What do I do when my pet dies at home?

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, to properly handle the situation.

When we make the decision to bring a pet into our home, most of us do our homework. Topics of conversation and planning revolve around house breaking, cage training, socialization and overall behaviour.  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.

Here’s a guide on what to do when your pet dies at home

  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 you feel your pet is in distress, it is important to consult your veterinarian immediately. We no longer provide direct assistance to the public in these matters. If you were planning to let your pet die naturally, please consult your vet to ensure you’re taking the most humane course of action. Keep the area calm and quiet as advised by your veterinarian).
  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, it’s 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 mortis. 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 it is 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. Should you choose to cremate, consult your veterinarian for the best course of action as we no longer offer this service directly.
  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 mortis has set in, you’ll know it was at least 3 hours. Depending on the time of year, if it is warm outside, you may have an odour 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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