What to do when your dog or cat dies, according to pet experts


At the end of 2022, around 1 a.m. one night, I received a call in my hotel room in Colorado from my partner. It was a call I hoped never to get: Ollie, my adorable 15-year-old Boston terrier, had a seizure and couldn’t walk or breathe. They were on their way to the emergency vet, where he would probably be asleep. The next two hours were excruciating. I waited for my partner to call back with an update, then watched my dog ​​being euthanized on FaceTime while I howled in grief.

My partner took care of everything from taking Ollie to the vet to arranging for the delivery of his ashes and I am forever grateful to him. Ollie was my first dog who was mine only; I got him when he was eight weeks old. His passing made me realize that not only did I have no idea what to do, but also that my emotional state would have made the situation nearly impossible to handle on my own. If you also find yourself dealing with the sudden death of a pet, here’s what I’ve learned must happen.

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Call your veterinarian

Get together first, then call your vet or the local emergency clinic if you’re out of town, your vet’s office is closed, or you don’t have a regular vet. If you are alone, you can also ask a friend or family member to come and support you. The vet will walk you through the next steps – and you’ll be grateful for the help, because the next task is to manipulate your dog’s body.

If you can’t get your pet to the vet right after it’s gone, “store the body properly in a sealed bag in a freezer because their body will start to break down and break down almost immediately,” says owner Rendy Schuchat. ‘a dog. training company Everything is Pawzible. Take the body to the vet as soon as possible afterwards. Most vets will allow you to keep your pet for a few days until you decide what you want to do aftercare, such as cremation or burial – but always ask if this is a service they offer, just in case.

Decide on burial, cremation or other

What you do with your pet’s body after it dies really comes down to personal preference and local regulations. Ollie was cremated – that made the most sense as he was already in an animal hospital where they could take care of him. They cremated him there and returned the ashes to us a few days later. In my town, it’s also illegal to bury a pet in your yard if you don’t own the property, and I rent my house. Some municipalities completely prohibit pet burials, so cremation may be your only option, although you may be able to store the ashes in a cemetery.

Dr. Sabrina Kong DVM, dog trainer and veterinary consultant at WeLoveDoodles.com, suggests asking your vet what services are available to you. They will have the most information about reliable service providers nearby, and they are probably already partnered with some. You can also ask other people whose pets have died recently for advice on how they handled it.

Depending on local regulations, your options will include burial in your garden, burial in a pet cemetery, private cremation (just your pet, and you collect the ashes) or communal cremation (a group of pets cremated together, and you do not collect the ashes). If none of this suits you, there are other options. There’s aquamation, a greener version of standard cremation that uses a heated water-alkaline solution to decompose the body. You can create an eternal reef, in which pet ashes are mixed with human ashes of the same family with concrete to create an artificial coral reef or a living urn, which allows families to mix ashes with tree or flower seeds and plant them.

Keep in mind that costs vary depending on the type of service. A burial in your yard is free, communal cremation is the second most affordable option, burial in a cemetery is more expensive, etc. Always ask about the price when making your decision, to avoid any surprises when the invoice arrives.

what to do when your pet dies at home

courtesy of jennifer billock

Dealing with goods and services

Here’s a tip I learned when Ollie died: ask the person who can best take care of him (which could be a friend) to drop by your house and pick up your dog’s things. They should all be put in one place for you to go through later when you’re emotionally ready to tackle the task. This way, you won’t come across a stash of toys hidden away by your dog and fall into another wave of depression. Because that’s how heartbreak will come – in waves.

“The immediate loss of their presence can be overwhelming at first,” says Schuchat. “Missing the daily activities you did with your dog will leave gaps in your routine, so do your best to create new routines when you’re ready.”

You’ll also want to contact groomers, veterinarians, or dog daycares to let them know your pup’s death. No one wants to receive a call back while you’re still grieving.

Lean on support networks

Above all, don’t underestimate the time it will take to move on. I still have moments where I crumble because I think I saw Ollie out of the corner of my eye, or I vividly remember something he was doing at times.

“Coping with the death of a pet is just as difficult as coping with any other loss, and you should give yourself and your family time to grieve, process and accept the done,” Kong says. “There is no time frame for you to recover, and you have to be especially patient with toddlers because children aren’t used to death as much as adults.”

National Pet Loss Hotline offers a free consultation to bereaved owners 24 hours a day at 1-800-946-4646.

If you find that your grief over losing your pet won’t go away, it might be time to tell someone. Don’t be afraid to see a therapist or talk about it with friends. For many people, talking about it is an essential part of healing. Schuchat also suggests looking for support groups online to connect with people in the same situation.

“Know that there are others who understand your pain and sadness,” she says. “If you can connect with someone who has been in your shoes, it can help you through a process that unfortunately has no end date.”

what to do when your pet dies at home

courtesy of jennifer billock

Memorize your buddy

When I lost Ollie I knew I wanted his ashes in a nice box, and the emergency vet also gave me a plaster paw print medallion which I keep with his ashes. I also kept his leash, his medals and his favorite toy. My fiancé and I planned to have Ollie at our wedding this year; my sister-in-law even bought us a “Best Dog” bandana for him to wear. It is now also on display with his ashes. At the wedding, we’ll have a table with a book I made of his photos and the bandana – that way he’s still there in some form or another.

“Sometimes honoring your pet with a gift or memorial will help you through your grieving process,” Schuchat says. She suggests donating to an animal rescue organization in your dog’s name, turning some of his ashes into keepsake jewelry, planting a tree where he liked to nap outside, or sprinkling his ashes in his favorite place. Check local regulations before scattering anything, it might not be legal where you live.

Kong notes that some artists will make artwork out of your pet’s ashes, an option she says has grown in popularity in recent years. “The most important thing is to remember them in your heart and to honor them in the way that makes you feel good in their memory,” she adds.

Don’t adopt right away

You or your loved ones may want to buy another pet right away to ease the pain of losing your furry friend. Take Kong’s advice and give him time. You’ll want to wait for a new pet or other major life change for now – managing your grief is important. Give it a few months, at least, until you feel at peace with their death. Don’t buy another pet until you’re sure you can start a relationship with a new furry friend, Kong says.

“You’ll know it’s a good time to get a new pet when you’re ready to open your heart to love again and are able to provide the care and attention a new companion needs. furry in your life.”

Portrait of Jennifer Billock

Jennifer Billock is an award-winning writer, best-selling author and editor of the Kitchen Witch newsletter. She is currently dreaming of a world tour with her Boston terrier. Check out her website at jenniferbilock.com.