The death of a beloved pet can be one of the saddest days of our lives. One of the last things we want to think about when we are grieving is how to bury a pet.
But many pet parents feel better having a plan in place so they know what they will do with their pet’s body after they pass away—from natural causes or by euthanasia (humane death). Some veterinary care providers will come to your home or yard to perform the euthanasia in a comfortable, familiar setting where the family and other pets can be present. This is the ideal situation. However, this is usually more expensive than if the procedure is performed in a veterinarian’s clinic.
If your pet is scheduled for euthanasia, the veterinarian or staff will talk to you about the cost and options for the remains.
Cremation is one of the options that people choose most often for pets, and it uses the same process that is used for human remains. The body is placed in a cremation chamber and burned at a high temperature: 1,500 to 2,000 degrees.
Most veterinary care facilities do not do the cremation themselves; they contract with a regulated crematorium. After the euthanasia procedure, you can expect to leave your pet’s body at the clinic (or if they come to your home, they will take it with them).
If you arrange to have your pet’s ashes returned to you, this is considered a private cremation. They will let you know when they are ready to pick up—usually in a couple of weeks. Some people choose to keep their pets’ ashes in urns, scatter them in a special place, or even have them turned into jewelry or added to a living coral reef.
The more affordable cremation option is for your pet to be cremated along with other deceased pets, which is a group, or communal, cremation. In that case, you will not receive your pet’s ashes.
There are some downsides to cremation. It is not cheap. A communal cremation can cost between $50 and $200, and a private one could be $150 to $450, depending on the size of the pet.
It is also not a green option. Cremation uses a lot of energy and releases gas into the atmosphere. There are some newer options called aquamation and cryomation. However, they are not widely available for pets (or for people).
Burial in Pet Cemeteries
Your vet can also help connect you to a pet cemetery in your community. Most places have both private and communal plots for pets. Some states have green-burial pet cemeteries that have different options for burying pets that are easy on the environment, like biodegradable containers. Some are part of conservation areas, and others allow pets to be buried with their humans.
If you own your own home—and the ground is not frozen solid—most states allow you to bury your pet in your yard. Here in Ohio, the relevant law (Section 941.14 of the Ohio Revised Code) states that the bodies of animals need to be burned, dissolved, or buried “no less than four feet beneath the surface of the ground.” Here are some tips for home burial.
Dig a hole that is deep enough (2 to 5 feet) to place your pet in there and not have wild animals dig it up.
If the ground is frozen, you’ll have to check with your vet to see if they can store the body until you can dig that hole.
Don’t bury a pet near wetlands, a floodplain, a shoreline, or a reservoir. Decomposing tissue and euthanasia chemicals could pollute nearby water.
Wrap your pet’s remains in a favorite blanket or some other item that will decompose.
Remember, if you move to another home you will lose access to their burial site.
Coping with the Loss
There is no underestimating how difficult it is to lose a cherished pet as a pet parent. Give yourself time to process the grief and loss.
The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center has compiled a list of reading materials for adults and children to understand and cope with the inevitable grief that comes from the loss of a companion animal.
I take comfort in knowing that by outliving our pets we can provide them with humane end-of-life care and a peaceful passing.