There’s one sure sign an animal decided to select your home or yard to die — the bad smell. Regardless of whether it’s a decomposing rodent or larger animal like a raccoon, the dead animal smell will fill the air with a lingering odor of putridness. Here’s how to deal with it.
The first step to regaining fresh air is finding and removing the dead animal carcass.
What Is Dead Animal Odor?
The smell of death is hard to describe. But most people will recognize something bad is going on with one sniff of the disgusting and puke-worthy smell of a dead animal carcass. Unfortunately, you might not even notice you have a dead animal to deal with until their body begins to decay inside your home or out in the yard. However, if you suddenly start smelling a musty odor, you don’t have a dead critter problem. Mold and moisture are the more-likely suspects.
The scientific reason for the bad smell is the combination of chemicals including sulfur dioxide, methane, benzene derivatives and multiple hydrocarbons manufactured as the dead animal starts decaying. Depending on the size of the animal and environmental conditions in the area of its death, the dead animal can create a lingering smell that can last for several days to weeks and months. The horrific smell will linger until the animal carcass has completely dried out.
Dead Animal Concerns
Whether the animal died inside your home or out in the yard, the dead animal smell is the most offensive part of its death. However, the animal carcass can lead to other issues.
If the dead animal is outside, it can attract larger predators.
Dead animals inside the home can lead to a fly breeding ground. That leads to an infestation of insects, including maggots.
Costly and time-consuming home repairs to ceilings, floors, walls and insulation as the body fluids of the dead animal carcass seeps into the affected area.
The biggest health concern when it comes to dead animals is the decomposing body leaching into the water supply. Those who drink the contaminated water can become seriously ill. Additionally, the lingering odors can result in headaches and nausea. Since the dead carcass is the perfect breeding ground for flies and maggots, secondary illnesses can occur due to the spread of the contamination to other surfaces due to the fly population.
Additionally, animals like raccoons can carry the rabies virus and if your dog is unvaccinated and decides to play with or eat part of the dead animal, they too can then get the rabies virus in their bodies. If the dead animal had fleas or ticks, these pests can now transfer to your pets.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that Tularemia, commonly called Rabbit Fever can infect both animals and humans, with rabbits, hares and rats and mice being especially susceptible to the disease. The disease infects humans through flea and deer tick bites, unprotected skin contact with the infected animal, drinking water contaminated with the disease and inhaling contaminated air. Humans typically breathe in the infected spores by mowing over a dead animal body.
This is why it’s important to locate the source of the odor and remove the dead animal as soon as possible. Therefore, one should never ingest a dead animal they find or handle it without wearing protection.
Factors Affecting the Smell
Wildlife Removal.com notes the following factors play a key role in the strength of the dead animal odor:
Animal Size: Larger animals produce more decaying flesh, which means the dead animal smell is stronger. A dead raccoon or opossum produces a stronger smell than a dead mouse.
Species of Animal: Odors associated with decaying animals are different from animal to animal. Although small, a dead rat is known to produce foul odors.
Dead Carcass Location: If the dead animal dies inside the home in a poorly ventilated area such as in the center of a wall, the bad smell is worse and lingers longer than if it died in a well-ventilated location.
Decomposition State: The lifecycle of the dead animal’s odor depends on the animal’s size and environmental conditions. It can take several days for decomposition to start, which the odor is mild and then grows stronger. As maggots start feasting on the body the smell starts to weaken and once the body is completely dried out, the smell subsides.
Temperature & Humidity: When temperatures inside the home or outside are warmer decomposition of the dead animal is faster, thus leading to stronger smells. When conditions are humid, you have a better ability to smell the dead animal odor. In addition, moist or wet conditions speed the process of decay.
Air Flow: The flow of air in the home greatly affects the dead animal smell. For example, if the dead animal is in the attic, you may smell the odor more in the morning as the affected area cools at night and the air sinks into the home. On the other hand, the dead animal odor might not be a strong in the afternoon as the airflow heats up and rises.
The fact of the matter is dead animals stink and regardless of the strength of the dead animal’s odor, most people can’t stand to live with the smell too long.
Dead Animal Location – Inside Vs. Outside
Whether the dead animal odor is coming from somewhere outside in the yard or inside the home, the first thing you will want to do in any situation is to find the source of the odor. Of course, dealing with a dead animal carcass located outdoors is usually easier and a bit more straightforward than if the animal carcass is located somewhere indoors.
Most dead animals you will find are those that you see frequently around the house and even make their homes there. Common types include squirrels, rats and mice, raccoons, opossums, skunks, armadillos, as well as stray dogs or cats.
Locating an Outdoor Animal Carcass
If possible, an injured and dying animal will usually drag itself off to a private location so it can die in peace. Unless the dying animal left a trail of blood or some other sign of its impending death, your nose ends up being the best locator of the source of the odor and the dead animal carcass. However, depending on the size of the animal, you might also see carrion feeders like vultures circling the death site of the dead animal.
If your house is raised the animal might crawl under there and decide to die. Under the house, crawl spaces are perfect private areas for dying animals to expire. If this happens, the bad smell of the decaying carcass can last for weeks and sometimes for several months.
Locating an Indoor Animal Carcass
Depending on where the animal died, locating and removing an indoor dead animal carcass can be a bit trickier and may require you calling in a pro. Some wildlife and pest-control experts have a sub-specialty in dead animal removal. Animals don’t often bite the dust in the middle of your floor. Usually a dying animal searches out water or will crawl back to a secluded nest or den to die.
