There are a number of after-life body care options (aftercare) for your pet following death. If you can, it’s best to explore these options in advance and make a decision before the day of your pet’s passing. This will give you a chance to reflect on what you truly want for your pet, rather than having to make a hasty decision while you are feeling emotional and upset. You can talk through the options with your family, friends or your veterinary caregivers. You can also seek advice from other pet owners in the many pet loss forums that are out there.
Your choice will be influenced by several factors. These include what is practical for you and circumstances, including personal factors such as religious or other beliefs around death; financial considerations and finally, how you would like to remember your pet.
The following information will help you make an informed choice about your pet's aftercare. Keep in mind that much of the information that you will find on the internet on this subject can be unreliable and may even have a bias. Here, we have tried to outline the procedures, and hence the options open to you, as clearly as possible. Some of the terminology around this subject might seem quite clinical and may potentially be upsetting. We hope though, that by being transparent, we can empower you to make the best decision for you and your pet, and dispel any myths around this topic.
Regulations around pet burial will vary from country to country. In the UK, burial is usually permitted either on your own property (check with your local authority first) or in a dedicated pet cemetery, which are sometimes found at pet crematoria. It is against the law to bury your pet outside these places without permission. If you rent your property, it is unlikely that you will be able to bury your pet there; you will need to check with your landlord. If you wish to bury your pet in a favourite spot in a woodland or country walk, you will need to contact the owner or local authority.
Keep in mind that burying off your home-property will not allow you to tend the site. The grave may be desecrated or your pet possibly dug up by scavengers.
Burial at home
This is the most common place to bury a pet. Just as with people, you can if you wish order a headstone or some kind of ornament to mark the grave. Some owners plant a small bush or tree; others do not mark the place. Having your pet near you on your property is of great comfort to some, and particularly those who do not like the thought of cremation.
If you decide to bury your pet at home, you will need to consider the following:
- Graves should be deep: 1.25m is recommended. This is so that your pet’s body is not dug up by other animals who might come into your garden. In cold weather and certain types of soil, and for large dogs, this depth and size represents major digging effort.
- Be careful to avoid any electrical cables, or water courses.
- Do not bury your pet near a stream or water course. If your pet was euthanased, then the drug used can enter the environment and damage other life forms.
- Wrap your pet in a bio-degradable material. You can buy caskets that are specially designed for pets, however a simple blanket or towel will suffice. Do not use plastic bags or other non-degradable materials.
Burial at a pet cemetery
Pet cemeteries are regulated in the same way as crematoria (note specific regulations below) and you will often find them at the same facility as a pet crematorium. The advantages of using a pet cemetery are that the hard work of preparing your pet’s grave is done for you and the grave is maintained. The disadvantages are that you have further to travel to visit the grave than if you buried your pet at home. There is usually a cost and you may also have ongoing maintenance costs.
Simple body disposal
If you decide not to have your pet buried at home or elsewhere, and do not wish for cremation, then in some areas there is the option for a simple body disposal. This, like cremation, is governed only under the Animal By-Products and Waste Regulations. Some waste carriers will provide this service through veterinary practices and collect the bodies of deceased pets, which are then disposed of at a licensed facility, which can include landfill. If you are considering this option, then talk through with your vet exactly what will happen to your pet's body, and ensure that you are comfortable with this.
Cremation is the process by which your pet’s body is burned in a special furnace and the remains (ashes) disposed of or given to you to have at home. The actual cremation process itself takes some time. You may be able to wait to receive your pet’s ashes if you have personally taken your pet’s body to the crematorium. Many crematoria also offer the facility to spend some time with your pet’s body in a remembrance room before the cremation.
Most crematoria are run by pet lovers themselves and they will often have experienced pet loss themselves. Many will have additional support services for both the veterinary practices they serve, as well as pet owners. They usually welcome visits before or after your pet’s cremation and usually provide quiet spaces for contemplation or reflection, as well as answering any specific questions you may have.
