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What to do when your dog passes at home

  1. What happens when a dog naturally passes?
  2. Steps to take once your dog has passed
  3. How to Handle Your Dog’s Remains?
  4. Dog Burial and Cremation
  5. Allow yourself to grieve

Losing a pet is one of the most painful losses one can experience. According to psychological research, the death of an animal companion can be even more heart breaking than losing a human family member.[1]

Your dog is likely more than just a four-legged friend. They might be your surrogate child, emotional support, and beloved companion. The grief and emotions that you feel when you dog passes at home will be different to the experience of losing a pet at the vet’s office, or in an accident outside the home. It can be hard to know exactly what to do and when to do it when your dog passes away at home. We’ve compiled this guide to help walk you through this difficult time.


What happens when a dog naturally passes?

Owners commonly have their dogs euthanised (or put to sleep) at a vet’s surgery. However, in some cases, a dog dies of natural causes in the home. What should you do in this case?[2]

After your dog passes away, their body may still exhibit what appear to be signs of life, which can be confusing or alarming to their owner. Do not be frightened or upset if your recently deceased dog exhibits the following:

  • Releasing gas or bodily fluids
  • Air released from the mouth
  • Twitching or shuddering, which occurs naturally when the nerves spasm

These movements can be particularly upsetting for people who are not expecting them to occur, so it is a good idea to mentally prepare yourself.

Steps to take once your dog has passed

There are a few steps that you should take immediately if your dog dies suddenly in your home.[3]

  • Assess your dog’s vital signs

The most important thing to do is assess your dog’s vital signs so that you can be sure that your dog has indeed passed. If you are unsure about this, transport your dog to the nearest vet’s surgery, or call their emergency number. Feel for your dog’s pulse or heartbeat – if you think your dog might be alive, administer CPR or first aid and get help as soon as possible.

  • Call your vet

Even if you are sure that your dog has passed away, it is time to get in touch with their vet. They will be able to advise you about who to call next, whether that is a pet crematory or mobile vet service who will come to pick up their body. If you are unsure about your next steps, your vet’s office may agree to store your dog’s body for a few days while you think this decision over.

  • Call a friend or family member for support

During this time of grief, it is time to get in touch with your support networks and ask for help. Call a friend or a family member and ask them to come and be with you while you deal with your dog’s remains. If you do not think that you can mentally or physically handle your dog’s body, choose someone who you think can handle this difficult task.

  • Handling the Body

This is an upsetting topic, but an important one to mention. Depending on your circumstances, you might need to handle your dog’s remains. If you are hoping to bury your pet on your own property, you will need to store the body until you are able to do so. You may also need to store the body in the time that it will take for the crematory to pick up or receive delivery of the body.

Any animal’s body begins to decompose very soon after death, which can attract insects and release an upsetting smell. Rigor mortis will begin between 10 minutes to 3 hours after the moment of death; ideally, you can handle and move the body before this stiffening takes place.


How to Handle Your Dog’s Remains

This is certainly a difficult topic, but it is important to understand how to handle your deceased dog’s remains.

  • Wear gloves – Your dog may release fluids from the genitals, mouth, or nose, and additional fluids may occur when you move the body. It is always a good idea to wear gloves when handling the body
  • Use a blanket or towel – Find a sheet, towel, or blanket to swaddle the body, and ensure that it is large enough. Get 2 thick bin bags at the ready.
  • Wrap your dog’s body in the sheet, blanket, or towel – You might want to position their body as if they are asleep, as this can bring you peace.
  • Wrap the body – Wrap the body in the cloth shroud, and then slide into the bin bag (or use 2 if needed). You might need help if your dog is a large breed. Secure the bag with a knot. If you are planning to send your dog’s remains elsewhere for cremation or burial, affix a sticker or tag with your dog’s name and your name.
  • Freeze or cool the remains – You should freeze or cool the remains until they are buried or cremated. If you cannot do this in your own freezer or your vet does not have the facilities, you may need to do this in your garage, basement, or outdoors (if in cooler weather). If this is the case, ensure that you use multiple layers of bin bags.

Dog Burial and Cremation

When your dog dies, you will need to decide if you want to have the body cremated, or bury it at home or in a pet cemetery.[4]

Cremation

If you want to have your dog cremated, you can either arrange this through your vet’s office or organise it yourself. While cremation is a more costly option than burial at home, it gives you more flexibility in what you can do with the cremains or memorial.

