What to Do When Your Dog Dies and How to Say Farewell Properly

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Losing a loved one is a devastating pain that never seems to go away, and dogs are more than pets—they’re a vital part of our family, so it’s only natural to grieve for them too. Although we can assume we’ll outlive our dogs, it’s not easy when that actually happens, even with an elderly dog. Are there any warning signs beforehand, and what to do when your dog dies? In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about the loss of your best friend.

What Happens When a Dog Dies?

Although they don’t have the same range of emotions as we do, animals’ bodies tell them when something isn’t right and they’re in their final days. If you observe your dog, you can notice certain behavioral changes that signify your dog is dying, such as incontinence, slow breathing, vomiting and diarrhea, decreased appetite and dehydration, irritability, and more.

A few final changes will occur after a dog has passed away:

  • Your dog will exhale his last breath—because the lungs are empty, your dog’s body will be fairly deflated
  • There will be no heartbeat
  • The dog can have post mortem spasms and twitching, and after that, the body will be flaccid
  • As the muscles are relaxed, defecation, urination, and releasing of gas will occur
  • If the dog’s eyes stay open, they will be foggy with a blank stare.
DID YOU KNOW: In addition to sensing when their own death is near, dogs can also sense human death due to their incredible sense of smell and hearing!

What to Do When Your Dog Dies?

Even after all the signs, you can still be in denial that your dog is dead before learning how to deal with the death of a dog. Although it’s unfortunately very unlikely they’re still alive, you can recheck their vitals just to be sure before you start grieving and deciding what to do with their body.

Check if It’s Really Dead

In some cases, dogs will display post-mortem muscle spasms that can trick the owner into thinking: “Hey, my dog hasn’t died!”—but that’s a normal reaction after death. Even though it’s hard to believe, recheck the vitals of your dog to confirm their death: check the breathing, pulse, and responsiveness. If all three are negative, unfortunately, your dog has passed.

Contact Your Vet

You may want to contact your vet as soon as you notice any of the above signs your dog may be dying. If you call the vet in time, they can examine your dog and rule the death, along with helping you with the body disposal.

Cover/Wrap It Up

As soon as you determine your dog is dead, you need to know what to do with the deceased pet. Make sure to wrap up the body in some old blanket or plastic cover. If the dog passed on the sofa, chair, or carpet, make sure you move it to the floor, garage, or yard, as bodily fluids released after death can stain your interior.

Grieve Your Dog

Grieve at your own pace. If you want to isolate yourself from the world and cry, that’s fine. If you need a friend in these desperate times, that’s fine too. It’s ok to feel sad and depressed, as you’ve lost a loved companion.

Consider Your Options

When a dog dies, what do you do with the body? Although it may be a difficult decision, it’s one you have to make fast, because, after 4-6 hours, the body odor will be unbearable. If you can’t decide, call your vet’s office—sometimes they offer a service of keeping the dog’s body for a few hours until you reach a decision. When disposing of a dog’s body, you can consider a few options: burial, cremation, or calling your local animal control to dispose of it for you.

Burying Your Dog

Although the best way to bury a dog used to be in your backyard, these days pet burying regulations vary from state to state. Check if your state allows burying pets in your backyard, as it’s illegal in some states, as well as potentially dangerous for other animals. If your dog had a contagious disease, or if you paid for euthanasia—which is done with strong drugs—it may harm other animals that dig up that area. On the other hand, you can bury your dog in a pet cemetery, although this usually costs around $400, the burial company will provide a casket, gravestone, and a burial parcel.

Cremation

When a dog passes away, cremation is one of the most popular options. Cremation can be individual or communal, the difference between the two is that the individual costs more, and you receive your dog’s ashes. If you want to have your dog’s remains back, the costs will vary between $150 and $300, depending on the size of your pet. Communal or mass cremation costs between $25 and $150, depending on the dog’s size. Many dog owners chose individual cremation as a way to have a piece of their pets in their homes.

Third-Party Disposal

A lot of animal control companies offer the service of disposing of a pet’s body. If you have your dog pass away in your home, you can call such companies in case you decide a burial or cremation is not for you. The service cost depends on the size of the pet and the state you live in, but averages at $30, although some organizations can do this service for free.

