How Long Does It Take For a Dog to Decompose? (Facts, Stages and Factors)

How Long Does It Take For a Dog to Decompose

A buried dog’s decomposition can vary greatly, typically taking between 6 months and 18 years. An exposed dog, not buried, will decompose faster due to direct exposure to elements like air and scavengers. Several factors affect how quickly a dog decomposes: the burial depth, the climate, and whether the body is enclosed or exposed.

There’s more to know about the decomposition of a dog’s body, so stick around and allow me to tell you more.

How Long Does It Take For a Dog to Decompose Buried In Dirt?

When a dog is buried in the dirt, it can take anywhere between 6 months and 20 years to fully decompose. This is because it has protection from scavenger animals and potentially a solid cover to protect the dog.

Additionally, the Earth has its own mechanism that slowly – but surely – decomposes the dog by using various mechanisms that degrade the dog such as enzymes, natural earthly chemicals like methane, and small animals like worms and beetles.

Dirt is also a facet that makes the process long because the dirt is actually a form of preservation for the dog.

How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Decompose Above Ground?

When the dog is above ground, decomposition starts within the hour and can be completed within 2 months. Being above ground means that there is no box to protect the dog and no dirt to preserve it either.

Therefore, while above ground, it is exposed to elements such as the sun, wind, and water, which speeds up the degradation process. Scavenger animals, such as vultures, are also above ground and will take full advantage of the dog, making decomposition much faster than if the dog was underground.

This is more of the typical scenario, as most dogs are left to decompose above the ground.

How Long Does It Take For Dog Hair To Decompose?

What I found out is that dog hair tends to be soft and warm, therefore making it flexible and biodegradable. Because of this, it typically takes about one month for dog hair to fully degrade.

The hair can be taken in by the soil and absorbed into the Earth. It can also be used by other animals, like birds, as a support to their new home. No matter where the hair is, because of the physical nature of hair being dead once it grows out of your scalp, dog hair doesn’t need much to decompose.

How Long Does It Take For Dog Bones To Decompose?

Dog bones take the longest to decompose. Above ground, the body takes a few months to decompose, while beneath it, it can take years to degrade down to the bones. Dog bones can take on average 20 to 30 years to degrade.

The skeleton of the dog is still wrapped in tendons which protect the bones. Once they have disintegrated, the collagen inside of the bones will begin to soften and become brittle. After this phase, the bones become small enough to leave around a mineral frame of the dog.

When Does A Dog’s Body Start To Decompose?

Decomposition of a dog’s body begins as soon as the dog’s heart stops beating.

Because of this, blood isn’t capable of rushing through the dog’s body to keep its muscles and tendons alive, which is why after the body ceases to move, the muscles of the dog is the first to start decomposing.

Following the muscles, the skin and hair begin to become dehydrated and dry, making it easy for the hair to fly off and its skin to shrivel up underneath it. In the end, decomposition starts when the dog life ends.

How Long Can You Keep A Dead Dog Before Burial?

My research shows that you can keep a dead dog approximately 12 to 24 hours before burying it. There are several reasons for such a short time period including emotional distress, acceptance, and of course, the stench that comes from decomposing the body.

Generally, where you keep the dog after it dies can also determine how much time you spend with it before placing it into the ground. A cool room will degrade the body slower, while a warmer room would speed up the process.

How Long Does It Take For a Dead Dog To Smell?

A dog’s body will begin to decompose as soon as it dies; and within 10 to 12 hours, the dog’s body will create a strong and unpleasant smell that insists that the dog be buried or taken to another area.

It has been proven that chemicals from the body, such as methane and sulfur, leave the body one the components within it have completely broken down. It is these chemicals that create the stench of a dead body, and it happens much sooner than the full degradation of the dog’s body.

How Deep Should You Bury A Dog?

Generally, if the dog is small, you’ll want to bury it with at least 4 feet of dirt; whereas if the dog is medium or big, 6 feet is deep enough to be sufficient.

You should follow this rule of thumb because this depth has been shown to be too deep for scavenger animals to smell the scent of the dog’s body and keeps them from trying to dig it up.

Additionally, once the decomposition begins, 3 to 6 feet of layered dirt is an adequate amount of earth to keep the degradation animals – like bugs and maggots – from reaching the top of the soil.

Minimum Depth To Bury A Dog

The smallest layers of soil that should be layered on top of a degrading dog’s body is 2 to 3 feet.

This depth suffices because it is both deep enough to grant the dog’s body peace for animals that may want to dig it up if they smell it, as well as shallow enough for you to not have to put in too much energy to give your dog a proper memorial.

Also, this depth is shallow enough to not interfere with utility lines that may lie 4 to 6 feet underground.

Can You Bury A Dog In Your Garden?

You’ll want to check with your state law to determine if it is legal to do so in your area, but generally, in most states, it is completely acceptable to bury your dog in your garden.

Your home garden could be a sentimental resting place for your family pet, as well as a nice setting that will protect it from other animals. Keep in mind that you should bury that dog at least 8 to 10 feet away from plant life, as the chemicals from the degrading body could interfere with their growth process.

