When A Pet Dies At Home, Here’s 8 Things You’ll Need To Do!

If  your family’s beloved pet dies suddenly at home, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone. People ask “what to do” on a regular basis. Here you will learn 8 things you’ll need to do, in order to properly handle the situation.

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.  Unless you adopt a senior dog or one with a disability, rarely does the topic of pet death ever come up. For the next few minutes we’ll review the necessary actions that every pet parent or owner should know when their pet dies at home unexpectedly.

  1. First and foremost, as strange as it sounds, make sure the pet is deceased! All too often, people think their pet died, only to discover that they are still alive. This is because they are breathing very shallow and lying still. Most likely they are transitioning and death is near. Don’t be afraid, this is normal.  (Note: If your feel the pet is in distress, 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, typically their bowels will release. This may not happen immediately.  (If your pet is dehydrated or hasn’t eaten, this may not occur.) Don’t be alarmed, just be prepared as nature is simply taking its course.  If your pet is lying on the floor or a piece of furniture, you’ll want to place some a towel or even plastic under their hind end immediately.

  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.  Otherwise, they will wonder where they went. Your pet will know naturally what to do. Should they act aloof, its alright. The scent of the deceased pet is what the living pets need. This can be accomplished by being in the same room.

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

  5. Some people want to keep their pet at home for a day, until they decide what to do. If you want to do this, place your pet’s remains in a container. 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’ll 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, place them in a container or even wrap them up in a blanket. When their limbs are not properly positioned they are awkward and difficult to transport or place in a burial container.

  7. If you bury, you’ll want to follow the city or township’s ordinances. Should you choose to 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 figure out 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.


25 Responses to When A Pet Dies At Home, Here’s 8 Things You’ll Need To Do!

  1. Martin wyatt says:

    Thank you, he was a friend for 15 years, always there for me , a paw on my knee when I was down . Thank u for the advice.

  2. Ven says:

    Thank you for this article, my dog Johnny also died at our beloved home. We were really surprised when we were caught off guard and his passing greatly affected us. We looked for a proper burial for him and we came across on a pet cremation services San Antonio that helped us find peace of mind. With the help of this post, people will understand that things can happen on the blink of an eye.

  3. Greg Verbick says:

    If you elect to bury your pet, I suggest either making, if you are handy, or buying a container that can be made waterproof. Large storage containers are excellent fir burial. There are a host of Silicone Sealers that are excellent for waterproofing the containers. If you build a container with wood, use a paint that will waterproof the container, as well as silicone sealer at all areas that have even a small gap. This will preserve the container for a long time.

  4. Mila Lopez says:

    Thank you for this information. I have a fifteen year bichon and I see she is slowing down and has trouble with her hind legs.sometimes she seems she is in pain and whimpers. She is on arthritis medicine and that seems to soothe her.
    I know her time is near to depart this world, so I’m thankful for this information.

    Kind regards,

  5. Barbara Stephenson says:

    I lost my little cat on Sunday night just gone his name was roly and he was about 12 to13 years old he was a very affecianote cat and very loving only last year I lost another cat called Tommy he was 18 I took Tommy to the vet because he was ill and the vet had to put him to sleep now his ashes is at the pet crematorium in Durham but roly died at home and he is buried in my back garden I have another cat who is called squeak he is missing his friend I just can’t believe roly has left us

  6. Steve says:

    My best friend pepper, had liver and spleen Cancer. She’s been sick for a couple of months but the last couple of days have been the worst. She ate breakfast this morning and seemed like she was doing a little better then the day before. I came home from work she stumbled over with her drunken like walk to greet me then went to her dog bed and at about 2:30am this morning she passed. I was a wreck to say the least I Didn’t know what to do.I just kept sitting with her trying to figure out what to do. So I Googled what to do if your dog dies. And your article came up anyways I just wanna say thank you it was very helpful and gave me some direction and really helped especially about bringing our other dogs. THANK YOU !!!!!!


  7. Sherry Lyn says:

    Thank you so much! This is not talked about enough. I’m letting my pet transition at home, maybe a day or less away at this point. Not easy to find info to help him pass at home and how to handle the body after he passes. So thank you again.

  8. Melinda says:

    Beautiful and compassionate words that will help in a very stressful time. Thank you for the advice and info. I now feel ready for the first time if this happens to my beloved soon.

