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How to Tell How Long a Dog Has Been Dead

How to Tell How Long a Dog Has Been Dead

The time of death also referred to as post-mortem interval, refers to the amount of time that has passed since the death of an animal.

In humans, the time of death is an important topic of research as it is used by medics as well as law enforcement to know what happened.

Similarly, the time of death is also important in animals as it can help to pinpoint exactly what caused the demise of your pet.

This is especially so if you had last seen your pet alive and seemingly fine.

Obviously, this estimate only applies to situations where you are unsure of the time of death.

In cases where the pet had to be put down, the time is already known and therefore, not important to estimate.

So, how exactly do you tell how long it has been since your dog died?

Let’s investigate…

How to Tell How Long It’s Been Since Your Dog Died

Before you get started, you may want to, first of all, determine if your furry friend is really dead.

Sometimes, your dog might just be lying still and breathing shallowly and you could easily mistake him for dead, especially if he is old or sickly.

There is also a chance your furry friend is not yet dead but transitioning to death.

 If your dog is dying of old age, this should be a painless process.

However, if you have reason to believe that he is in pain, e.g. if he is displaying signs of distress, then you may want to consider euthanizing him.

For this, you will want to get in touch with a vet clinic to help you make this decision.

Let’s now look at the signs that will help you estimate the time of death of your dog.

1. Check For Rigor Mortis

Once you have determined that your dog is indeed dead, the next step is to look for rigor mortis, also known as stiffening of the muscles after death.

Rigor mortis is caused by a chemical change in the muscles after death and typically sets in 2-6 hours after death.

This rigidity will gradually dissipate over 1-2 days.

Additionally, the temperature and humidity of the environment can affect the rate of rigor mortis setting in and dissipating.

The extent of the rigor can also help estimate the time since death.

For example, if the muscles are only slightly stiff, it may indicate that death occurred a few hours ago.

However, if the muscles are fully rigid, it may have been longer since death.

2. Check Your Dog’s Body Temperature

Another method is to take the temperature of your dog.

The body temperature of a living dog ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with a normal temperature being 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the body starts to decompose after death, it will cool at a rate that can be used to estimate the time of death.

This is also known as algor mortis, or cooling of the body after death.

The rate at which the body cools depends on factors such as the temperature and humidity of the environment as well as the size of the animal.

For example, a larger dog will take longer to cool than a smaller dog.

3. Check For Released Bowels

The release of bowels is another sign that you can also use to estimate the time of death for your furry baby.

 It is normal for a dead animal to release its bowels, so this shouldn’t alarm you.

 If this has not already happened, you may want to place a towel under your dog to avoid making a mess.

Release of bowels typically happens just before the dog dies, so if you find free poo, it’s a sign that the dog has not been dead for very long.

4. Check For Decomposition

Lastly, another indication of time since death is to observe the level of decomposition.

This can be done by visually observing any changes in the body such as discoloration or swelling as well as the presence of insects and other organisms associated with decomposition.

The level of decomposition also depends on factors such as temperature and humidity, as well as any predator activity in the area.

The presence of insects, particularly blowflies, can also help estimate the time since death as they are typically the first to arrive on a dead body and lay eggs.

They usually do this within minutes to hours of the animal’s death.


It is important to note that estimating time since death can be difficult even for professionals and may not always be accurate.

However, using these methods can give you a rough estimate of the time since your dog’s passing.

It is also important to keep in mind that in some cases, such as when the cause of death is known or if your pet had to be euthanized, estimating the time since death may not be necessary.

Is My Dog Dead Or In A Coma?

If your dog becomes unresponsive, it could mean he is dead but he could also just be in a coma.

So, how can you tell which is the case?

First of all, it is important to understand that comas and deaths are two very different medical states.

A coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness in which a person or animal cannot be awakened and does not respond to stimuli.

Death, on the other hand, is the permanent cessation of all bodily functions and signs of life.

Comas can be induced by many things, including head injuries, drug overdoses, and severe illness.

If your dog is in a coma, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

With treatment, many dogs can make a full recovery. However, the longer the coma lasts, the greater the risk of complications.

As such, it is important to act quickly if you suspect that your dog may be in a coma.

To determine whether your dog is in a coma or deceased, it is important to check for vital signs.

These include breathing, heartbeat, and responsiveness to stimuli such as touching or calling out the dog’s name.

 If your dog has no detectable vital signs and does not respond to stimuli, he may be deceased.

However, if there are faint vital signs or any response to stimuli, your dog may be in a coma.

Another way to determine whether your dog is in a coma or deceased is by seeking medical assistance and undergoing diagnostic tests such as MRI or CT scans.

These tests can provide more information on the state of the brain and the overall health of the dog.

Closing Thoughts

Estimating the time since a dog’s death is not a walk in the park but there are some telltale signs to watch out for.

These include observing rigor mortis, taking body temperature, looking to see if there is a release of bowels, and observing the level of decomposition.

It is important to keep in mind that these methods may not always be accurate and in some cases, estimating the time since death may not even be necessary.

Above all, it is important to take care of yourself during this difficult time and reach out for support from loved ones.

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