Handling your pet's 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 odour 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 if 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 your pet’s body yourself, here is how to proceed:

  1. Wear gloves while handling the pet’s 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 odour will become severe and permeate your home. Use of additional plastic bags is recommended if freezer or refrigerator storage is not possible.

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