What to Do If a Cat Dies at Home?

At a glance

  • Determine if the cat has passed away (check pupils, pulse, breathing)
  • Contact your veterinarian
  • Store the body in a cool location
  • Consider letting children and pets see the body (if it is non-infectious)
  • Decide what to do with the remains (burial or cremation)
  • Notify the council, veterinarian and pet insurance company that the cat has passed away

Losing a pet is never easy, and having to decide what to do with a cat’s body after he or she passes adds an extra layer of stress. A cat may die at home suddenly (due to an accident, infectious disease, undiagnosed medical condition), from a known medical condition, or be euthanised by a veterinarian. It’s never easy to say goodbye to a cat, even if they have had a long sickness. We look at what to do if a cat does pass away in the home.

Determine if the cat has died

If the cat has been euthanised by a veterinarian, he or she will check the cat’s vitals to ensure the cat is deceased. It is always best if a veterinarian evaluates the cat to confirm he or she is deceased.

If this is not possible, there are ways to check:

  • Immediately after the cat has passed the cat may urinate and defecate due to the muscles relaxing.
  • Shine a light into the eye to see if the pupil constricts (becomes smaller). Eyes are open and the pupils are dilated (large) and fixed when the cat is deceased.
  • Corneal reflex refers to the involuntary blinking of the eyelids due to stimulation of the cornea. Use a q tip or cotton bud to gently make contact with the surface of the eye. If there’s no blink reflex, the cat has passed.
  • Eyes sink into their sockets.
  • Check for a pulse by holding your index fingers over the femoral artery which is located on the inside of the cat’s hind leg, close to the groin.
  • Watch for the rise and fall of the chest.
  • Separate the paws and pinch the skin between the toes to see if the cat responds.
  • The cat’s body temperature will drop after death, in humans, the rate of cooling is approximately 1 C per hour until it reaches ambient (room) temperature.

Related: Dying Cat

Immediately after the cat has died

Wrap the cat in a towel or old blanket to prevent any leakage of body fluids.

Remove the cat’s collar, many pet owners choose to keep the collar in a memory box for their cat.

Position the body by tucking the limbs under the body.

If the cat has died from a suspected zoonotic disease, contact the authorities. In some cases, it is a legal requirement that the cat’s remains be removed for necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).

Notifiable diseases may vary from country to country, but typically include the following:

  • Anthrax
  • Botulism
  • Campylobacteriosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Pseudorabies
  • Lyssavirus
  • Brucellosis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Plague
  • Tularemia

Storing the body

Place the cat in a suitable location until you are ready to bury or cremate the body. The area should be cool, and dry as heat and humidity speed up the decomposition process.

If you need to store the body for more than a few hours, or if it is hot, wrap the cat in plastic and tape well to prevent water from seeping in. Place the remains in an esky (cooler) or plastic storage container with ice (also in a bag). Place the container in a cool location (garage is ideal), and put a heavy object on the lid.

If you do not have ice on hand, store the remains in a refrigerator or freezer.

Should you let pets and children see the body?

If you have other pets in the home, and the cat passed away from a non-infectious cause, it is fine to allow other pets to see the cat.

Making the decision to allow children to see the body depend on the age of the child, how the cat passed and the child’s personality. It will be traumatic for a child to see their beloved pet if he or she died in an accident. If the body is intact and the cat looks at peace, this will be far more comfortable and can give the child closure. Do not force a child to view the body, it should be their choice.

Decide what you want to do with the remains

There is no right or wrong when it comes to what we do with the cat’s body after he or she has passed. Points to consider include if you are renting or buying, council bylaws and finance.

  • Home burial: This is easiest to do if you own your property. The benefits of a home burial are that you have a place to visit and remember the cat. People may choose to place a monument over the grave or plant a tree or favourite flower. Always check with your local council before burying a cat in the garden. Do not bury an animal close to a water supply or if the cat died from an infectious disease. The grave should be at least three feet deep to prevent scavenging. It can help to place a heavy rock over the area.
  • Pet cemetery: A plot of land is purchased in a licensed pet cemetery for the cat to be buried along with a casket and headstone. The owners can choose to have a funeral or memorial for their pet. Pet cemeteries are an option for owners who are not comfortable with cremation, have no garden, or live in a rental property.
  • Communal cremation: The cat’s remains are transported to a veterinarian or pet crematorium where they are cremated with other animals. The ashes are scattered in a licensed site. It is not possible to get your cat’s ashes back if he or she has had a communal cremation. 
  • Private or individual cremation: The cat is cremated on its own, or on an individual tray and the ashes are returned to you. If you would like your cat’s remains returned, opt for a private cremation. The average cost for a private cremation is $300.
  • Cremation into diamonds: A number of companies now turn your pet’s ashes into a diamond. After the cremation, the ashes are sent to the company, which extract carbon to create a diamond.
  • Disposal: If you are unable to bury or cremate the cat, contact your veterinarian or local council to see if they are able to handle the remains.

Who to notify

Local council: Most councils require pet owners or veterinary surgeries to notify them when a cat has passed away. Most veterinary practices will notify council when they have euthanised an animal. If the cat has died at home from natural causes, it will be necessary to notify the council your self.

Veterinarian: Contact your veterinarian so that they can mark the cat as deceased. This will stop them from sending future reminders about vaccinations which can be painful.

Pet insurance: If you have health insurance for your cat, notify the insurance company so that they can close the account and you are no longer paying a monthly or annual premium.