  9. l. says:

    Thanks … My experience on this with my companion feline has been too difficult so I won’t say anything on that but I had a question. The other day I was heading home when I spotted something on the floor and it was the full body of a cat lying on the side, no breathing, no blinking or reactions to light or external stimuli, no blood, no bruises, no broken bones and no signs of dehydration or starvation, no bloating (at least to my eyes). I tried to figure out if there was any time left for me to rush the cat to a vet but I failed to pinpoint if there was enough time or not. Someone who was with me at the time insisted that it was too late and the cat was already gone mainly because the body was cold as ice. It was autumn by the way but with no wind. But the body wasn’t stiff and with the cat’s eyes open I could see that they were not yet … ‘blurry’ or ‘greying’. So I wonder still about it … many said the cat was probably having food poisoning but there was no vomit near the cat. How long after the death of a cat does their body get cold as ice? And if we burry their body in an area with four distinct seasons, how long would it take their full body including bones to decompose?
    Thank you again for this. Too many questions will be there when these loveballs leave us behind but very rarely anyone scientifically talks or teaches about the facts related to their departure. Knowing more about it does somewhat help getting a clearer picture and maybe deal with the unwanted change faster.

  10. Debby Barnett of Texas says:

    Thank you that is good advice to know. It happened to my mother in law a few years back. Her loving not dog of more than a decade took ill & we were totally lost on what to do for him. Finally we found a vet to help us & not take advantage on billing. So thank you for the advice cause I’m afraid it’s getting close for my little girl minpin. She has shown signs of dementia already at age 11….

  11. J Elliott says:

    Our 5 1/2 year old black and white medium hair cat named Will suddenly past on the other day. The wife and I have expierenced pets passing on and always had a choice or decision on their final moments of care. My wife had seen him alive and well at 5:30am to go to the bathroom, then go back to bed. I awoke at 8:30am and found him unresponsive on the floor. As we dont have children, our cats are our ‘furrbabies’. I screamed for the wife to get up and see what was going on. I rushed to get ready to take Will to the doctor and as I was getting shoes on, she told me, that he had passed. The total shock of someone (he wasnt a ‘something’) so bright, so lively to be taken so quickly. A book could be written on how smart, talkative, loving and beautiful our little Will was. He was our little superhero as his black markings on his head looked like a crooked mask. We can only assume it was a stroke or heart attack as he was an indoor and very healthy kitty and we can only hope he went quickly and without pain. We are 2 days past and it feels like we have lost a child. We had no time for a decision or a choice for his care, we’ve had $1000+ vet bills before for other animals, its only money and i’d trade anything to have him back. He set the bar for any other cats we will ever have. We miss him so much for he named himself with his strong will.

  12. Catherine J Fusco says:

    My name is Catherine J Fusco My beloved cat “”Girlie::; went to heaven a week ago Aug 10th 2021 I am devastated We were so close I am waiting for a sign that she will jump on my bed or anything else she might do I wondered if she knew how much pain I am in and that I am crying for her I saw a video on youtube w/ Sonya Fitzpatrick The Pet Pychic”” and she say’s our pets do know we are suffering >>I will never replace my Girlie She had such a unique personality and was so affectionate
    Life will never be the same without her
    Thank You
    Catherine J Fusco

  13. Ms. Van W Williamson says:

    I find this information helpful to know what to do. I have a 5 lb toy poodle , 17 1/2 years. He is not feeling well at all. I love him more than life. Trying to make arrangements. You have given info of what to do with body but I have to decide on burial and cremation. No burial here because of water level. Would have to take him to upstate. Again thanks for information. I know some of what to do when he passes.

  14. Trinity says:

    Honestly it was hard to get over my pet that died I don’t know if he was already dead or not. He’s name was Frankie but I’m not sure if Frankie was even a male I think he was female I only had him for 7 months but I searched it up and it said that males live longer than a female, am I wrong?

  15. Christy says:

    Thank you so much. I’m so heartbroken. Teddy is still hanging in here but I know he is dying. 😢😢😢😢

  16. PAt says:

    I came home and my Lady Midnight was gone. She is totally stiff. I feel horrible because she was alone. I don’t have a desire to keep her ashes and am in the process of moving so I don’t want to bury her. I hate the idea of tossing her in the trash which picks up in the morning but each time I look at her lying dead on the floor I’m ….just so hurt sad sorry pained and lost. Your article is great for people who want to keep mementos but I’ve lost pets before and I don’t want to keep her like that. I told her I loved her before I left her this morning and sat with her body. I don’t want that to be the last picture of her in my head. I guess I just don’t want to feel cold and heartless for just wanting to not have her little corpse laying there. It hurts knowing this is the last time ill be with her.

  17. Tracie West says:

    Thank you for this information. We just lost our Beloved Buddy @ home on Friday. Vet was very supportive. We are 💔. This is such good information and glad it’s available. This isn’t easy but when its your loves time we need to know what to do. 🥲

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