What to Do If Your Pet Has Died at Home
If your pet is under the care of a veterinarian at the time of his or her passing, he or she can guide you through next steps. However, if your pet dies in your home, there are options to consider. Whether you simply want the body to be removed from your home, or you wish to permanently memorialize your pet in some special way, the choice is yours.
- Depending on your decision, you may have to keep the body in your home for a short period of time. A well-cooled body can be held for up to 24 hours, but the sooner it can be taken somewhere else, the better.
- Placing the wrapped animal in a refrigerator or freezer is recommended, with one exception—if you plan to have a necropsy (autopsy) performed to determine cause of death, the body should not be frozen (refrigeration is still okay). It is essential that you contact a veterinarian as soon as possible if you would like a necropsy.
- If the animal is too big to be put into a refrigerator or freezer, the body should be placed on a cement floor or concrete slab, which is the best way to draw heat away from the carcass. Do not cover or wrap the body in this instance. Doing so will trap in heat and not allow the body temperature to cool.
- As a last resort, you may keep the body in the coldest area of your home, out of the sun, packed with bags of ice. In this case, the body should be placed in a plastic bag to prevent it from getting wet.
Pet Cremation and Burial
It is very common for pet owners to have their deceased pets cremated. You need to decide if you wish to keep your pet's ashes as a remembrance. If so, you will want to arrange an individual (or private) cremation, meaning that your pet will be cremated alone. Businesses that offer individual cremation commonly offer home pick-up/delivery of remains as part of their service packages.
If you would still like to keep your pet's remains on your property, but don't have a place to bury an actual body (especially that of a large pet), consider having your pet's remains cremated and returned to you for burial. This still has the advantage of keeping your pet "at home," but bypasses health problems or the concern that the pet's remains might be disturbed later. Or, you can keep the pet's ashes in a decorative urn or container; you'll find a wide range of such products in the classified ads of any pet magazine.
Many pet owners choose to scatter a pet's ashes rather than preserve them. Some choose to scatter the ashes in the pet's own yard, where it lived and played; this is another way of bringing the pet "home" one last time. Others choose to scatter the ashes in a way that symbolizes setting the pet "free" for its final journey -- such as in the woods or over a body of water, or just into the wind. Pet crematories can now be found in many cities; a pet crematory can usually pick up your pet's remains from a veterinarian or from your home.
For many, a formal cemetery burial is the best way to honor a pet. Burial in a pet cemetery also ensures that your pet's remains will remain undisturbed. You will not have to worry about what will happen to your pet if you have to leave the property on which it is buried; it will be cared for, no matter where you go or what happens to you. Cemetery burial can be a costly option, but many find it a comforting, secure way to handle a pet's remains. If you wish, you can make arrangements for a complete funeral and memorial service.
A Family Decision
Before you make any decision about how to handle the death of a pet, make sure you have considered the feelings of all family members. You may find that while one family member feels a pet's body means little after the spirit has gone, another may feel strongly about the need to provide a formal "farewell" in the form of a burial. Conversely, you may find that while some members of the family want a formal burial service, others shudder at the thought of having a grave or "dead body" in the yard.
It is important to realize there is no right or wrong viewpoint in such a discussion. One's feelings about death, and about the remains of the dead, are intensely personal -- and in a family discussion about how to handle those remains, everyone's feelings should be respected. This is why it is so important to raise this issue and resolve it before a pet dies. Otherwise, chances are that one family member (i.e., whoever is present when a pet dies or is euthanized) will have to make a rushed, emotional decision that may not be the decision the rest of the family would have chosen.
It's not easy to talk about a pet's death, or use terms like "remains" and "disposal", while that pet is still alive and very much a part of the family. But avoiding the subject isn't going to prevent the problem from coming up. It's simply going to prevent you from being in a position to handle it effectively when it does come up.
It has been said that "funerals are for the living." When a pet dies, you're faced with the need to make a decision that can have a profound impact on how you, and your family, deal with that loss. Don't leave that decision until the last minute.
Dealing with Pet Loss
There are many forms of grief that are completely normal in the wake of the loss of a beloved pet. For support dealing with the loss of a pet, call our Pet Loss Hotline at (877) GRIEF-10.
Pets are "members of the family." We adore them, we care for them and we grow with them. Like our human companions, they add joy and happiness to our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, they make our families more complete.
When someone you love dies, we have a severing of a relationship that will cause us to feel grief and feelings of intense sorrow. By physically showing our grief, we actively mourn the death of that beloved. This active mourning will move our bereaved heart on a journey through grief and to grief reconciliation.
Many funeral homes will give your pet the final arrangements that they deserve and the peace you need in knowing they are respectfully and lovingly cared for at the end of their life. They are experienced and ready to help you through the process. From basic funeral and burial services in cemetery gardens, to individual and communal cremations.
The relationship that you shared with your companion is a special and unique bond. The silence in your home after the death of a pet will be heard. When that pet is no longer present, the lack of their presence and the silence becomes very loud. When a bond is broken, grief will happen.This grief is normal and the time shared needs to be acknowledged.
Children will not want to say good-bye. In assisting a child through grief, they will let you know when they are ready to talk. Allow them the time they need to deal with their emotions. Let them grieve in their own way.