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What Should I Do If My Dog Dies at Home

Losing your beloved dog is difficult in any situation. However, if your pet dies at the veterinarian's office, they can help 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.

Call for HelpThis is a difficult time, and it's probably best if you don't have to be alone (though some people may prefer to be alone). If possible, call a close friend or family member that can help you deal practically 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 VeterinarianIf 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, 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 latex 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 fluid and/or waste has been released. Note that additional bodily fluids 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 obtain 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.
  • Tie the bag into a secure knot. 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.

If you wish to bury your dog on your property, first make sure local laws allow it. Be sure to remove the body from non-biodegradable materials (like plastic) before burial. The body can be placed within 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.

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