What to Do When Your Pet Dies at Home

Liz Palika

Cat Silhouette

Losing a beloved pet is difficult no matter the circumstances. Ideally, I think most of us would want to hug our pet when the time comes, speak softly to him, and ask him to wait for us on the other side (depending on your beliefs) until it’s our time to join him.

If this occurs with a veterinarian’s assistance, the veterinarian can assist you with the after care of your pet’s body. But what happens if your pet dies at home and you are alone? First of all, go ahead and cry. Your heart is going to break no matter whether the death was anticipated or unexpected.

Then call a family member or friend to come over right away to help you. There is no need for you to go through this by yourself. Choose wisely, though, and call someone who is strong (mentally and/or physically) but who will also not scoff at you because you are devastated. If your help can come over within the hour, go ahead and sit with your pet until your friend shows up.

Wrap Your Pet

No matter what you decide to do with your pet’s body, and we’ll discuss those options next, as soon as your help shows up you will need to wrap the body. Unfortunately, death isn’t pretty and decomposition begins right away.

Bodily fluids may leak from the body so put several potty pads or a large trash bag under the body before you move it. Just slide it under. The sooner you do this the better.

I save my pets’ collars; if you wish to do this take off the collar now and set it aside. Then gently arrange your pet on his side, curled up in a natural position. This will look more natural to you and will provide a bit of comfort.

Choose a towel, blanket, or a piece of your clothing that you would like to go with your pet and wrap him (and the trash bag that is under him) in it. Then place the body inside a trash bag. Tightly seal the bag.

If your pet was small, if you can put his wrapped body in the refrigerator that is best. If he’s too large, put him in a cool place such as on the cool concrete in the garage. This will slightly slow decomposition until you can make arrangements. You cannot wait long though.

Now What?

In years past, pet owners buried their pets on their property. My grandparents had an area behind my grandmother’s garden where generations of well-loved pets were buried, each with their own marker, some of which had been created by the kids in the family. However, few pet owners can do this today due to space and local regulations. Thankfully, other options are available, including cremation and pet cemeteries.

If you believe that once a pet has passed away the body is just a shell, you can call your local animal control. They usually have low cost (or no cost) services to dispose of deceased pets. You can also call your veterinarian. You will need to bring your pet to the clinic but then they can arrange for disposal.

Many pet owners prefer to have their pet cremated and have the ashes returned to them. If you do this, you can then keep the ashes or, if you wish, scatter them in a place that is special to you both. I do a bit of both by keeping half of the ashes and burying half and planting a rose bush on top. It’s comforting to see Riker’s Peace rose and Bashir’s Coat of Many Colors bloom each spring.

Your veterinarian will know of local pet cremation companies, contact your vet clinic for that information. Most cremation companies will come pick up the body, especially if the pet is large. However, you may be able to drop the pet off. They will contact you in a week or so to come pick up the ashes, usually in a nice wooden box.

Another option is burial in a pet cemetery. These may accept your pet’s body or the pet’s ashes after cremation. Again, your veterinarian’s office will know if this is available in your area or you can do some online search.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

No matter whether your pet’s death was anticipated or unexpected, the loss is still going to hurt. Our pets are members of our family and their absence will be obvious. Allow yourself to grieve.

Avoid those people who will demean your grief and keep close those who understand your feelings. Allow them to provide some sympathy and solace.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, contact a pet loss support group. There are many of these; some of which meet in person in local areas and some that are online. For a local group, contact your local humane society or your veterinarian for information. Online, search for pet loss support group or pet bereavement. On Facebook, there are several pages for this, including Pet Loss & Bereavement. Grieving is normal and takes time. Be patient and be kind to yourself.

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