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5 Stages Of Dog Decomposition (How Long It Takes & Facts)

How Long Does It Take For A Buried Dog To Decompose

Did you move into a new house…

and found out there’s a corpse of someone’s Fido in the yard?

Or do you want to dig up your four-legged friend that you buried years ago?

Whichever your case is, one big question still remains…

“How long does it take a dog to decompose?”

Let’s take a look at how this natural process develops…

Read on to find out:

  • What happens in the 5 stages of dog decomposition.
  • 5 factors that can affect how fast their body deteriorates.
  • Health and environmental risks for other animals and humans.
  • 7 helpful tips you need to keep in mind for a proper and safe burial.
  • And many more…

How long does it take for a buried dog to decompose?

A dog buried underground may decompose completely for as early as 6 months. While some may take up to 18 years or more. As it will depend on several factors such as temperature, total depth of the grave, soil type and acidity, moisture, body mass, and even the material of their covering or coffin.

How long does it take for a dog to decompose above ground?

If a dog decomposes above the ground, it’ll be 8 times faster than when they’re buried. So in an average climate, it may take about 3 to 6 months for it to be in a dry stage where only bones are left. This is because of exposure to more heat, oxygen, scavengers, and insects that aid in faster decay.

How long does it take for a small dog to decompose?

A small dog above the ground may decompose in less than a month if the climate isn’t too cold or hot. And under the ground in at least 3 months depending on the other factors. This is because decomposition rate is also related to body mass. The lower it is, the faster their remains will deteriorate.

So based on the rule, a large dog will be slower to break down. When compared to toy size breeds and young pups.

This is because they’re bigger in size and have a greater body mass.

The 5 stages of dead dog decomposition 

#1: Fresh

An animal’s body will start to decompose right after death. In this phase, their body chemicals will be responsible for the process.

One by one, their cells will decay and break up. Then afterward, enzymes will further break down their tissues. 

Their blood will also build up in the part that has contact with the surface they’re laying on. It could be their head, tummy, or back.

And this process may last up to 3 days after death.

Note: Flies will be attracted to their body once this starts. And they’ll lay eggs on them. So store or bury your deceased dog immediately before this happens.

#2: Bloat

Your Dog Bloats On The Second Stage Of Decomposition

In this stage – 4 to 10 days after death, their body will look swollen. And start to give off a foul smell.

This is because, after enzymes, bacteria will now break down the tissues. As a byproduct, fluids will be released. Which will then produce gases.

And those are responsible for the awful odor. As well as for attracting insects and animals.

Speaking of foul odor, you might want to check this article.

#3: Active decay

Once they pass away, after about 10 to 20 days, this phase will take place.

Their body will now shrink from being inflated. And the foul odor will not be as strong as before.

Why is that so?

Because all the fluids inside are close to being emptied. And will be absorbed by the soil around them. Thus, the smell is also going to be reduced.

Note: Maggots or ‘legless flies’ will be found in the carcass. As they ingest the flesh in the body.

#4: Advanced decay

All their flesh will be gone at this stage. Leaving only their hair and bones behind.

If they’re on the ground, mold may also be noticed on the parts that are touching it. Also, the grass beneath or around them may appear dry.

And this could be 20 to 50 days after death.

Note: The remains will give off a ‘spoiled milk’ smell. And this is due to ‘butyric acid.’ Which will then invite other organisms.

#5: Dry decay

As the name implies, all that will be left in this phase are their dry bones.

From the start, there are going to be traces of fur and dried skin. But as time goes by, they’ll be broken down by bacteria and tineid moths.

During this, the decay will be slow. And it could take up to 1 year – depending on several factors.

5 factors that determine how long it takes a buried dog to decompose

#1: Temperature

Temperature Plays A Big Role In Decomposition

The climate plays a big role in the process. Because the hotter it is, the faster the body decomposes.

And when it’s too cold or dry, it’ll slow down or stop. Which is called ‘mummification.’

Why is that so?

It’s because bacteria and insects are more active when it’s warm. So they’ll break down carcasses much faster in that weather.

#2: Material of coffin/wrapping

A study says a body that’s in contact with the ground will decay faster. So anything that covers them – coffin or cloth, will slow it down.

The material is also one issue. Wooden coffins are biodegradable and help speed up the process.

But, if the body is wrapped in plastic, it’ll be the opposite. As this material takes 20 to 500 years to break down..

#3: Depth of the grave

One simple rule – the deeper it is, the slower a body decays. This is because of the low temperature and oxygen level.

Cold weather makes it harder for bacteria to work. And less oxygen also inhibits their growth. So together, they’ll result in a restrained decay.

#4: Soil

Another factor is the earth in the area. And it’ll depend on several factors: kind, pH level, and moisture content.

Its type

Sand will help in speeding up the process. While clay will likely slow it down.

The latter is more compact and has greater density than the former. So it’ll make the circulation of air a lot harder. Which may limit bacterial growth.

Its pH level

Soil acidity can also affect the decomposition rate.