Best Way To Bury A Dog

The best way to bury a dog is to place it in a secure area away from any power lines or water sources that may be prone to flooding.

Research also shows that burying your dog in a form of containment is best to keep the body preserved, versus simply placing the dog’s body directly into the Earth. This will cause the spread of various bugs and the creation of new ones.

Most forms of containment exist in the forms of bags, boxes, and coffins made out of various biodegradable materials such as plastic or wood.

Should I Bury My Dog In A Plastic Bag?

A heavy-duty plastic bag is one of the most efficient ways to bury your dog. The plastic bag will encase the full body of the dog and keep all of the degradation process within it. The smell of the dog will also be masked, therefore, reducing the amount of animals that may try to come and dig it up.

Additionally, you should know that placing the dog in the plastic bag preserves the body longer and secures it better within containment boxes such as wooden or metal coffins.

How To Bury A Dog With Parvo?

Parvo is a highly contagious virus that creates gastrointestinal distress and illness within puppies and dogs. Parvo is also capable of spreading through soil, which makes it a hazard.

The best way to bury a dog with parvo is to first wrap it in a heavy-duty, sealable, plastic bag. Next, place the bag in a shut-and-cealed coffin or box to keep the disease from spreading. Finally, place the box in a safe area where the dog is less likely to be dug up by other animals.

How To Bury A Dog In the Winter?

To properly bury a dog during winter time, you’ll first want to wrap the dog in a secure plastic bag and place the bag in a tight and sturdy box structure.

When it’s time to bury them, you’ll want to dig past the frost line until you reach soft soil so that the casket is a few feet deep below the frost line. Next, simply place a tarp of the container and refill the burial site with the soil.

This process has been proven to work and ensures a secure and peaceful resting place for your dog.

The 5 Stages of Dog Decomposition

Stage 1: Fresh (Hours up to 3 Days After Death)

Soon after your dog dies, its body starts to show major changes, beginning the decomposition.

  • Rigor mortis sets in – Rigor mortis makes the body stiff and rigid by contracting the muscles. First, the front legs stiffen, then the head and neck, and finally the rear legs and tail.
  • Cooling phase – The deceased dog’s body temperature will drop and reach room temperature. This cooling phase aids in starting rigor mortis.
  • Possible movement – Even after the dog is clinically dead, its tail, paws, or head might move slightly. This is due to contracting muscles and discharge of energy from cells and is not a sign of life.

These post-mortem movements usually stop within 3 days. This fresh stage lasts approximately 72 hours (3 days). Avoid touching or moving your dog during these 72 hours.

Stage 2: Bloat (3-10 Days After Death)

Starting from the third day after your pet dies, you’ll notice bloating and bad smells.

  • Bacteria multiply – Anaerobic bacteria, which don’t need oxygen, grow fast inside the carcass and begin putrefaction.
  • Unpleasant odors emitted – The anaerobic bacteria create gases like cadaverine and putrescine, which smell very bad.
  • Abdomen bloats – The gases building up inside cause the abdomen to swell. Fluid under the skin, along with bloating, makes the body look rounded.

The worst smells, marking the peak of the bloat stage, usually occur around day 5. This stage lasts approximately 1-2 weeks.

Stage 3: Active Decay (10 Days up to 1 Month After Death)

In the active decay phase, rapid tissue breakdown accelerates:

  • Maggots hatch – Flies lay eggs in the broken-down skin, and these eggs hatch into maggots that eat the decaying flesh.
  • Liquefaction occurs – The dog’s organs and tissues turn into liquid sludge due to the action of maggots and bacterial enzymes. This sludge seeps into the soil.
  • Deflation follows – When the liquid tissues drain, the bloating lessens. Then, the carcass collapses and deflates.
  • Strong odors persist – As the hair, skin, and muscles break down, the smell gets worse. This happens when active decay is at its peak.

This challenging messy stage lasts around 2 weeks to a month after death.

Stage 4: Advanced Decay (1 Month to 6 Months After Death)

In this slower phase, the remains dry out and desiccate, leading to the bones emerging.

  • Most tissues gone – At this point, a month after death, most soft tissues such as organs and muscles are decayed or consumed.
  • Beetles appear – Once the skin is gone, beetles, including hide beetles and their larvae, start cleaning the carcass by eating flesh on the bones.
  • Bones revealed – The cartilage decays, revealing the bones, such as the skull and teeth.
  • Odors fade – Smells lighten up considerably at this stage.

Advanced decay, which reveals the skeleton, lasts between 1 and 6 months after death.

Stage 5: Dry Decay (6 Months to Over 1 Year After Death)

In the final stage, all but the bones have decomposed, though some hair or skin fragments might remain.

  • Bones bleach – The sun’s UV light bleaches the bones, making them lighter and drying out any moisture.
  • Skeleton remains – At this point, only bones, along with some small skin patches and dried cartilage, may remain.
  • Bones slowly disintegrate – Eventually, even the skeleton begins to degrade.

