Dog Decomposition: A Quick Guide on the Process

When a dog passes away, it undergoes a natural process of decomposition. It’s not just important to acknowledge this phenomenon for those who have lost their furry friends, but also for people who work with dogs or come across deceased canines. Understanding this process can help individuals in dealing with the aftermath of death in a more informed and empathetic manner.

Here, we will explore the various stages and factors that contribute to the decomposition process, providing insight into how dogs’ bodies transform after death.

Note: If you’re reading this and you just lost your dog, sorry for your loss. Here are some good resources that can help you deal with the grief of losing your four-legged family member.

When Does Decomposition Begin?

Decomposition begins shortly after a dog’s death, with a series of changes caused by various chemical and biological processes occurring within the body.

Factors such as environmental conditions, burial depth, and materials surrounding the body can greatly influence the rate of decomposition. Knowing the circumstances that affect this process can assist in determining the appropriate actions to take in order to respectfully manage the remains of a deceased dog.

The Stages of Dog Decomposition


Autolysis is the first stage of decomposition, which starts right after a dog’s death. In this phase, the dog’s body chemicals are responsible for the process.

One by one, the cells decay and break up, and enzymes further break down the tissues. The body starts cooling down, and rigor mortis sets in between 3 and 6 hours after death. During this stage, flies may begin to arrive to feed and lay eggs on the body.


The second stage of decomposition is bloat. Gases, such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, are produced inside the dog’s body due to the action of bacteria. As a result, the abdomen swells, and the body might release fluids.

The strong odor emitted during this stage attracts more insects, which can assist with the decomposition process by consuming the dog’s tissues and laying more eggs.

Active Decay

In the active decay stage, the body undergoes significant changes. The accumulated gases released during bloat cause the skin to rupture, allowing for accelerated decomposition.

Insects, such as maggots and beetles, consume the soft tissues, breaking them down rapidly. In this stage, the dog’s body loses most of its mass, and the environment surrounding the body may be drastically altered due to the released fluids.

Advanced Decay

During the advanced decay stage, the decomposition process starts to slow down as the soft tissues are largely consumed, and only the harder materials, such as bones and cartilage, remain. The insects that may still be present continue to break down any leftover tissues, and fungi and bacteria also play a role in breaking down the remaining organic materials.

Dry Remains

The final stage of decomposition is dry remains. At this point, only the bones, cartilage, and some dried skin or hair may remain. Over time, these materials will continue to break down through the action of weathering and the activity of microorganisms, eventually returning the nutrients to the soil.

Factors Influencing Decomposition

When examining the process of dog decomposition, there are several factors that can impact the rate and extent of decomposition. In this section, we will discuss the influence of the environment, temperature, burial depth, and body size on decomposition.


The environment where a dog’s remains are located can greatly affect decomposition. The following points outline key environmental factors:

  • Moisture: Decomposition is faster in moist environments due to increased microbial activity.
  • Soil type and acidity: Certain soil types and acidity levels promote or hinder decomposition.
  • Insect activity: The presence of insects can have a significant impact on the rate of decomposition, as they feed on the remains as well as assist in breaking down tissues.


Temperature is a crucial factor in controlling the rate of decomposition. Generally, decomposition is quicker in warmer temperatures due to increased metabolic rates. However, as temperatures rise above a certain threshold, decomposition may slow down due to excessive heat causing the proteins to denature or become degraded.

Burial Depth

The depth at which a dog is buried can have a significant impact on decomposition rates. A table showing general differences in decomposition rates based on burial depth is provided below:

Burial DepthDecomposition Rate
Above ground8 times faster than burial
ShallowFaster than deep burial
DeepSlower than shallow burial

Factors that contribute to decomposition rates based on burial depth include:

  • Oxygen availability: More oxygen is available at shallow depths, promoting aerobic decomposition.
  • Insect access: Decomposition is slower at deeper depths due to reduced access for insects.
  • Soil moisture and temperature: These factors vary with depth and can contribute to the overall rate of decomposition.

Body Size

The size of a dog can influence the rate at which it decomposes. Generally, a larger dog will take longer to decompose than a smaller dog, due to the increased mass and greater amount of tissues that need to be broken down. However, other factors such as burial depth, temperature, and insect activity can modify the impact of body size on decomposition rates.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long for dog fur to decompose?

Dog fur is made of keratin, which is a naturally occurring protein. It takes quite some time to decompose, and the process can last anywhere from a few months to even years, depending on the environmental conditions.

When does a dead dog start smelling?

A dead dog can start smelling within a day or two due to the process of decomposition. The temperature and humidity can affect the timeline. Odor will intensify as the body experiences bloating and active decaying stages.

Time for a small dog to decompose?

The time it takes for a small dog to decompose can vary based on factors such as the environment and weather conditions. In general, it could take between a few weeks to several months for the decomposition process to complete.

Dog decomposition in water?

Decomposing dogs in water will experience a slightly different process than those on land. Bacteria and insects won’t have the same access to the body, and the temperature of the water can significantly slow down the decomposition process. The timeline can range from several weeks to a few months or even longer.

Time for a dog to decompose above ground?

A dog decomposing above ground might take a longer time due to factors such as exposure to air, scavengers, and insects. Depending on the environmental conditions, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or even up to a year for the decomposition process to be complete.

How to bury a dog without odor?

To bury a dog without producing odor, you should dig a deep hole, at least 3 to 4 feet deep. Place the dog’s body into the hole, then sprinkle a layer of powdered lime on top, which will help neutralize any odors. Next, place a layer of soil approximately 1 foot deep, followed by another layer of lime. Finally, fill the rest of the hole with soil and tamp it down firmly to prevent scavengers from digging up the remains.

Abigail Stevens