their eyes will remain closed when they pass away.

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Why Do Some Dogs Die with Their Eyes Open?

Dogs that die with their eyes open are usually those who were startled at the time of their death or were awake and conscious until their last breath. The reason why dog eyes don’t automatically shut when they die is the same reason why human eyelids don’t shut – muscle control.

Closing the eyes requires active muscle control. Dogs need to consciously choose to close their eyes, and honestly, when they are at the point of death, closing their eyes is probably not a priority for them – it wouldn’t be for me either!

It’s important to note that the natural state of a dog’s eyelid is neither open nor closed. Closing the eyelids is achieved through a muscle called the orbicularis oculi, while the levator palpebrae superioris muscle opens the eyelids. Therefore, if a dog’s eyes are open when they die, they will stay open. Conversely, if their eyes are closed, they will remain closed. The position of the eyelids corresponds to the muscle activity at the time of passing.

dog dies with eyes closed
Image from Pixabay: Dogs are just as likely to die with their eyes closed as open. Source: Pixabay

How Cultures and Religions Interpret Open Eyes at Death

Research conducted on human patients in a medical setting revealed that 63% of individuals died with their eyes closed, reflecting similar physiological patterns to those observed in dogs. Interestingly, various cultural and religious beliefs have emerged regarding open eyes after death. One example is Chinese and Taoist belief, which suggests that open eyes indicate a fearful, rather than peaceful, judgment in the afterlife.

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In Hinduism, dying with eyes slightly open has its significance. During the process of passing away, a dying person receives guidance from a Brahmin priest who helps them focus on God by saying the name of Ram, a Hindu deity, or a healing mantra. When someone dies in Hinduism, they typically have a peaceful expression, and their eyes and mouth, where the spirit is believed to exit the body, are slightly open.

Conclusion: Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying?

One question that arises from all this is whether dogs are aware of their impending death. Based on the research I conducted, scientists do not have a definite answer to this question. It is unlikely that we will ever have a conclusive yes or no. However, what matters most is that owners and veterinarians make informed decisions regarding euthanasia to ensure the well-being of dogs. It is our responsibility to make their last days as joyful and comfortable as possible. It’s worth noting that dogs do not feel any pain when they are put to sleep.

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In the past, I’ve written about the challenging decision of when to put down your dog. If you’re facing this difficult choice, check out one of the articles where I’ve tried to provide sympathetic yet realistic insights.

Note: Be sure to consult a veterinarian for specific advice related to your dog’s health and well-being.

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