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DocDave, Veterinarian
Category: Dog Veterinary
Satisfied Customers: 154
Experience:  Providing advanced veterinary care since 1982.
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How Long Does it Take Rigormortis to Set in Dogs?

Customer Question

How long does it take for rigamortis to set in after sudden death? 55lb golden retrievor found @ 3.30pm in rigor yet daughter says that she had dog on sofa @ 2.30pm. Otherwise healthy 10 year old dog on rimadyl & tramadol for bone spur medication ceased 2-3 days before death. Only other symptom was loss of appetite.

Submitted: 7 years ago.
Category: Dog Veterinary
Expert:  Dr. Jenn replied 7 years ago.

Hi there,

The smaller the animal, the faster it happens. In a medium to large sized dog, it could take 2-4 hours.

It is also possible for this to happen within an hour. The cause of death can affect how quickly it sets in. Dogs can get tumors in their abdomen that can rupture causing death pretty quickly. So sorry about your baby

Expert:  DocDave replied 7 years ago.

There are several factors that affect the onset of rigor mortis. Ambient temperature is a major factor, with warmer temperatures causing a more rapid onset. As one might expect by knowing that, a dog or a person that dies with a high fever will have rigor mortis begin quite rapidly. Another factor that can cause a rapid onset of rigor is recent exercise - the muscles are already tense and depleted in oxygen and energy sources, which are the very factors that cause the onset of rigor mortis. For similar reasons, rigor mortis begins rather rapidly after debilitating diseases such as cancer and renal failure.

Because of the multiplicity of factors that affect the onset of rigor mortis, it is not a reliable indicator of time of death. Your daughter's assertion that Molly was alive just an hour before being found in rigor is certainly plausible in a number of different scenarios. Unfortunately, since the cause of death is not known with certainty and cannot now be discovered, there are some gaps that you are not going to be able to fill in. Your daughter certainly could have erred in estimating the time elapsed, but I am not at all certain that she is, indeed mistaken.