Losing a pet is losing a member of your family. When you have to say goodbye to a beloved friend, you face feelings of grief and loss. Many people also feel a great deal of anxiety about what they should do with their pets’ remains.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What is Pet Cremation?
- What Should You Consider Before You Get Your Pet Cremated?
- How Does Pet Cremation Work?
- How Do You Plan for a Pet Cremation?
Planning ahead for the practicalities of losing a pet can help you cope with those stresses when the time comes. One of the practicalities of pet death is deciding whether or not cremation is right for you and your precious pet.
Whether you’re getting a headstart on planning for your pet’s cremation and funeral, or your pet has recently passed away, we’ll provide our best information and advice on pet cremation, below.
What is Pet Cremation?
Pet cremation is the most popular type of final disposition for pets when they die. While burial used to be popular for pets, cremation has overtaken burial in recent decades. A key reason for cremation’s rise in popularity is the service’s price: while burial in a pet cemetery can cost $300 or more, the cost of pet cremation is about half as much.
Additionally, pet cremation allows pet owners to keep their pets’ remains with them at home. Pet owners who can’t bury their pets at home because of local regulations or because they don’t own their own property are more likely to opt for cremation.
They can visit their pet’s remains whenever they’d like, without traveling to a pet cemetery. They can also take the remains with them if they move.
What Should You Consider Before You Get Your Pet Cremated?
Pet cremation may be popular, but it’s still not right for everybody. You might learn something about pet cremation that makes you want to go with a different option. Whether or not you choose pet cremation, it’s important to be informed about the entire process.
If you do choose to cremate your pet, there are precautions you can take and decisions you can make, to ensure your pet is treated with respect.
How Does Pet Cremation Work?
On a technical level, pet cremation works much the same as human cremation. However, the pet cremation process also differs from human cremation in several key ways. Here’s how the process works, step-by-step.
Before the cremation can occur, your pet has to be transported from his or her place of death to the crematory. Because pets often pass away at the vet’s office, most veterinary hospitals and clinics have agreements with their local pet crematories.
If your pet dies at the veterinarian’s office, the staff will ask you whether you’d like them to transport your animal to the crematory. You’ll sign a form agreeing to the type of cremation and other details.
If your pet dies at home, call your vet’s office or your local pet crematory to ask how you can start the cremation process. Some crematories offer pickup for deceased pets, while others require pet-owners to deliver the pets to the crematory.
Storing the deceased pet happens both before transportation to the crematory, as well as after. At the vet’s office, your pet may have to wait until an arranged pickup day—usually once or twice a week. Until that day, your pet’s body will wait in cold storage, often alongside other deceased pets.
Once at the crematory, a pet usually goes into cold storage once again until the crematory can start the cremation process.
Deceased pets generally undergo flame-based cremation (versus alkaline hydrolysis, which is only available in a few states and usually reserved for humans).
Flame-based cremation uses high heat and flame to reduce a deceased pet to cremated remains (ashes) and bone fragments. The process takes place in a machine called a cremator and usually takes 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the pet’s size. The process of cat cremation, for example, is much faster than the process of cremating large-breed dogs.
Next, the remaining bone fragments are processed and reduced to smaller pieces. They’re then added to the cremated remains, which are transferred to a protective plastic bag. The bag is then placed in an urn or ash container.
All of this is the same as human cremation. But pet cremation differs from human cremation in that you can choose communal or private cremation services.
Communal pet cremation
Whether your pet passes away at home or at the veterinary office, the vet staff or crematory staff might offer a choice between communal and private cremation. For many pet owners, this can come as a shock and might cause confusion in a time of grief.
Communal pet cremation is less expensive—usually about half the cost of private pet cremation. It’s the process of cremating multiple pets together, which results in saved time and energy on the part of the crematory operator.
While you can save money by choosing communal cremation, private cremation is usually worth the investment. Without private cremation, you won’t have the opportunity to retrieve your beloved pet’s cremains.
Private pet cremation
Having your pet cremated privately might cost a little bit more, but for most pet owners, the extra investment is ultimately worthwhile.
Choosing private pet cremation means your pet will be cremated individually, in a clean cremator. This gives you the opportunity to retrieve your pet’s ashes and do with them what you’d like.
Some pet crematories even offer the additional service of cremation viewing, which allows the pet owner to watch the initial cremation process.
Finally, if you chose private pet cremation, you’ll be able to pick up your pet’s remains. If your vet’s office transported your pet to the crematory, they’ll likely also take possession of the cremains after the process is complete. You’ll visit the vet’s office to pick up your pet’s remains. If you worked directly with the crematory, you’ll likely need to go there to pick up the ashes.
Some vets’ offices and crematories offer extras with the return, including flower paper to plant with your pet’s ashes if you choose to scatter them.
How Do You Plan for a Pet Cremation?
Thinking about the death of your pet is heartbreaking, whether it’s happened already or it’s yet to come.
But the sooner you plan for your pet’s final disposition, the easier it will be to take care of those practicalities when the time comes. Here’s how you can plan and prepare for a pet cremation.
Talk to your vet
First, it’s a good idea to discuss pet cremation with your veterinary office. At your pet’s next appointment, ask which crematory the business contracts with.
Mention that you’d like as much information about the crematory as possible so that you can make plans in advance. Most veterinary offices will understand your desire to be prepared for the future.
Know the good and the bad
Unfortunately, some pet crematories are less-than-upstanding when it comes to treating animals with respect. When it’s time to say goodbye to your pet, you want to know for sure that their remains will be handled with dignity.
The best way to separate the good crematories from the bad pet crematories is by doing your research. Find out which pet crematories operate in your local area, and call each of them to inquire about their services and pricing.
In addition to gathering that needed info, you’ll have the chance to judge the crematory’s customer service. The better their customer service, the more likely they are to treat your pet with respect.
Choose an urn
Another way you can prepare for a pet cremation is by choosing and even purchasing an ash container. Many pet owners choose traditional urns or decorative boxes.
Many pet crematories have simple and decorative ash storage options available, so it’s a good idea to call and ask.
Some people opt to put the ashes in urn jewelry or create a memorial diamond out of their pet's ashes. For example, companies like Eterneva allow you to send in your cat's cremated remains and will turn them into customized memorial diamonds.
Plan a funeral
Just because you’re not burying your pet doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet memorial service. Part of planning ahead for your pet’s death is deciding what kind of service you’d like to hold, or whether you want to hold a funeral at all.
You might decide to hold an elaborate dog funeral, complete with all of your pup’s closest canine friends. On the other hand, you might choose a private ash-scattering ceremony or a quiet remembrance at home.
If you're planning a funeral for another type of pet, read our guide on how to plan a pet's funeral.
Planning for Pet Cremation
Whether you’re planning ahead for pet cremation, or your pet recently passed away, understanding the ins and outs of pet cremation will help you navigate. While some pet crematories take advantage of grieving pet owners and provide subpar services, others treat pets with respect and dignity.
If you’re unsure whether pet cremation is right for you or not, it’s a good idea to contact the veterinary offices in your area and ask which crematories they use. Contact those crematories to gauge whether or not you’d be comfortable entrusting them with your pet’s final disposition.
Ultimately, pet cremation can be the perfect way to say goodbye to your pet. But it’s important to undertake the process with care and attention to detail.
- “Cremation Process.” Cremation Association of North America. www.cremationassociation.org/page/CremationProcess
- Keith, Christie. “How to Know if a Pet Crematory is Worthy of Your Trust.” PetPlace. 08 March 2016. www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-behavior-training/how-to-know-if-a-pet-crematory-is-worthy-of-your-trust/