Adrienne is certified dog trainer and former veterinary assistant. She has taken several courses on hospice, end-of-life care for dogs.
What Do You Do When Your Dog Dies?
The death of a dog is a devastating event, and no owner is ever prepared for it. If your dog died at home unexpectedly or suddenly or after a long-term illness, you may be wondering about your options.
When a dog dies at a veterinary clinic, the options are pretty straightforward. The vet will likely offer you several choices such as a private or communal cremation or burial in a pet cemetery or at your home. If you choose bury your dog yourself, they will place the body in a bag so you can proceed home and bury him/her at the site of your choice. But at home? You may be too devastated to make an informed decision and may need some time to mourn and come to terms with the death (although if you have scheduled your vet to put your dog to sleep at home, you may already have ideas).
There are several options when it comes to a dog dying in your home. The following are some options you may want to consider.
Body Disposal Options at Home
Depending on what you want to do with your beloved pet's remains, generally, your options are the same as when your dog dies at the clinic, with the only difference being that you will have to manage a few important aspects yourself. Here are each option, in detail.
Burial is the most common choice for owners of pets that die at home. Many owners like the thought of laying their pets to rest in the same areas they enjoyed in life. A burial site also offers owners a place to mourn and remember those beloved animals.
The simple acts of posting a grave marker and holding a memorial service may help owners cope better with the loss. Those left behind may handle the death better if they can visit the gravesite every now and then.
However, if you are considering burial, you must keep in mind some legal aspects (which may vary from one area to another). Many cities prohibit burials in residential areas. Call your local police, animal control, or vet's office to make sure you are abiding by your local laws. In some urban and suburban areas, you may not be allowed to bury your dog on your property. (Note: If your local ordinances do not allow burial at your site, scroll down to ''what if burying at home is not an option.'')
How to Prepare the Body
As you arrange for burial, the body should be wrapped in a sheet, shroud, or blanket and then placed in two thick, heavy-duty plastic bags. Wear latex gloves, as bodily fluids may be released.
If You Can't Bury Your Dog Right Away
If you must postpone burial for some time, you must have to find a way to refrigerate or freeze the body. Many vets are willing to store the body temporarily. Make sure you label the bag with your and your dog's name. If you are planning to keep the body at home for some time, make sure it is in a cool room such as a basement or garage.
Try not to let the body sit for longer than four hours. After this time, the odor may become severe. It may be wise to further wrap the body in more plastic bags if refrigeration is not an option. Placing the remains in an ice chest may help preserve the body a bit longer.
Digging the Grave
When the time for burial arrives, you need to dig a grave deep enough—at least three feet deep—to avoid health hazards and possibly attracting wild animals. You can then transfer the body to a wooden casket if you wish.
Necropsy or Autopsy
If you are planning to have your dog undergo a necropsy (examination to determine cause of death), don't freeze the body, although you may want to refrigerate it. Contact your vet immediately if this is something that you want to have done.
What If Burial at Home Is Not an Option?
If burial at home is not an option, you can contact a pet cemetery. They may come to pick up your pet's body and take care of burial for you. Many can be reached even after office hours. If you choose cremation, your vet may keep the body or the pet cemetery may also pick up your pet's body if they offer cremation services.
Generally, pet cremation services and pet cemeteries are fairly quick in picking up your pet's body either at your home or your vet's office.
Cremation (Private or Communal)
If you wish to have your dog cremated, there are many pet cremation services. You may be asked to choose between private or communal cremation. In private cremation, your pet will be cremated privately. In communal cremation, your pet's body is cremated along with other pets.
In private cremation, your pet will be cremated privately and you will receive the ''cremains'' in a small box with your pet's name on it. In communal cremation, you do not get your pet's ashes back. Instead, your pet's ashes, which are mixed with the ashes of other pets, will be spread in a natural setting or placed in a communal grave.
Cremains generally arrive within a week, many in a day or two. Picking up your deceased dog's ashes is quite a difficult time that many dog owners struggle with. Read Picking Up Your Dog's Ashes Can Be Difficult for more tips.
For some pet owners, a dead animal is simply a shell of the spirit, now gone. There are ultimately no right or wrong thoughts about what a pet's body represents.
