The 5 Stages of Dog Decomposition Explained

by Sonya | Last Updated:   February 13, 2021

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Losing your dog is a painful experience. It is really difficult to let go of your beloved furry companion. If your dog dies at home, it may be difficult to handle their remains.

You might be wondering how long does it take for a dog to decompose?

Decomposition of a dog is a continual process that may take from weeks to years. It depends upon the environment and particular physical conditions of the dead dog.

If your dog is buried deep into the ground, it might take around six months to eighteen years to fully decompose. However, if a dead dog is left above the ground, it will decompose much quicker.

Man checking dirt to see dog composition

How Long Does It Take For a Dead Dog to Decompose Above Ground?

A dead dog starts decomposing right after its death. You might not see any obvious changes, but the decomposition process has already started. 

During the decomposition, the dog body’s own digestive enzymes contribute to its decomposition. The dog’s body tissues are broken down by the internal enzymes. This process is called autolysis.

The decomposition will also be expedited by insect activity and scavengers picking at the dead dog. These scavengers include flies, beetles, maggots, mites and many others.

In standard climates, a dead dog’s body might take one month to decompose when left above ground.

How Long Does It Take for a Buried Dog to Decompose?

Your dog’s decomposition rate will depend on several factors. They include 

  • How deep a dog is buried?
  • Is the dog’s body wrapped up in something?
  • Is the dog’s body placed in a coffin?
  • What is the climate where you are planning to bury?

In temperate climates, a dog’s body that is not wrapped up in anything will take almost 6 months to one year to decompose.

If a dog’s body is inside a coffin and buried deeper into the ground, it will take up to 18 years to fully decompose to bones. Larger and adult dogs typically take longer time to decompose as compared to puppies and small breeds.

Stages of Decomposition of Dead Dog’s Body

If the dog’s body is left to decompose above the ground, it may undergo five stages of decomposition:

1. Fresh stage 

At this stage, the body starts to cool down. It enters the rigor mortis phase between 3 and 6 hours. Blood starts to accumulate to the bottom of the body. Flies arrive and seek to feed and lay eggs.

2. Bloat stage

You may notice a bloated appearance at this phase. This is because the gases start to accumulate in the dog’s body. The body fluids start to come out of the body due to the gas pressure. At this stage, you can smell the dog decomposing above ground.

3. Active decay stage

At this stage, the deceased dog’s body starts to reduce in size. All the fluids have been finished from the body. Maggots will be feeding on the body. These maggots will leave the dead dog’s body once this stage is over.

4. Advanced decay stage

At this stage, the dog’s hair and bones will still be evident. There is not much left to decompose at this stage. The grass beneath and around the dog’s body will also be dead.

5. Dry remains

At this stage, you may only see the dry remains of your dog’s body. The decomposed remains will include dried-out skin, cartilage, and bones.

How to handle your deceased dog’s body?

When handling remains, you must keep in mind the following points:

  • Always wear gloves when handling a dead dog’s body.
  • Thoroughly clean any area that has been touched by the dog. The bodily fluid and/or waste might be released when the body is moved.
  • When a dog dies, bodily fluids are often released. Thoroughly clean any fluids that may have been spilt.
  • Take a blanket, towel or bed sheet that is large enough to wrap around the dead dog’s body. Also, grab a strong and heavy-duty plastic trash bag to hold the dead body. 
  • Place the dog’s body on the blanket, towel, or sheet. The dog’s body should be in a curled-up position, as if sleeping. This makes it easier to handle the body.
  • Tightly wrap the dog’s body in the blanket or sheet. Afterwards, slide the body into the plastic trash bag. If the dog is large, this task will require two people.
  • Tie the bag into a secure knot or tape it closed.
  • It is best to store your dog’s body in a cool place until you can get in touch with a professional service. 

You must make efforts to limit the spread of germs in the immediate aftermath. The body can be left in a cool room for no longer than 24 hours. Remember that the rigor Norris phase and stiffening of joints will begin to set in after around three to four hours of death.

Before you bury your dog, you must remove the body from any non-biodegradable materials such as plastic bags. 

You can place the dead dog’s body in a wooden or cardboard casket if desired. 

The grave should be at least 2 – 3 feet deep. Select a spot or location that is not likely to erode or accidentally dig up again.

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How long does it take for a dead dog to smell?

It is important to deal with the body of your deceased dog as soon as possible. You cannot keep the body of your deceased dog for more than a few hours. Smell is  a primary concern of the deceased dog’s body. 

You can keep a dead dog at home for only a few hours. After that, the deterioration of the dog’s body will set in. Within 24 hours, your deceased dog will have already bloated and given off a foul smell.

The dead body of a dog breaks down immediately after death. This means soon a foul odor will soon be noticeable. Your house will start to smell and you might invite pests that may spread diseases.

How deep should you bury a dog?

You should at least dig 2 feet down to bury your deceased dog. This will allow your dog’s body to decompose properly. It also reduces the chance of it being disturbed and dug up by scavengers. Make sure you also fill the last 6 inches of the burial spot with stone and then place rocks over the spot.

If the soil has a sandy consistency, you should dig deeper to 3 feet. You must ensure that you don’t hit any pipes or utility lines near your home while digging.

What happens to a dog’s body when it dies?

The tragic fact is that dog’s bodies start decomposing immediately after death. Don’t be alarmed and just be prepared. Nature is simply taking its course.

Here’s what happens to a dog’s body when it does:

  • It takes active muscle control to close a dog’s eyes. So, dogs die with their eyes open.
  • It is believed that when a dog dies, the sense of sight is the first to go and hearing is the last. 
  • It may seem strange but many dogs will continue to have muscle movements after their heart has stopped. This is called Twitching that happens as a result of natural nerve spasms after death.
  • The dog’s body will release bodily fluids and had.
  • Many dogs are often sick for days or weeks before an owner may realize it. They tend to hide in this vulnerable and painful state.
  • Sometimes their bowls will release when they die. Just place some towel or plastic sheet under their hind end immediately.

All of this is quite painful and upsetting for owners to witness. These are simply the natural bodily processes that happen when a dog dies naturally.

Final Thoughts

The loss of a dog is an extremely sad time for pet parents. Whether they die naturally or are put to sleep at the vets, it’s always upsetting!

It’s better to be prepared with the knowledge on what to do in case your pet passes away. 

A decomposing dog will start emitting foul odors. They also invite unwanted pests that may be harmful. It’s ideal to make arrangements for your dead dog right away. This will prevent their body decomposition from taking place inside your home. 

If you find a stray dead dog on your property, there are ways to bury or dispose of it safely and humanely. You can call animal removal services or slide it in a labelled bag for the garbage collection man to pick.

Despite the stress and pain of your pet’s death, you can keep your dead dog at home for no more than a few hours. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a much-loved member of your family.

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Sonya is a software engineer by day and recently earned her MBA degree, but she also loves spending her free time writing about her favourite passion, dogs! Click here to read more.
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