Experts say that a low pH level – under 6.0, will cause bacteria activity to go down. 

Remember that these organisms break down tissues in the body. So if they’re halted, it’ll take a lot of time.

Moisture content

The type of earth doesn’t only dictate the speed. But also the amount of water it has.

Normal levels of moisture will help speed up the process. But if it’s too high, the oxygen level will be low. Because the water blocks the exchange of gases. 

#5: Body mass

Your Dog's Body Mass Affects Decomposition

Lastly, their size also dictates the rate they deteriorate. One study points out that body mass is one factor in the process.

So, smaller bodies decay faster than those who have a bigger build. Because the former has a lesser amount of body mass. So, a tiny dog will break down easier compared to a larger breed. 


Will a buried dog smell?

A buried dog will smell because foul odor is natural in decaying matter. But it’s not going to be noticeable to the human nose as long as they’re placed deep down the earth and with enough soil covering above it. This is why it won’t smell as strong as a body that’s left to decompose above ground.

But, insects and animals can still smell them. Especially if they’re buried closer to the surface.


This is due to the gases. As well as fluids that are released by their body during the process.

Although those smell unpleasant to us. It’ll be the opposite for scavengers. As they’ll be even more attracted to it.

How long will a buried dog smell?

A buried dog may smell for up to 9 days or even 6 months in some cases. Depending on how fast their decomposition rate would be. So, the foul odor will be present as long as their body isn’t completely dried yet. And if bacteria and organisms are still in action – ingesting flesh from their body. 

In short, the slower they decay, the longer they will smell.

And this rate is due to various factors. Such as their size. As well as the type of soil they’re buried in.

What animal would dig up a dead dog?

Animals who are scavenging might dig up a dead dog. Such as foxes, coyotes, and badgers. This is because they’re attracted by the odor a decaying body emits. And they also feed on dead animals. So if your dog’s body isn’t buried properly, scavengers can easily pick it up.

However, other canines may also do this. As they’re curious and have a heightened sense of smell.

But bear in mind that thiscould be dangerous for them. Because they might be exposed to bacteria and diseases.

Plus, it won’t be a pleasant sight. As it’ll be heartbreaking to see your deceased dog being taken away. Especially in a state like that.

This is why consider these things while burying them:

  • Right depth of grave.
  • Heavy top layer (e.g., small stones or concrete slab).

Other articles you might be interested in: Why do Chihuahuas dig? and Why do Pomeranians like to dig?

How long can you wait to bury a dog?

You can wait to bury a dog until 3 hours at most after death. It shouldn’t take long  because their muscles will stiffen up 2 to 6 hours once they pass away. So it’ll be harder for you to move them. And they may also start to give off a foul smell. Which will then invite flies and lay eggs on them. 

So during these hours, assess their body. And handle their remains asap.

Contact anyone that may help you along the way. Inform your vet about this.

Also, check the burial laws in your area. To know for sure if it’s allowed to bury an animal in your yard.

Further reading: Burying A Dog In Your Backyard: Laws In 50 States + 9 Risks

How long does it take a dog to start decomposing?

A dog will start to decompose right after they passed away. Their heart will stop and blood will build up in one part of their body. Slowly, their cells will degrade and cause it to rupture. Releasing gases and fluids out of their body which can happen 12 to 24 hours after death if left unattended.

So it would be best to not wait for these things to happen. And take care of their body immediately.

7 tips to consider regarding dead dog decomposition

#1: Handle their remains properly

They say the first step is always the hardest.

This will be difficult for all dog parents. But it’s best to handle their remains asap for you and their sake.

Whether you’re going to bury them in the yard or opt for cremation.

You may call someone for help if you can’t do it by yourself. Or ask another person to handle them in your stead.


  1. For safety, make sure to wear gloves before handling them.
  2. Next, if they died inside, sanitize the area.
  3. Then clean them up as well. Usually, they’ll let out fluids inside their body. So, lay them down on a cloth to be sure. And wipe their genitals and mouth.
  4. Then get a large towel or blanket to wrap their whole body. And have them lay on their side as you cover them.

If you’re waiting for cremation services, wrap them tightly. You can double the cloth. Or cover them with plastic or a box in the meantime.

Then place them outside – away from heat and reach of other animals.

Your vet can also have a means of storing them. So ask for help as leaving them for longer hours will attract flies. And they’ll start giving off a foul smell.

“I have other dogs/pets in the house. Should I let them see their friend who passed away?”

Well, it’ll be the right thing to do. Since canines do mourn according to experts.

And some Fidos may not cope well. Especially if their friend suddenly disappeared.

Others may become lonely and depressed. So giving them some kind of ‘closure’ will be helpful.

Warning: However, some doggos may sniff and get closer to the remains. So before doing this, consult with your vet first. To know if it’s safe to do so. Since this poses health hazards.

I’ll discuss the risks shortly. So hold on for a bit longer.