Dog owners who prefer remembering their dogs in life and who give little importance to remains always have the option of releasing the body to the vet's office or humane society. However, they must be fully aware that they will not have any choice about how the body will be disposed of.
To save money or if they have no place for burial, owners of small pets may be tempted to place the body in the trash. For obvious reasons, this may be illegal, however some cities offer ''dead animal pick-up'' if the owners follow specific instructions and place the body at the curb. For example, according to the ASPCA, New York's Bureau of Sanitation collects dead animals free of charge. The remains must be placed in a box or bag and labeled as ''dead animal.' Sometimes, animal control services are willing to pick up dead pets for a small charge.
Regardless of how your pet's body is disposed of, life without your pet will be difficult. It is completely normal to feel depressed in the first days afterward. Often, your other dogs will also be part of the mourning process.
Helping a grieving dog can be quite a challenge, but it can help dog owners move on. Some dog owners proceed and get another pet while others ponder if getting a new dog after losing one is a good option. There is ultimately no right or wrong answer when it comes to the grieving process.
Dogs, just like people, mourn the loss of their canine companions. In many ways, their grief is similar to humans'. Fortunately, there are several ways to help a grieving dog. Some of these tips can help grieving owners, too.
Children can be deeply affected by the death of a pet. Here are some tips on how to help them cope when an animal friend passes away.
Losing a dog leads to a mix of emotions that may be difficult to comprehend at times. Understanding the stages of grief when losing a dog may help the grieving dog owner better understand what is happening to them.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My vet sent my dog home in a plastic bag. We buried him in it. Was that okay?
Answer: There should be considerably less decomposition if kept in the bag versus simply burying it in the ground. However, placing it in a secure receptacle, such as a wood or metal box, and then burying it at least four feet deep can help prevent animals from being attracted if you live out in the country. You should also check (if you haven't already) with your local municipal clerk to know whether there is an ordinance against home burial on private property. I am so sorry for your loss.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 04, 2019:
Marion, it is very tough. I wrote an article on The Stages of Grief When Losing a Dog not too long ago when I lost my heart dog. It might be helpful as it explains what is happening. There are also many support groups and even hotlines for help. Average people who don't have dogs, fail to understand how deep the pain is.
Marion scott on January 27, 2019:
I have just had my German shepherd put to sleep at home which was definitely best for her , but I am suffering so much I see her every where there was just the 2 of us for 5 years I chatted all day and a lot of the night to her. Can any one help with suggestions as how they managed after. I have her ashes beside my other dogs.
Patty on February 20, 2018:
My dog was sick for a few weeks but definitely waited for his family to be with him to die at home He left us just last week, after 13 years I will be mourning him for awhile, but am glad I didn’t have to move him He died in his home with his family around him I called the mobile Vet & they came to take his body for cremation
Telsamartineau on November 21, 2017:
I have a 15 year old dog and she can't always move very good and has a hard time getting in the car. And I was wondering if letting her die ay home would be abuse or not. She hates the vet. Plus I don't want to stress her out at the vets.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 16, 2012:
Thank you, when a dog dies at home it is really tough, but at least they are in familiar surroundings with their favorite people! Kind regards!
Diana L Pierce from Potter County, Pa. on February 10, 2012:
Dogs are part of the family. This is good advise. Thanks for exploring this topic. Voted up.
Chris from Illinois on February 10, 2012:
Great hub. One of our dogs is 150 pounds and moving him is always a challenge, so with him over 11 years old, this is something I've thought about.
FishAreFriends from Colorado on February 10, 2012:
My only dog that has passed on died at home, right before we went on vacation. That was nice, because I could get my mind off of the tradegy. I want my newest dog to die in the comfort of her own home once she is at that point, but hopefully that is a long time from now. Nice hub.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 09, 2012:
Thank you, when my dogs die I hope they spend their last moments in the comfort of their home either naturally or by hand of a caring vet if needed.
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on February 09, 2012:
Very interesting.. My dogs have always died at home.. We always give them a good burial...cried over them .. it's like losing part of our family.
Great interesting and useful hub