The ashes will be returned to you, and you can do with them what you wish. Some dog owners choose to spread the ashes in a garden or park, place the ashes in an urn, while others choose to transform some of the ashes into jewellery, such as a dog ashes necklace. In this way, they can always be with you throughout your life.

How much does it cost to cremate a dog?

Dog cremation costs will vary depending on the location in which you live and the different options that crematoriums offer. The different options on offer often include the size of dog, and whether you are arranging a communal or private cremation. A typical cost is around £100.

Crematoriums can make every effort to keep your dog’s ashes separate from other animals during communal cremations, but remember that this is not always possible. If you want to ensure that the remains are only from your dog, you will have to pay for a private cremation.

Home burial

You might choose to bury your dog at home in your own garden, in a place where your dog enjoyed spending their time. This will reduce the costs, and provide a final resting place with meaning. Remember that it may not be legal to bury your dog in rented accommodation, and it is illegal to do so in a public place.

Make sure that the grave is at least three feet deep to avoid soil erosion. You may choose to select a grave marker, stone or a tree to mark the site, as this can provide a meaningful place to mourn and remember your fallen friend.

Pet cemeteries

Pet cemeteries are a more expensive option than home burial or cremation, but this is a formal and dignified option that some owners prefer. This is an ideal solution for anyone who is unsure about their future address, as a pet cemetery will always be a place you can visit. The price of burial is dependent on weight and requires that your dog is entombed in a coffin or secure container


Allow yourself to grieve

Once all the specifics about the burial have been sorted, it is time for you to allow yourself to grieve. Do not be ashamed to grieve your canine companion, as the death of a dog can be just as devastating as the death of a human.

You may find that you work your way through Kubler-Ross’s 7 Stages of Grief. These are non-linear stages – you may find that you go up and down the ladder more than once before finally settling into acceptance.[5]

  1. Shock and Disbelief – Your initial feelings of shock and disbelief can help you deal with the logistics as you prepare the burial or cremation.
  1. Denial – Denial can take many forms – you can find that you are denying the reality you’re your dog has died, or deny the fact that you are grieving.
  1. Guilt – You might find yourself worrying that you didn’t do enough to help or save your dog – this is a normal part of bereavement.
  1. Anger and Bargaining – Anger and frustration with the situation are normal parts of the grieving process.  Don’t be surprised if your temper is short and you find yourself looking for an outlet for your anger.
  1. Depression and loneliness – Once you have acknowledged your loss and the reality sinks in, you might experience a period of depression.
  1. Recovery and moving on – Once you begin to move on, you won’t forget about your dog, but you will be able to recover and come to terms with the reality.
  1. Acceptance – Once you have accepted your dog’s passing, recovered, and moved on, you can start to heal. You’ll soon be able to think of your beloved companion without the same heaviness in your heart, and enjoy your memories of joy and love.

Reference list

Adrienne Janet Farricelli (2018). 12 Signs a Dog Is Dying: What to Do When Your Dog’s Health Declines. [online] PetHelpful. Available at: https://pethelpful.com/pet-ownership/The-Dog-Dying-Process-Signs-a-Dog-is-Dying [Accessed 5 Nov. 2019].

Purina (n.d.). What to Do When Your Dog Dies. [online] Purina. Available at: https://www.purina.co.uk/dogs/key-life-stages/saying-goodbye/what-to-do-when-your-dog-dies [Accessed 30 Mar. 2020].

Ryback, R. (2016). Why Losing a Pet Hurts So Much. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201608/why-losing-pet-hurts-so-much [Accessed 30 Mar. 2020].

Stregowski, J. (2019). A Most Difficult Time: Handling Your Dog Dying at Home. [online] The Spruce Pets. Available at: https://www.thesprucepets.com/if-your-dog-dies-at-home-1118473 [Accessed 30 Mar. 2020].

Usher, J. (2019). The Seven Stages of Grief Explained. [online] Ashes Memorial Jewellery. Available at: https://www.ashesmemorialjewellery.com/blog/the-seven-stages-of-grief-explained/ [Accessed 30 Mar. 2020].


Sources

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201608/why-losing-pet-hurts-so-much

[2] https://pethelpful.com/pet-ownership/The-Dog-Dying-Process-Signs-a-Dog-is-Dying

[3] https://www.thesprucepets.com/if-your-dog-dies-at-home-1118473

[4] https://www.purina.co.uk/dogs/key-life-stages/saying-goodbye/what-to-do-when-your-dog-dies

[5] https://www.ashesmemorialjewellery.com/blog/the-seven-stages-of-grief-explained/

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