When arranging the cremation of your pet, you have two choices; you can either directly arrange the cremation yourself by contacting the crematorium, and then take your pet's body there yourself ( some will collect from your home), or you can arrange the cremation through your veterinary practice. Usually a veterinary practice will have an arrangement with a crematorium of their choice. The practice will arrange for your pet’s body to be collected from the practice by the crematorium. This may be on the day of, or the day following your pet’s death, or in some cases it may be a twice-a-week or once-a-week collection. The pet's body (as with a deceased person) is usually put into cold storage while awaiting collection (this is usually a freezer facility). You will need to wait on average seven days between your pet’s collection and the return of ashes to you, depending on the collection schedule. Check with your vet when their next scheduled collection will be. If you wish to have your pet's ashes back more quickly, you can make a special request and this can be expedited by bringing your pet’s body to the crematorium yourself or arranging a home collection.
Regulations around cremation
The process of pet cremation itself is not regulated. Disposal of pets' bodies is governed by Animal By-Products Regulations. This requires registration, inspection and approval of animal by-products premises. These will include pet crematoria and cemeteries, although the specific regulatory licence given to them is for waste management. Further information on the Animal By-Products Regulations and waste management licencing can be obtained from the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (DEFRA).
Some crematoria sites also handle waste from veterinary practices such as soiled materials and hazardous waste. However, reputable crematoria will separate any waste handling facilities from pet cremation facilities. A good crematorium will be happy to show you around to give you peace of mind.
If you have chosen to have your pet cremated then there are several options. These may vary depending on the crematorium you or your veterinary practice chooses.
Communal cremation (also known as group or mass cremation/incineration)
In this instance the pet's body is cremated along with the bodies of other pets. As there is no separation of pets in this process, you will not receive any ashes back. Ashes are usually disposed of as waste at a licensed facility, and these can include landfill sites. Unless there is a large dedicated area available for ashes to be interred at the crematorium, only a small proportion may be scattered or interred in a garden of remembrance or dedicated place at the crematorium. This is at the discretion of the crematorium as to whether this takes place or not. If you wish this to be done, then it is a good idea to specifically enquire with the crematorium whether this happens.
Some facilities may offer for you to have a small representative 'token' amount of the group ashes returned to you. Note that this is not in any way regulated, and there is no guarantee that the token ashes returned to you will contain any ashes from your pet. It is for this reason that most reputable crematoria do not offer this option.
Not all crematoria provide communal cremation. For those that do offer it, it provides a way of disposing of a pet's body which is less expensive for owners, should cost be a concern. It's best to check with the crematorium as to the exact procedure they use and ensure you are comfortable with it.
This is where the pet’s body is cremated by itself. The actual process will differ from facility to facility. The most exact option (and the costs of your pet’s individual cremation will likely reflect this) is where your pet is cremated in an individual chamber. There is only one pet cremated in one chamber at any one time. This option is available at most UK crematoria.It is often a good sign if the crematorium has multiple individual chambers to be able to keep up with the number of bodies presented.
Some crematoria may use a tray system. In this system, each body is placed in an individual tray which is passed through the cremation chamber along with other trays. This allows some smaller facilities to keep up with demand, but does mean that there can be some mixing of ashes due to the combustion process that takes place when a body is burned. Similarly, some facilities will use a larger chamber which is subdivided internally into smaller units with the use of heat bricks (partioned cremation). Again some mixing of ashes will occur.
Whichever system is used (don't be afraid to ask), individual cremation will be more expensive than communal cremation. You will have ashes returned to you either in a simple container or a more ornamental one. Again this will vary in cost. Note that some crematoria will only offer individual cremations.
Scattering or keeping your pets ashes
This is very much an individual choice. Some people like to keep their pet’s ashes at home where they can be kept close to them and it helps them to remember them and give them comfort. You may also wish to consider scattering or burying your pet’s ashes in a favourite place. If this is not on your own property you will need to seek the landowner’s permission.