What to Do When Your Dog Dies: 7 Prompt Steps to Take

Published January 25, 2021
Person petting a sleeping dog

If your dog naturally or suddenly passes away, you may feel overwhelmed in terms of what to do next. If you don't know what to do when your dog dies in your home, there are some simple steps to take.

What to Do When Your Dog Dies

Even if you felt prepared for your dog to pass away in the near future, when it actually happens, it may hit you hard. If you have never had a dog pass away in your home, you may not know how to handle dealing with what comes next.

Take a Breath

Walking in unexpectedly to find what appears to be your beloved pet dead can feel shocking and scary. Even though it can feel difficult in the moment, try to take a few deep breaths so you can further evaluate the situation.

Evaluate Your Dog

Before jumping to conclusions, take a minute to evaluate your dog.

  • Can you hear any breathing or feel any air moving in and out of their nose? Place your hand near their nose to see if you feel any breathing.
  • Can you hear their heartbeat? Use one or two fingers and place them on your dog's inner thigh to feel for a pulse.
  • Are their eyes responsive to you? Are they blinking?

Once you've done a quick evaluation, you can call your vet and let them know what's going on.

Call Your Vet

If it is during office hours, call your vet as soon as possible. They may have you conduct further evaluations and give you next steps to take. They may:

Sad woman on phone call
  • See if you'd like to connect with a mobile vet who can pick up the dog's body for you and bring it to the office for cremation
  • See if you are able to bring the dog's body into the office for cremation
  • See if your dog needs to be further evaluated in the office
  • Discuss burial options with you if it's allowed in your city and give you appropriate next steps

Contact Emergency Vet

If your vet's office is closed, contact your local emergency vet right away. They will walk you through next steps to take regarding evaluating your dog and what you'd like to do with your dog's body if they have passed away. Be sure to let them know your observations as well regarding their breathing and pulse.

Connect With a Supportive Loved One

Depending on what the vet or emergency vet tells you, you may need to bring your dog's body to the office, or have a mobile vet or pet removal service pick up their body. This can feel very emotionally intense, and it may be difficult to process in the moment. If possible, call or text a supportive loved one to see if they can accompany you to drop off your dog's body, or if they can speak with you on the phone after your dog's body has been picked up. You can also connect with a pet loss crisis line to further process your experience.

My Dog Died What to Do With Body

Handling your dog after they've passed away may feel very emotionally intense and overwhelming. Know that this reaction is totally normal and if it feels like too much to handle, connect with a loved one to see if they can assist you. When a dog passes away, they may continue to have muscle spasms or twitches. It's best to wait until these twitches stop before trying to handle them.

Man putting on medical gloves
  • If you have disposable gloves, you may want to put them on while handling your dog.
  • Get towels or sheets that you don't mind getting soiled or ruined.
  • Your dog may release fluids near death and after passing. Clean your dog up and place them on a clean sheet or towel.
  • If your dog is large, you may need to ask someone to help you move them so you don't hurt yourself.
  • Once cleaned up, place your dog on an unsoiled sheet or towel and use another sheet or towel to wrap them up.
  • If you are waiting for their body to be picked up, know that they will likely take your sheets and/or towels with them when they carry your dog's body away.
  • If you are transferring their body to your car, be sure to place another sheet down on your car seats or in your trunk in case they expel more fluids during the drive. You may also consider placing their body in a plastic trash bag, although some individuals may find this too emotionally difficult to do and prefer just to use sheets and towels.
  • If you are planning on burying your dog, you will need to do so as soon as possible or arrange for appropriate freezer storage via your vet. If you must keep your dog in your home, place them somewhere as cold as possible, like the basement, and know that this can only be a temporary solution (up to four hours), before you will need to make other arrangements.

Deciding Between Burial and Cremation

If your city allows for pet burials on your property, you will need to decide whether you'd prefer to bury your dog or have them cremated. Consider:

  • Cremation can usually be performed through your vet, or they may recommend a local crematorium who can do so for you.
  • You may also bury your dog on your property if your city allows for this- be sure to check this before doing so, as in some cities it is not legal.

A pet body removal service may also be an option if you don't want to bury your dog or have cremated remains.

How Do You Help a Child When Their Dog Dies?

Losing a family dog can be heartbreaking, and it may feel even worse to watch your child experience this type of loss. To help your child:

Mom comforting child
  • Speak with them in age-appropriate words about death and don't over-share or over-explain. It's best to keep answers as simple as possible.
  • Ask them what questions they have and answer them honestly. Don't feel pressure to make up an answer or to lie to them about what's going on. You can always say that you don't know the answer.
  • Check in with their emotional process after the dog has passed away and continue to check in with them. Know that it's okay to let your child know that you feel really sad about the dog's death too.
  • Find sweet ways to remember the dog together.
  • Read children's books that discuss pet death together- just be sure you're comfortable with the author's take on death and dying (religious, non-religious, etc.)

My Pet Died and I Can't Stop Crying

Losing a pet can be an absolutely heart wrenching experience, and it can take some time to fully process all the emotions that may accompany this type of loss.

  • Keep in mind that grieving the loss of a beloved pet is totally normal and releasing your emotions can help you process what has happened.
  • If you feel your reaction is severely interfering with your ability to carry out tasks of daily living, you may consider connecting with a therapist who can support you as you process this loss.
  • You may also try breathing exercises, grounding exercises, and journaling to help you process your emotions and thoughts.

Pet related grief is often synonymous with disenfranchised grief, which may make your grieving experience that much more difficult. Try to surround yourself with individuals who are supportive and non-judgmental. If you don't have loved ones who validate your grieving process, you may want to connect with a grief group specifically for dog related loss, and/or connect with a therapist who can also provide support.

What Do You Do When Your Dog Passes Away at Home

If your dog passes away at home, there are several steps you will need to take. Be sure to reach out to a supportive loved one for help if you feel too overwhelmed at any point.

What to Do When Your Dog Dies: 7 Prompt Steps to Take