Sometimes, there is a topic that is unpleasant to talk about or even think about. But realistically, it is something that we all must face – what to do with the body of our beloved pet when it passes away. Obviously, over the years, I have had many pets. And years ago, the cremation of your pet was not an option. A deceased pet was either disposed of by the vet or buried. My Easter peeps (awful that they sold them!) were buried in a dirt lot beside my house. This lot has since been paved, but I know my little chicks’ remains are still there. I have since opted to do private cremation for my pets. They remain in my home, which somewhat gives me a feeling of closeness and comfort.

When my sister lost her mini-horse, Butterscotch, she hired a backhoe. They dug a hole and buried Butterscotch right where she lay in the corral.

The death of a beloved pet is an incredibly sad time for owners, whether your pet dies naturally at home or is put to sleep at the vet’s office. If your pet has been unwell, or is very old and naturally approaching the end of their life, you may already have plans in place for their eventual passing. If you’re struggling with your pet’s death in the immediate aftermath, always ask for help from a friend, family member or veterinary professional.

What often adds to the trauma of a pet’s death is the uncertainty of how to handle their remains. Take some of the stress out of this period with this comprehensive guide on what to do when your pet dies.

A guide

What happens when a dog or cat dies naturally?

We usually associate the death of pets with them being put to sleep at a veterinary surgery. But what happens when a dog dies naturally at home? If your pet dies at home, it may be difficult to handle their remains. You may wish to call your vet or another professional service, such as a company that can assist with pet disposal. Remember that such services may not be available on weekends or during national holidays.

When a pet dies, their body may still show signs of what can look like life, such as the following:

  • Twitching, as a result of natural nerve spasms after death;
  • The release of air from the mouth when moved;
  • The release of bodily fluids and gas.

These can all be quite upsetting for owners to witness, especially if they aren’t expecting them. They aren’t, sadly, signs that your pet is coming back to life. They are simply the natural bodily functions and what happens when a pet dies naturally.

What to do immediately

When handling remains, always wear gloves and thoroughly clean any area that has been touched by the animal, as well as thoroughly cleaning any fluids that may have been released. It’s important to limit the spread of germs in the immediate aftermath. You may wish to leave your pet at home for a few hours before organizing a deceased pet disposal; in which case, ensure that the body is left in a cool room, for no longer than 24 hours. Be aware that rigor mortis, the stiffening of joints after death, will begin to set in after approximately three to four hours.

The options

Your local vet will be well placed to deal with deceased pet disposal, and if you wish for it to be handled by them, simply place a call as soon as possible. Your vet should then be able to organize the collection and subsequent burial or cremation, according to your preference.

Pet cremation

If you wish for your pet to be cremated, it is possible to organize this yourself rather than going through a vet. Pet cremation is more costly than home burial, but gives owners a variety of options when it comes to memorializing their pet’s remains. Crematoriums will return a dog’s ashes to their owner and these can be stored or scattered according to personal preference. Many owners choose to keep pet ashes in an urn or even store them in keepsake items, such as a piece of jewelry. Owners also often scatter their pet’s ashes in a favorite place. Remember that there are various options when it comes to cremation, including communal or private cremation. If you’re planning to use your pet’s ashes for a specific memorial, keep in mind that although crematoriums do make an effort to keep ashes separate during communal cremations, this cannot be guaranteed.


How much does it cost to cremate a pet?

The cost of pet cremation varies between different crematoriums and the options that they offer. These options depend on a variety of factors, such as the size of pet and whether a communal or private cremation is preferred.

Home burial

Some owners choose to bury their pet at home. This option reduces the cost of deceased pet disposal by avoiding expensive cremation costs and gives a final resting place to beloved pets at home. If you’re thinking about home burial, it’s important to consider local laws/ordinances. If you choose to bury your pet, check with your vet that their remains are not hazardous to human health before proceeding, and choose a place away from water sources. When burying a pet at home, ensure that their grave is no less than three feet deep, to ensure that their remains stay covered. You may also wish to mark the burial site with a covering of stone, or even a potted plant.

Pet cemeteries

There are some pet cemeteries that will provide burial services for pets. This is generally a more expensive option than pet cremation, the final price being dependent on weight. Cemeteries may also require that remains be buried in a coffin or other container, which further adds to the overall cost. Pet cemeteries will offer individual plots for pet burial, and you may also erect a headstone or other memorial marker over the gravesite.

Grieving a pet

What to do when your beloved pet dies is just the beginning of a process that can be very difficult for pet owners. For many, the passing of a pet is similar to the death of a friend or family member. When a pet has been a much-loved member of your family, the loss and their absence is monumental. Family and friends who understand the depth of that bond will be a good source of love and support during this most difficult time.

Sometimes death can be prevented by regular check-ups with your vet. Being proactive is an integral part of your pet having a long and healthy life.

Dog bless.


JUDY ENDO writes about pets. Contact her at­.