Eight things you’ll need to know when your bird, cat or dog dies.

ernie pawMy pet just died, now what!   Ever wonder what to do your family’s beloved bird, cat or dog just died suddenly, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone. This question people ask on a regular basis.


When we make the decision to bring a pet into our home, the majority of us do our homework. Topics of conversation and planning revolve around housebreaking, crate training, socialization and overall behavior, but rarely does the topic of the loss or a pet, or death ever come up. For the next few minutes we’ll review the necessary actions that every pet parent or owner should know.

  1. First and foremost, as strange as it sounds, make sure the pet is deceased! I can’t tell you how many times people think their pet has died, only to discover that they are still alive, just breathing very shallow and lying still. (Note that if they are still alive, you may want to think about euthanizing them at your vet clinic. If you were planning to let them die naturally, keep the area calm and quiet).
  2. After a pet dies, their bowels, just like will let loose. This may not happen immediately, but know that over the next few moments nature will take its course, so be prepared. If your pet is lying on the floor or a piece of furniture, you will want to make sure you have a towel or even place something plastic under their hind end before they release.
  3. If there are other pets at home, let them smell their friend. By allowing this to happen they will understand what happened to their buddy, rather than leave them wondering where they went.
  4. A decision will need to be made to either bury or cremate.
  5. If you want to keep your pet at home for a day to decide what to do, you will want to contain your pets remains. Why? Without being placed in cold storage, the pet’s body will begin to decompose (this presents a health risk!). One stage of this process is known as rigor mortis. This is when the energy supply to the pet’s muscles deplete. When this occurs, everything becomes stiff. The average time for “rigor” to set in is 3-4 hours and its typically complete within 12 hours post death.
  6. Depending on the position your pet was in when it died, you will want to tuck their front and back legs tight into their body (known as positioning), rather than leaving the pet outstretched. Why? Primarily for transportation and burial reasons. If you want to transport you pet, you will want to place them in a container or even wrap them up in a blanket. If their limbs are not properly positioned they will be difficult to transport or place in a burial container.
  7. If you bury, you’ll want to follow the city or township’s ordinances, if you cremate you’ll need to make arrangements for your pet’s transportation to the cremation provider.
  8. If you come home and your pet died while you were away – you’ll need to attempt to decide how long the pet DPC_PetMemorialDefaulthas been deceased. If rigor mortis has set in, you’ll know it was at least 3 hours. Depending on the time of year, if its warm outside, you may have an odor that could be difficult getting out of your carpet or even floor.  Don’t try to remove this smell out of your carpet/floor yourself, consult a professional. In the long run, it will be worth it.

In closing, the loss of a pet is never easy. It’s especially hard to remain calm and think through what to do if it’s a sudden onset illness or accident. Finally, keep in mind it’s okay to not know what to do, for most of us, we’ve never walked this journey before.



28 thoughts on “Eight things you’ll need to know when your bird, cat or dog dies.

  1. I love this post because it’s informative! It’s hard to think about these kind of things when your pet is passing, but it’s always easier on your heart when you go into a euthanasia knowing all of the facts. Sharing!


  2. Thank you for this post. When Jewel went to the Bridge, we planned her passing with a vet when Jewel let us know it was her time to go. It was and is SO painful. I cannot imagine what it might be like to have a kitty die suddenly. I imagine it would be even more painful because you weren’t expecting it.

    When our dog died, we made him a tombstone and burried him in my grandmother’s yard. She really loved him (as we did) and it gives me some peace knowing that he is there with her in spirit.


  3. Wow! I just completed my memory post of losing my previous cat five years ago when I read this. I helped her to the bridge, but this post is definitely something I need to keep to know what to do if I don’t have the option.


  4. Thanks for the practical post. This is a very traumatic event in a pet parent’s life and it would be a good idea to print this list and keep it where it can be found.


  5. Thanks for a practical, useful post. I think when people are new to having their beloved pets die, it’s really very difficult to remember the practicalities, so it’s a good idea to print the list and keep it in your pet’s file, or wherever you’re sure to find it.


  6. A very factual and practical post. Readers may absorb more from a story told from a more personal perspective. It is very hard to say goodbye to a loved one. And I appreciate the post – I recall the pain and learning and these take time to absorb. Thank you for sharing the facts – it’s important!


  7. What a responsible and practical post. Many of us don’t think about it and when it happens we are usually in the throws of crying (even if we know it’s coming). Thank you for sharing what must have been a difficult post to write.


  8. All important things to consider. Such a difficult time. Cookie died at the vet in my arms and Isabelle died at home in my arms very peacefully at home (no bowel release either time). They were cremated. Several small pets have died over the years and been buried.


  9. This is such a difficult subject. Thank you for the advice. Death is the part of pet parenting that no one ever prepares you for. There is a lot that people don’t think about too!


  10. This is one of those really important posts that every pet owner should read. It’s not something any of us want to think about but it’s so incredibly helpful in the moment. Thank you for sharing!


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