#2: Find a perfect location

If you choose to bury your dog, decide where to do it. But, make sure that it’s a suitable and lawful location.

Pet cemetery

Don’t have your own property?

A registered pet cemetery might be a good choice.

You won’t think much of any legal issues. And it’s a permanent place that you can visit.

However, it’ll be more expensive compared to a simple burial in the yard. But prices will still depend on your dog’s size and preferred spot.

‘Whole-family’ cemetery

These are places where people can be buried with their beloved pets.

It can be a human cemetery where animal remains are allowed in a family plot. Or a traditional burial park with a ‘pet section.’

But these are only limited. Because burying an animal in a human cemetery is still illegal in most places.

If you’re interested in this, you can check this directory. And see if there’s one nearby.

Interesting fact: Humans being buried with their pets? Not a new thing. Since archeologists found a dog remains along with their human. This is a discovery in southern Sweden. And they’re said to have lived around the Stone Age, which happened 8,400 years ago.

Public park/forest

Most areas will not allow burying in public land. But there could be some places that do. Or even burying them in a spot in the forest.

So if this kind of place is very important to you and your pooch, ask the authorities about it first.


Having them buried in your backyard has advantages.

It’s close, convenient, and will not cost you anything. But only if your local laws permit it and it’s done properly.

Because some places allow burying a pet within your property. Just follow a certain set of guidelines. And you’ll be fine.

“How about its disadvantages?”

They’ll be left when you move house in the future. Also, when not buried at the right, your dog’s remains may resurface due to flooding.

And if they died from an infectious disease, it’ll be a hazard to other animals.

So if you’re going for this option, make sure to take note of these things….

#3: Stay away from utility lines and water sources

Stay Away From Utility Lines And Water Sources

There are many pipes underground. So be careful while digging as you may hit one of them.

Aside from the fact that this will give you a headache…

You may also cause inconvenience to your neighborhood.  

For utility pipes

So before you break down the earth, call your public utility company. And for gas and electrical lines, you need to contact your private contractor.

They know how the lines are laid out. So they can guide you where you can safely dig a hole. Do this to prevent any damage and additional cost.

For water sources

Dead bodies will decay and release chemicals. These will be absorbed by the earth around them.

So to avoid contamination, keep the grave away from water sources. Such as deep wells, rivers, streams, and etc. 

Check your local rules first about this matter.

Some states in the U.S may require a hole with at least 200 ft. (60 m.) horizontal distance from a water source.

While other parts in the U.K may only need a minimum of 165 ft. (50 m.).

#5: Dig a right depth

Once you’ve found the right spot, the next step will be digging a hole.

However, you can’t just scoop out some earth. And put their body in it without measuring its depth first.

Because if it’s too shallow, scavengers may smell them and dig up their body.

But if it’s too far down, experts say it’ll be longer for their body to decompose. As these are their observations (depth – time it took to decay):

  • 1 ft. to 2 ft. (0.3 m to 0.6 m) – months to 1 year.
  • 3 ft. to 4 ft. (0.9 m to 1.2 m) – more than a year.

So ensure that it has the right depth. Most states may require you to dig at least 2 ft. (0.6 m).

While a minimum of 3 ft. (0.9m) is usually needed if the spot has sandy soil. And if your place has high groundwater. To avoid the remains from resurfacing once a flood or erosion occurs.

How to further secure your dog’s grave

You may do these:

  • Compacting at least 2 ft. (0.6m) topmost soil.
  • Placing a concrete slab or potted plants above it.
  • Putting a layer of stones on top of it –  5 in. (13 cm.) thick.

Note: The heavier and firmer the top layer is, the harder it’ll be for animals to find and dig it.

#6: Pick a suitable coffin

Placing your dog in a nice casket is a good idea.

Some people may put flowers. Or even their Fido’s fave items inside.

But, what material will be best?

Research shows that coffins made of spruce and pine:

  • Doesn’t harm the environment.
  • Help with the decomposition process.

So one that’s mostly out of metal may keep their body secure from animals. But, it’ll be hard for bacteria to multiply and decompose them.

But wait, there are also other options

You can wrap them safely instead. By using a breathable fabric like a cotton blanket. Or place them in a biodegradable product. Such as a cardboard box or a wicker basket.

Note: Avoid wrapping them in a plastic bag. As their body won’t break down properly. And it’ll also harm the environment.

#7: Health risks

It’s true that home burial is the most convenient of all. However, there are health risks that you need to keep in mind. Especially if you have other pets around.

This is if the dog was put to sleep by euthanasia. Or died from a contagious disease.

Because once euthanized, the drug used may stay inside their body for one year. So it’ll be dangerous for any animal to sniff or stay close to them. As it can cause illness or worse, death.

While the risk of getting parvovirus is also there. Which can cause stomach upset for puppies. And those who are unvaccinated.

So, ensure that the grave spot is secured. You can do this by using the things mentioned in tip #5.

Warning: Also, locate the burial site away from your food garden. To be safe from any bacteria that may leach into your crops.