Pet Loss Hotline at (877) GRIEF-10.
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 the ASPCA Pet Loss Hotline.
How can I tell if the pet is still alive?
Use a small mirror. If it fogs up next to the nose, the pet is still breathing. If not, it has likely died. Your nearby vet can help you if you are not sure. For a short time you may be able to revive it using full-breath, human-mouth to pet-nose resuscitation. However if your pet does not revive after three inflations, your pet has passed on.
Cats: Normally the eyes open at death, with wide, dilated pupils. The eyeballs will be soft to the touch, and she won’t blink after death.
How long before the body starts decomposing?
Rigor mortis (body stiffening) will set in within about 3 hours, so time is of the essence. When you hear flies gathering, it’s about time you do something. For a small body, this may happen within hours of death, so don’t delay. If the body is warm it will decompose faster, so find a way to cool the body such as laying it on cool concrete. At most you may store the wrapped body in a refrigerator for 24 hours. Longer than this will require placing in a large enough freezer, and freezing will stop a vet from examining the body to determine cause of death.
What do I do with the body?
You may have your sanitation/waste people haul the covered body away from a fully closed trash receptacle (cheapest), group cremate or individually cremate your pet’s body, inter it in a pet cemetery as group or single burial (each option is more expensive). Find out from your local vet, humane society or police department (not 911) whether you may bury your pet’s body in your back yard (rear garden) before you attempt this. Some jurisdictions have laws about this. It is not possible to bury the body in land that you do not personally own, such as a public space.
If you choose to bury your pet, call 1-800 Miss Dig (1-800-647-7344) before excavating the hole. Plan to put it in the highest and driest ground in your yard, to assist decomposition. However, stay downhill from any water well, in fact 50 to 100 feet away from any source of water, including drainage ditches. If you hit bedrock at the bottom of your pet’s grave, don’t use that spot because water can leach over the rock and become contaminated. Note that roots run seemingly everywhere underground. Consider carefully the size of a root before you attempt to spade through it. You can bury a pet above or below roots of typical trees, shrubs and ground cover, no problem. Just realize that being anywhere within the root zone of a plant means you will run into a root or three.
If your pet died of natural causes and was not diseased, you can let the body decompose into the earth naturally. For this the top of your pet’s body should be under 1-1/2 feet (1/2 meter) of soil, and some mounding is OK.
If your pet was diseased or euthanized with anesthetic chemicals, you need to enclose the pet’s body in a sturdy plastic bag before burial. A box or simple coffin is optional. A larger pet requires a hole at least three to four feet deep (1 meter or more deep) and large enough to bed the body or its container yet leave at least a couple feet (half meter) of compacted soil above.
Bury the pet with some of its favorite things, as you may wish. I thought a plastic food/water bowl he favored as a kitten would last longer than the bones and puzzle future archeologists, so I buried my cat with that.
You can conduct a funeral for those that knew the pet, if you like. Treat it like the family member that it was. This may be important for closure, especially for grieving children. A memorial service can be just as effective as a burial ceremony.
You may want to permanently memorialize your pet’s grave in a way that is special to you. If you have buried the body, especially if the grave is shallow, placing stone or brick markers on top is a good way to prevent scavengers from disturbing the body. I placed a heavy potted plant on the grave I dug for my pet cat of 17 years early this morning (7/20/2017 – RIP).