Coping With the Loss of Your Dog

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By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 5/14/20242-4 minutes
A close-up of a dog's head

When our cherished pet is no longer in our lives, it can be devastating if you are coping with the loss of a dog. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.

The loss of a dog is an incredibly sad time for owners. Whether they pass away naturally or are put to sleep at the vet’s office, it’s always a stressful and upsetting time. If your dog has been unwell or is very old and naturally approaching the end of their life, you may already have plans in place for their eventual passing. However, even the best-laid plans can be disrupted by external factors or by grief. If you’re struggling with the loss of a dog, always ask for help from a friend, family member or veterinary professional.

What often adds to the trauma of the death of your dog is the uncertainty of how to handle their remains. Take some of the stress out of this period with this comprehensive guide on what to do when your pet dies and how to cope with the loss of a dog.  

What Happens When a Dog Dies Naturally?

We usually associate the death of a pet with them being put to sleep at a veterinarian’s office. But what happens when a dog dies naturally at home? 

If your dog dies at home, it may be difficult to handle their remains. You may wish to call your vet or another professional service, such as a company that can assist with disposal. Remember that such services may not be available on weekends or during national holidays. 

Following the death of a pet, their body may still show signs of what can look like life, such as the following:

  • Twitching, as a result of natural nerve spasms after death 
  • The release of air from the mouth when moved 
  • The release of bodily fluids and gas

These can all be quite upsetting for owners to witness, especially if they aren’t expecting them. They aren’t, sadly, signs that your pet is coming back to life. They are simply the natural bodily functions and what happens when a cat or dog dies naturally. 

What to Do When Your Dog Dies

When handling remains, always wear gloves and thoroughly clean any area that has been touched by the animal, as well as thoroughly clean any fluids that may have been spilled. It’s important to limit the spread of germs in the immediate aftermath.

The Options

Your local vet will be best suited to deal with the death of your dog and handling of their remains, and if you wish for it to be handled by them, simply contact them as soon as possible. Your vet should then be able to coordinate the collection and subsequent burial or cremation depending on your preference. 

Dog Cremation

If you wish for your pet to be cremated, it is possible to coordinate this yourself rather than go through a vet. Cat or dog cremation is more costly than home burial but gives owners a variety of options when it comes to memorializing their pet’s remains. 

Crematoriums will return a dog’s ashes to their owner, and these can be stored or scattered according to personal preference. Many owners choose to keep a pet’s ashes in an urn or even store them in keepsake items, such as a piece of jewelry. Owners also often scatter their pet’s ashes in some of their favorite places.

Remember that there are various options when it comes to cremation, including communal or private cremation. If you’re planning to use your pet’s ashes for a specific memorial, do bear in mind that although crematoriums do make an effort to keep ashes separate during communal cremations, this cannot be guaranteed.

How Much Does it Cost to Cremate a Dog?

The cost of dog cremation varies among different crematoriums. The options that are offered also vary. The cost for dog cremation generally runs over $100. 

Home Burial

Some owners choose to bury their pet at home. This option reduces the cost of dead dog disposal by avoiding expensive cremation costs and gives a final resting place to beloved pets at home. If you’re thinking about home burial, it’s important to consider local laws. Some states require you to meet a burial depth requirement and a specific distance from bodies of water. If you choose to bury your dog, check with your vet that their remains are not hazardous to human health. You may also wish to mark the burial site with a covering of stone, or even a potted plant.

Pet Cemeteries

There are some pet cemeteries and crematoriums around the U.S. that will provide burial services for pets. This is generally a more expensive option than dog cremation. The final price is usually dependent on weight. Cemeteries may also require that remains be buried in a coffin or other container which further adds to the overall cost.

Pet cemeteries will offer individual plots for pet burial, and you may also erect a headstone or other memorial marker over the gravesite.

Grieving a Pet Dog

Knowing what to do when your dog dies is just the beginning of a process that can be very difficult for pet owners. For many, the passing of a beloved pet is similar to the death of a friend or family member, and you should always seek support if needed. 

Grieving a pet is always difficult, but there are certain things you can do to help you and your family get through the loss of a cat or dog. 

Create a Memorial After the Loss of a Pet Dog 

You might find that creating a memorial for your pet helps, like holding a small remembrance service in your garden or planting a tree or plant, either where your dog is buried or in a favorite spot. This can also help children cope with the loss of a pet as they watch the tree grow and blossom and remember their pet. 

When coping with the loss of a pet, try to acknowledge and explain your dog’s death to children in age-appropriate terms, while avoiding confusing euphemisms or underplaying the gravity of the situation. Most children appreciate honesty and will benefit in the long term from not being misled. Losing a pet can be a confusing time for children who are used to having their pet around them. In light of this, it’s always more constructive to avoid terms such as ‘gone away’ or ‘sleeping’ in case they build false expectations rather than accept the reality of having to say goodbye.

Share Your Feelings

Don’t be shy about sharing how you feel. Opening up to someone who has been through the same thing can be a great comfort after the death of a dog. If you’d rather not talk to someone you know, look into support groups for pet bereavement. Some areas have local options, and you may be able to find a group to join online. 

When to Get a New Dog

There’s no need to rush into getting a new pet after your loss. It is natural when you are coping with the loss of your dog to want to fill that ‘empty’ space, but it might not help. In fact, it’s a better idea to give yourself time to fully recover and obtain some closure. If you still feel the loss of your previous pet, it could detract from what should be the start of a beautiful new relationship, a time when you and your new dog should be having fun getting to know one another. Any new pet you bring home deserves a chance to develop their own personality and earn your love without living in the shadow of your previous pet, so when you do decide to get a new companion, avoid one that looks too similar. Ultimately, you must do what’s fair to both of them, and that means treating them with the respect they both deserve.  

Think Positively

It’s perfectly normal to grieve and feel upset when coping with the loss of your dog. You have just had to say goodbye to a much-loved member of your family. The most important thing to remember is that even though you’re going through a difficult time, things will get better – and you’ll be left with countless happy memories of the great times you shared with your pet. 

For more expert tips on senior dogs, explore our other senior dog articles. 

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