What to Do if Your Pet Dies at Home

What to Do if Your Pet Dies at Home

Losing a pet is never easy. When facing the sudden loss of a furry companion, pet owners might not know what to do if their pet dies at home. 

While it may be unclear what best to do when experiencing such an ordeal, experts stress that it is important to take a second and grieve the loss.

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“Acknowledge your feelings about that loss,” says Dr. Jennie Rubenstein, veterinarian and  member of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. “Nothing that needs to be done [is urgent].”

Here’s what to know about losing a pet unexpectedly at home. 

What signs to look out for in a pet’s last moments

Many pet owners might be unfamiliar with the processes that might occur when an animal dies. “Death has some stages to it,” notes Rubenstein. “As a pet is dying, it can be terrifying to watch, because we’re not used to seeing the signs of death.”

A pet may begin to show ragged or erratic breathing and some animals might begin to vocalize, but it is important to remain calm. “The best thing is to just sit and be with the pet and not to panic,” says Rubenstein. 

There are several indications that might show if an animal has passed. Rest your head on your pet’s chest to check their heartbeat or look for signs that their pupil has dilated. The most obvious sign is a stiff body and cold feet. After an animal passes, it might leak fluid from the nose or mouth, or excrete urine or stool. 

When you begin to see changes develop, call your veterinarian or an emergency pet hospital to help you confirm if the animal has passed. “Always consider calling the veterinarian, that might be where you’d be taking the body anyway,” says Rubenstein, adding that they can help you locate pet cemeteries and cremation services. 

Take Momentos 

Some pet owners may want to take momentos of their pet to use in a memorial. Rubenstein suggests taking a hair clipping for a shadow box, or using ink or paint to make an impression of your pet’s nose or paws. Other items, like a collar or favorite toy, might be important to set aside for later. 

Ready the Animal for Burial 

Lay the body on a plastic sheet or garbage bag and cover it with a blanket or towel. Place the body in the coolest part of your home, and surround it with ice packs. Rubenstein recommends laying the body in a position for burial. Your vet, or an emergency pet clinic, can help you figure out options for where to lay your pet to rest—whether it’s a pet cemetery or cremation service.

When it comes to larger animals—like horses, goats, or pigs—check in with your local municipality. They might have specific regulations in place for how to dispose of the body. 

Grieve Your Loss

If you have children in the household, take the time to explain what has happened in an age appropriate manner—using resources like picture books can help them process their emotions.  

Consider attending a support group and surrounding yourself with people who will meet your loss with empathy. 

Most importantly, allow yourself to feel your emotions. “It’s okay to really acknowledge the depths to which pets have a huge impact on our lives,” says Rubenstein. “They don’t live as long as humans and they carry us through certain chapters—sometimes very difficult chapters of our lives. So we’re coping not just with the loss of the pet, we’re also losing a period of time that they may have sailed through life with us.”

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