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What to do When Your Pet Dies

No one wants to think about their pet dying but knowing what to do when your pet dies beforehand can save you a lot of panic in an emotionally tumultuous moment. Here's what you should know when it comes to handling the loss of a pet.

Try to prepare ahead of time

It's a good idea to talk with your veterinarian regarding logistical questions so that you can be prepared at the time of passing. They can help you figure out what to do with your dog when it dies, what the process looks like, and other questions you may have regarding the loss. Some of these questions might include:

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  • What happens when a dog dies naturally?
  • What happens to a dog's body when it dies?
  • Is euthanasia the right option?
  • What do I do if my dog (or pet) passes away unexpectedly?
  • What signs should I look for to know that the end is coming?
  • How much time do we have left?
  • What does the process look like?
  • How long does it take?

If this isn't an option for you and you're preparing for a loss at home, have just lost a pet at home, or are wondering what to do when your dog dies, here are some steps to take.

What to do if your pet dies

Knowing what to do when your dog dies at home (or any pet) can be confusing, but there is a loose process you can follow to ensure you're handling your pet with care.

Step 1: Take a moment to breathe.

If your pet dies at home, the first thing you should do is take a deep breath to center yourself. Losing a pet is extremely difficult and taking a minute to stop, breathe, and plan will serve you well.

Step 2: Call your vet, if the pet passed at home

If you're experiencing the loss of a pet and aren't sure what to do, calling your veterinarian is one of the most helpful things to do. A veterinarian can guide you on what to do when your dog dies at home (or any other pet) in regards to how to handle some of the more logistical questions, like:

  • "My dog died, what do I do with the body?"
  • "Who do I call to pick up a dead dog?"
  • "Where can I have my pet cremated?"
  • "How much is a pet cremation?"
  • "Can I keep my pet's ashes?"

Step 3: Phone a friend

Handling the death of an animal is difficult and having someone supportive there to help you through it can be a huge relief. If you have a friend or family member who can come over to your house and help you through the following steps, it can make the process a lot easier.

Step 4: Handle your pet's body if the pet passed at home

If you have a friend or family member to assist you, this is the time to ask for their help as handling your pet's body can be a very emotional process. Here are the steps to take to properly handle your pet's body after it dies:

  1. Gather supplies. You'll need a large trash bag, gloves, blankets or sheets, and a tie to secure the bag. (If you plan on burying your pet on your property, you can skip steps 4-7 and instead, carry the body to the spot you’ve chosen on your property to lay your pet to rest.)
  2. Prepare the body. If you'd like to, you can clean your pet's body before doing the rest of the steps in preparation for their cremation or burial. This is optional, but can be an important step for some.
  3. Wrap the body in a sheet or blanket.
  4. Place the body in a trash bag. You can double bag if you're concerned about the strength of the bag.
  5. Secure the bag with a tie or some tape.
  6. Place a label on the bag with the animal's information and your information so it's clearly identifiable.
  7. Call the pet crematorium, veterinarian, or the service you're working with to handle the disposal of the body.

Handling the body of a deceased pet is an intense process and can be very triggering for those who are losing a companion. Doing this alone is not necessarily recommended, it can be made much easier with the help of a few friends.

How to deal with grief when a pet dies

There is no one way to grieve when a pet dies and it's important to do what feels right for you. Some people may want to spend more time alone while others may lean on their support system of friends and family. There are also professional grief counselors available if you feel like you need someone to talk to outside of your personal circle. If you prefer to connect with a community online, you can check out grief support forums.

Some things that may help when grieving the loss of a pet are:

No matter what you do to cope with your grief, it's okay to feel sad, angry, or any other emotion when your pet dies. Losing a pet is a difficult experience and it's normal to need some time to adjust.

How to help a child grieving the loss of a pet

If you have children who have also lost the pet, you likely have the added difficulty of helping them through their grief as well. It can be difficult to know what to say or how to help a child when they're grieving, but there are some things that may be helpful:

  • Listen to them and let them talk about their feelings
  • Be direct and clear and answer any questions they may have
  • Be prepared to explain euthanasia
  • Help them express their emotions through art, writing, or other creative outlets
  • Encourage them to join a pet loss support group for kids
  • Help them make a memorial for their pet
  • Offer reassurance that it's okay to feel sad or angry

Explaining euthanasia of a pet to a child

If you've had to euthanize your pet, it's important to be honest with your child about what happened. Depending on the age of the child, you may need to adjust how much detail you go into, but it's important to be as truthful as possible. You may want to say something like:

  • "I had to help Fluffy die because she was very sick and in a lot of pain. It was the kindest thing we could do for her."
  • "Sometimes when pets are old and in pain, the kindest thing we can do is help them die."
  • "Euthanasia means that we helped Rocky die because she was sick and in pain. It's something we do when we love our pets and want to end their suffering."

After you explain what happened, be sure to answer any questions your child may have. It's also important to give them time to process their feelings and grieve in their own way.

If you’ve recently lost a pet and want a beautiful way to honor their memory, consider setting up a memorial website on Ever Loved. Memorial websites are free, easy to use, and provide you with a space to share an obituary, unlimited photos, collect condolences, and much more.

Start a pet memorial

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Last updated August 18, 2022
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