My Pet Just Died – 8 Things You Need To Know

If  your family’s beloved bird, cat or dog just died suddenly, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone. People ask “what to do” on a regular basis.

When we make the decision to bring a pet into our home, the majority of us do our homework. Topics of conversation and planning revolve around house breaking, cage training, socialization and overall behavior, but rarely does the topic of the loss or a pet, or death ever come up. For the next few minutes we’ll review the necessary actions that every pet parent or owner should know.

  1. First and foremost, as strange as it sounds, make sure the pet is deceased! I can’t tell you how many times people think their pet has died, only to discover that they are still alive, just breathing very shallow and lying still. (Note that if they are still alive, you may want to think about euthanizing. Please call your vet clinic, they can answer your questions.  If you were planning to let them die naturally, keep the area calm and quiet).

  2. After a pet dies, their bowls, just like will let loose. This may not happen immediately, but know that over the next few moments nature will take its course, so be prepared. If your pet is lying on the floor or a piece of furniture, you will want to make sure you have a towel or even place something plastic under their hind end before they release.

  3. If there are other pets at home, let them smell their friend. By allowing this to happen they will understand what happened to their buddy, rather than leave them wondering where they went.

  4. A decision will need to be made to either bury or cremate.

  5. If you want to keep your pet at home for a day to decide what to do, you will want to contain your pets remains. Why? Without being placed in cold storage, the pet’s body will begin to decompose (this presents a health risk!). One stage of this process is known as rigor mortise. This is when the energy supply to the pet’s muscles deplete. When this occurs, everything becomes stiff. The average time for “rigor” to set in is 3-4 hours and its typically complete within 12 hours post death.

  6. Depending on the position your pet was in when it died, you will want to tuck their front and back legs tight into their body (known as positioning), rather than leaving the pet outstretched. Why? Primarily for transportation and burial reasons. If you want to transport you pet, you will want to place them in a container or even wrap them up in a blanket. If their limbs are not properly positioned they will be difficult to transport or place in a burial container.

  7. If you bury, you’ll want to follow the city or township’s ordinances, if you cremate you’ll need to make arrangements for your pet’s transportation to the cremation provider.

  8. If you come home and your pet died while you were away – you’ll need to attempt to decide how long the pet has been deceased. If rigor mortise has set in, you’ll know it was at least 3 hours. Depending on the time of year, if its warm outside, you may have an odor that could be difficult getting out of your carpet or even floor.  Don’t try to remove this smell out of your carpet/floor yourself, consult a professional. In the long run, it will be worth it.

In closing, the loss of a pet is never easy. It’s especially hard to remain calm and think through what to do if it’s a sudden onset illness or accident. Finally, keep in mind it’s okay to not know what to do, for most of us, we’ve never walked this journey before.


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