At this point, your dog will have completely returned to the earth. Dry decay can last more than a year in dry conditions. The time it takes depends on moisture and temperature.

Factors That Affect Decomposition Time

Impact of Temperature

Decomposition speeds up in warmer temperatures and slows down, preserving the body, in colder climates.

In temperatures between 60-100°F, the bacteria that cause decay multiply more quickly. Below freezing, the cold greatly slows down rotting and preserves the carcass.

  • Hot climates / Summer (90+ °F): Accelerated – faster decay
  • Warm climates (60-90°F): Typical pace of decay
  • Cool Climates (40-60°F): Slower decay process
  • Cold climates / Winter (Below 40°F): Greatly slowed decomposition

In winter, decay can stop for months and then speed up again in spring. As temperatures warm up and thaw, bacteria become more active, causing a quick increase in decomposition.

Effect of Burial Container and Wrapping Materials

Enclosed containers or wrappings slow down decomposition.

Wrapping a body in cloth or using hardwood or metal coffins limits air exposure. Thick plastic wrap also blocks insects and light. These methods preserve remains longer than bare ground contact, which speeds up rotting.

  • No container/wrap: Fastest decay
  • Blanket wrap/burial shroud: Slower
  • Wood coffin: Slow decay
  • Metal coffin/casket: Drastically slowed decay
  • Sealed protective plastic wrap: Extremely slowed decomposition

Remember that these containers can break down over time, releasing fluids into the soil. Waterproof liners under coffins help protect the land in family burial plots from contamination.”

Impact of Burial Depth on Decay Process

Deeper grave depths slow down the decay process.

Shallow graves or carcasses laid on ground level decay the quickest since it’s easiest for insects, animals, and air to penetrate remains. A deeper burial protects your dog’s body better and leads to better preservation.

  • Surface remains: Rapid decay
  • 2 ft. deep or less: Typical decay rate
  • 4-6 ft. deep: Gradual decomposition
  • 8+ ft. deep: Greatly slowed/preserved

Note that very deep burials can become waterlogged, which slows down decay. For pets buried in backyards, graves are typically 2 to 5 feet deep.

Effect of Different Soil Types on Decay Rates

Decomposition speeds up in sandy or acidic soils, whereas alkaline clay earth helps preserve bodies.

Different soil properties can either accelerate or slow down the process of breaking down remains.

  • Sandy soil lets air, moisture, and decay-promoting insects penetrate quickly.
  • Acidic soils also accelerate decomposition significantly.
  • On the other hand, dense clay soil keeps insects out and slows the spread of air and fluids, slowing decay.

Of course, artificially draining excess water can make even very wet grounds suitable for decay. But in general:

  • Sandy soil: Rapid decay
  • Silty or loamy soil: Typical decay rate
  • Clay soil: Gradual/slowed decomposition
  • Very acidic soil: Accelerated decay
  • Alkaline soil: Slower decay rate

By testing your garden’s soil pH and composition, you can understand how it might affect your pet’s decomposition and burial spot.

Impact of Dog’s Body Size and Mass

The remains of a larger, heavier dog take longer to decompose than those of a smaller, miniature dog. While decomposition rates can vary, generally a larger body decomposes more slowly.

In ideal conditions, a very small dog under 15 lbs may fully decompose in as little as 2 months. In contrast, an extra-large dog weighing over 100 lbs may take over 2 years to decompose to dry bones.

3 Reasons Why Burying a Dog in Your Backyard Is a Bad Idea

1. Other Animals May Dig Up the Remains

Scavengers such as coyotes, foxes, and buzzards can easily smell carrion. They often dig deep pits, sometimes several feet deep, to reach a buried carcass.

The scents of decomposition can tempt neighborhood dogs to claw and dig up your pet’s grave. Grieving pet owners have sometimes found empty pits or scattered bones after wildlife scavenged their backyard burial sites.

To avoid such traumatic discoveries, dig pits deeper than 5 feet or consider using above-ground vaults. However, be aware that digging deeper or using vaults can lead to legal or permitting issues.

2. Leaking Decomposition Fluids Can Contaminate Groundwater

Over months, your buried dog’s remains liquefy and decay. The resulting fluids then seep down through the soil. The mix of proteins, bacteria, viruses, and nitrates from decomposition can contaminate nearby groundwater or aquifers.

Pollution from your dog’s decaying body could affect your drinking water, especially if you use well water or live near shared water tables. This contamination can at least lead to unhealthy levels of nitrates in the water.

Many municipalities explicitly prohibit burying deceased animals near any water sources utilized for human consumption. To avoid contamination, you should not bury dogs near wells, springs, or reservoirs.

3. Flooding Risks Unearthing Your Pet’s Remains

If your area often experiences major rainstorms, seasonal flooding, or has a high local water table, consider these factors before burying your pet at home.

Heavy rains and floods can cause coffins and bodies to resurface in backyards, as soil becomes oversaturated. It would be traumatic to find your deceased pet’s body exposed on your property after a storm.

To prevent distressing scenes and contamination, consider alternatives to backyard burials in flood-prone areas.

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