Donating the Body

Another humane option is to donate the body to science. Your dog’s body can help the veterinarian students learn more about a specific health condition and give them further knowledge for handling future patients. If you’re interested in donating the body, your vet can suggest a nearby veterinarian school or university.

How to Handle a Dog’s Body

After the worst has happened, your deceased dog’s body is crucial. What to do if your dog dies at home? Here are some important steps:

  • First, put on some latex gloves when handling the dead body.
  • Find a place where you’ll prepare the body—the garage floor, back yard, or bathroom floor.
  • Quickly move the body, as it will become stiff soon.
  • Place a thick plastic cover on the floor, as bodily fluids may come out.
  • With a wet cloth, clean their eyes, mouth, and rear from the disposed of fluids.
  • Wrap a blanket, towel, or sheet around the body tightly, making secure knots with the plastic cover.
  • The remains should be kept in a freezer or another cool place up until the burial or pet cremation (no more than 6 hours, because of the odor).
  • The best way to bury a dog is in a grave 3–4 feet deep, and before the burial or cremation, the body should be unwrapped from all non-biodegradable materials such as plastic.
DID YOU KNOW: Dogs can get nearly every illness that we humans can, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.

Key Takeaways

When close to dying, your dog will display behavior like decreased eating and drinking, incontinence, slow or heavy breathing, etc.
To make sure your dog is really dead, check their breathing, pulse, and responsiveness.
Upon your dog’s passing, you can bury or cremate them, give the body to vet schools or call an animal control company so they can dispose of the body.
To commemorate your dog, you can hold a memorial service, plant a tree, scatter the ashes, and even make jewelry from the dog’s ashes.
A few ways of coping with loss are accepting it and talking about it, expressing your emotions, or joining a pet loss support group.

Arranging a Memorial Service for Your Dog

After deciding what to do with your deceased pet, it’s a good idea to choose the right way to commemorate them. Although there’s no wrong way of saying goodbye to your dog, choosing the one that you feel is right can help with the grieving process. Holding a memorial service can give you a sense of closure, and you can honor your dog’s life by preparing for such an event. Take a look at some creative ideas for paying respect to your four-legged friend:

Classic Burial

If you’ve never had a dog pass away before, maybe you and your family can all say some prayers and nice things before the burial. You can take a paw print impression just to have it as a memory. Although the pet cemetery or burial homes offer headstones, you can make them yourself if you want them to be more personal. You can hold this type of ceremony not just when burying a body, but also upon pet cremation.

Plant a Tree Memorial

Many people nowadays decide on this option when a dog passes away, as it’s a great way to materialize your dog’s existence with the help of nature. You can put your dog’s ashes in a biodegradable urn, which is later planted as a tree of your choice.

Scatter the Ashes

As another way of honoring your dog, you can spread the ashes in their favorite park, hiking place, the ocean, or even your yard. Just make sure to get permission if you do it in a public place.

Make the Ashes Into Jewelry

Another creative option of what to do when a pet dies is this memorial craft that helps you keep your dog close wherever you go. Some companies provide the service of putting your dog’s ashes in a necklace, ring, or bracelet, or turning them into a diamond or a gemstone.

Floating Lanterns

Organizing a farewell ceremony by arranging floating lanterns can be another great option for what to do when a pet dies. Gather your family near some river or a lake, say a few words about your late dog when you drop the lantern on the water, and let it float away. Just make sure you check the state laws first because some states forbid floating or sky lanterns due to potential risks.

Memorial Wind Chimes

Wind chimes are a pretty addition to any patio, and dog memorial wind chimes will make you remember your doggie every time the wind blows. You can customize the chime with a picture of your dog and its name.

DID YOU KNOW: Dogs can grieve too! When they lose their human or a fellow four-legged friend, they tend to become sad and lethargic, and even cry.

How to Get Over a Dog Death?