Once again, your nose is your best friend when it comes to locating the source of the smell. The time of day when the smell is strongest provides a clue, to. If during the heat of the day you notice the bad smell is stronger, the dead animal probably is not in the basement. It’s more likely in the attic. Areas where animal commonly die include, attics, inside walls, wall voids and even inside the chimney.
If the animal died in your insulation and now its body fluids have drained into the material, you will have to replace the affected area. If the animal decided to die in your walls, you may have to cut open a section to get to the dead carcass. This takes DIY handyman repair expertise and additional costs.
Removing the Dead Carcass
If you decide to take care of removing the dead animal carcass yourself, take steps to say safe from potential health hazards. Only after you remove the dead animal can you think about getting rid of the bad smell.
Depending on the size of the dead animal and where it’s located, you need to wear gloves, sometimes a gas mask, and protective clothing like a long sleeve shirt and long pants.
After you locate the dead carcass, don’t just bury it in the yard where your dog might dig it up. Wrap the body in newspaper and enclose it tightly in a plastic bag. Discard the bag in a location where other animals cannot get to it.
If picking up the dead animal in your gloved hands isn’t your cup of tea, you can always use a shovel to scoop up the dead body to place in the plastic bag. Your arsenal of lawn tools probably includes something that can grab, pull or scoop. Just be sure to disinfect the tools thoroughly after using to remove any remains of the dead carcass.
Get Rid of Dead Animal Smell
After removing and disposing of the dead animal carcass, get rid of the dead animal smell. You need to bring fresh air back again to the affected area. Remember, unless you remove the source of the problem – the dead animal and any bodily fluids — the bad smell can last for weeks or months. No matter how much deodorant or neutralizing spray you use, the dead animal odor lasts until the critter’s body totally decomposes and dries.
After you’ve rid yourself of the dead animal carcass, you’ll need to clean the area. That’s especially true if body fluids seeped onto the surface. Wearing gloves, you can use a household disinfectant or bleach. If the animal happened to expire in your insulation and left a mess behind, you have an extra chore. You need to remove and replace the affected insulation.
If the animal died outdoors, thoroughly flush the affected area with fresh water. Wash away any remaining fluids from the dead animal that seeped into the grass and soil. The bad smell should soon start to dissipate. If it persists, flush the location again with water.
Next, be sure to increase ventilation inside the home to flush the dead animal smell from the house. You can do this by opening all the windows, turning on fans or turning down the air conditioner.
You can find odor eliminating and odor neutralizing products online or at your local home improvement store. These biological cleaners generally work by trapping the odor particles in granules. They don’t mask or cover up the dead-animal smell — they trap and eliminate it. These are the same type of products wildlife removal specialists use.
Products available that all state they trap the dead animal smell, thus eliminating and neutralizing it include:
Follow product label precautions, as well as any mixing instructions.
Homemade Odor Elimination Solutions
Wildlife Removal of Cincinnati, suggests the following DIY homemade mixtures to deodorize your home to get rid of the dead animal odor.
Vinegar: Fill multiple cups full of vinegar and place in the area of the source of the odor.
Ground Coffee: Place ground coffee filter packs or ground coffee in the area of the bad smell.
Baking Soda: Mix baking soda in a spray bottle of water. Spray the source of the bad odor several times daily until it dissipates.
Charcoal Briquettes: Place the briquettes around the area of the bad smell.
Hiring a Professional Vs. DIY
There are situations where you might choose a professional for dead animal removal and cleanup over doing the job yourself. This is especially true if even the thought of dealing with removing the dead animal makes you gag. If it’s a big carcass in a hard-to-access location, a professional might be your best option.
Professional wildlife removal specialists will find the smell’s source, remove the dead carcass, clean up body fluids and treat with an odor remover and odor neutralizer. Additionally, many search out where the animals are getting in and repair the area, sealing the entry point. They do all the dirty and stinky work for you, but at a cost.
On Point Wildlife Removal and Restoration of Melbourne, Fla., states that there are variables out of their control that affect pricing. They include:
Height, material and pitch of the roof.
Difficulty in getting to the area and how many openings requiring repair.
Severity of the animal problem.
How much mess is there to clean up.
On Point charges $389 for one week of trapping any remaining live animals. They charge more for removing the dead carcass, cleaning the area and making any repairs. You can probably estimate the base cost of hiring a professional company will be several hundred dollars. Expect to pay more for more than one dead carcass, or trapping additional live animals.
Seal Any Entry Points
One of the most important steps in eliminating any future problems is to locate and repair their original entry points. Outdoors, all you can do to prevent animals wandering into your yard is fencing or other barriers.
But if the dead animal was inside the house, check around the roof for openings. Missing soffits often provide the open pathway. Look around the house at every place where plumbing or electrical fixtures enter — and seal them. Additionally, keep any bushes or trees planted around the home’s foundation trimmed back. That way, animals can’t crawl onto the roof and get inside the home.
Keeping any entry points repaired and sealed goes a long way in preventing future problems. The last thing you want is another animal dying and filling your home with a horrid smell and a big mess.
Main image credit: “Bad Smell,” by Brian Fitzgerald. CC 2.0
Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.