What to Do if Your Dog Dies at Home

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What do you do if your dog dies at home? Losing your beloved dog is difficult in any situation. However, if your pet dies or is put to sleep at the veterinarian's office, they can handle the remains for you. If your dog dies suddenly at home, you will need to take certain steps and make a few decisions right away.

Assess the Situation

Are you certain your dog has passed away? If you have any doubt, it may be best to take your dog to the nearest open veterinarian for help. You can also try to feel your dog's heartbeat to determine if cardiac arrest has occurred. You may wish to try to perform CPR or administer another type of first aid if you think your dog may still be alive. If you are certain that your dog has passed away, it may still be easiest for you to take your dog's body to the veterinarian for assistance.

Call for Help

This is a difficult time, and it might best if you don't have to be alone (of course, some people may prefer to be alone). If possible, call a close friend or family member that can help you deal in a practical way with your pet's remains and offer emotional support. If you do not think you will physically and/or emotionally be able to handle your pet's body, choose someone than likely can.

Contact Your Veterinarian

If it is during normal business hours, your vet's office can help talk you through the steps. They may also have a way of getting you in touch with someone who can pick up your pet's body (like a pet crematory or mobile vet service). In some cases, your vet's office may be able to store your pet's body for a day or two while you make a decision about aftercare arrangements. Your vet's office should also be able to put you in contact with a local company, as most vets have a relationship with at least one local pet cremation/aftercare business.

Handling the Body

It is not pretty to talk about, but it may come down to this: you (or your friend/relative) may need to handle your pet's body. If you plan to bury your pet yourself, but cannot do it right away, then the body must be stored properly. If you wish to have your pet cremated or have the burial handled by a company that cannot take your pet's remains right away, you will also need to properly store the remains. This is likely to be the case if your pet dies in the middle of the night or over a holiday. However, please note that some pet crematories have 24/7 phone service for these kinds of situations. The most important thing to understand is that the remains of the deceased pet must be handled as soon as possible.

The brutal fact is that an animal's body begins to decompose immediately after death and will soon begin to give off a foul odor and attract insects. The hotter the temperature, the faster the rate of decomposition. Be aware that rigor mortis, the stiffening of the joints, typically begins within 10 minutes to three hours after death and can last as long as 72 hours. Again, the temperature will affect this process. Ideally, the remains will be properly handled before the onset of rigor mortis. If you need to handle and prepare the remains yourself, here is how to proceed:

  • Wear gloves while handling the body. Upon death, bodily fluids are often released. You may wish to clean the areas around your dog's mouth, genitals, and anus if you notice fluid and/or waste. Note that additional bodily fluid and/or waste might be released when the body is moved.
  • Obtain a blanket, towel or bed sheet that is large enough to wrap around the body. Also get a heavy duty plastic trash bag (double them up if the body is very large or if the bags are thin).
  • Arrange the body on the blanket, towel or sheet. Place the body on its side in a curled-up position, as if sleeping. This will not only offer a sense of peace, it will also make it easier to handle the body.
  • Tightly wrap the body in the blanket, towel or sheet. Then, slide the body into the plastic bag(s). In the case of a larger dog, this will be a two-person job.
  • If possible, tie the bag into a secure knot (or, tape it closed if need be). You may wish to double up on bags. If the remains will be going elsewhere, be sure to attach a label or tag with your name and your dog's name.
  • Remains should be kept in a freezer or refrigerator until burial, cremation, or other arrangement takes place. If you are unable to store the remains in this manner and cannot get the body to your vet or a local pet aftercare company, a garage or basement may need to suffice. This should be for no longer than 4-6 hours as the odor will become severe and permeate your home. Use of additional plastic bags is recommended if freezer or refrigerator storage is not possible.

Burying Your Dog's Body

If you wish to bury your dog on your property, first check that your local laws allow this. Certain areas prohibit burial of pets, especially in cities. Before burial, remove the body from any non-biodegradable materials (such as plastic) before burial. The body can be placed in a wooden or cardboard casket. The grave should be at least 3 feet deep and in a location that is not likely to erode or be accidentally dug up again.