What do you actually do when your dog dies? What do you feel? Grief comes in many colors, but the most important thing is to let yourself grieve in order to heal eventually. Mourning for a pet can last for about 2 months on average, but some owners stated it took them around a year to fully recover. Although grieving the loss of a pet is often met with little compassion from society, grieving owners feel an array of emotions:

Intense Sadness

Every time you think about your dog, you’ll feel sad, and every other dog will remind you of them. You may feel you want to cry, and you should! Letting the sadness out through tears will begin the grieving process, ultimately helping you with how to deal with dog death.

Feeling That Your Dead Dog Is Present

If you had a specific routine with your dog—feeding, taking walks, cuddles, etc.—you may feel the urge to get up and do those things. Sometimes, you’ll even hear your dog barking or feel its smell, which will cause you to feel immensely sad that your dog has passed away once reality hits.

Guilt

You may find yourself frequently wondering if there was something you could’ve done, as you may feel guilty about your dog’s death due to being responsible for their life. Also, you’ll probably feel guilty that you’re not grieving whenever you feel fine. However, it’s important not to give in to these doubts, as the death of a loved one is a vicious circle of emotions.

Loneliness

If your day started and ended with your dog, you’ll very much feel alone. No noise, no responsibilities, and no cuddle buddy may make your home feel terribly empty, causing you to think over and over again: “My dog died, what do I do now?!” Although some of your friends may not understand your suffering, experiencing sudden loneliness is a very common part of coping with the loss of a pet.

Relieving the Death

You may find yourself reliving the moment your dog died—how it happened, what it looked like, etc. Although unpleasant, reliving the circumstances of the death is your mind’s way of healing itself by digesting and letting go of the terrible experience.

Reanalyzing Earlier Loss

Your dog dying can bring up recollections of past losses in your life. If you’ve already lost pets or people extremely important to you, you may find yourself thinking about the prior losses so much that it becomes difficult to separate your feelings of grief.

How to Deal With the Death of a Dog?

Although the severity and length of your personal mourning process will vary, there are various widely applicable ways to vocalize the sorrow and let the healing begin. Here are just a few:

  • Don’t Hold in Your Emotions

Cry when you feel like crying, talk about the loss with your friends and family, or ask for professional help.

  • Join Pet Loss Support Groups

Those who’ve experienced the same kind of loss can better relate to you and understand you. There are many pet bereavement support services that can help you with grief.

  • Materialize Your Feelings

Start a journal, or write letters expressing how you feel. You can also make crafts, paintings, or drawings to create a dog passing keepsake of remembrance.

  • Take Care of Your Mind and Body

Try meditation, and breathing exercises, eat more healthily, and occupy yourself with some physical activity.

  • Don’t Forget About Your Other Pets

If you already have other pets, remember that they still need the same maintenance and quality time as before. Some pets can even grieve their deceased friend, so make sure you’re extra careful with them.

  • Give Yourself Some Time Before Getting Another Dog

There’s no specific time for getting a new dog like there’s no specific way of how to get over a dog death—it’s different for everybody. The appropriate time to get a new pet is when you have worked over your sorrow enough to know you’re ready for building new relationships. And remember, each dog has a unique personality, and the new dog can’t replace the one you’ve lost.

DID YOU KNOW: The dog breed with the shortest lifespan is the Irish wolfhound, they tend to live around 6 years.

Conclusion

Losing a dog is devastating, and it will take some time for you to come to terms with the loss of your puppy. However, before the grieving even starts, you need to take care of some technicalities and know what to do when the dog dies. Whether you decide on burial or cremation, make sure you properly handle the body and choose the best option.

FAQ

How to deal with your dog dying?

After losing your dog, the sadness you’ll experience can really affect your mental health. It’s important to express your emotions, and you can join pet loss support groups, or seek professional help. Holding a memorial for your dog can also help you with the grieving process. Focus on your health, make yourself busy with fun activities, and wait until fully recovered to get a new dog.

How to dispose of a dead dog?

Although you feel sad, you need to know what to do when your dog dies. You need to call your vet or animal services, make sure you properly handle the body, and decide if you want a burial or cremation for your dog.

ABOUT AUTHOR

When she couldn’t decide between being a nurse, a psychotherapist, and a financial genius, Ofelia decided to do all three. Her interests run far and wide, and she loves researching about everything you get to read on our website. Credit cards or top-notch software, she’s here to tell it all like it is.

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