When dealing with the loss of a loved one - whether it's a family member, friend, or a beloved pet - it can be difficult to set everything in motion for post-passing care. Therefore, it's essential to start the planning process early. We don't like to think about pet cremation or burial because we don't want to confront the idea of our special friend passing away. Despite how difficult it may be, knowing your options well beforehand can help you deal with the pain once their time comes.
Understanding the grieving process and what happens to your pet once they pass on can significantly reduce any unease or anxiety surrounding the situation, so you can spend your pet's final days knowing what comes next.
Pet cremation continues to be the leading choice of families who experience the unfortunate loss of a beloved four-legged family member. Currently, over 90% of people choose to cremate their pet (vs. burial). As the number of pets in the U.S. continues to grow, so does the amount of pet cremations being performed. In this comprehensive guide we provide information about what pets can be cremated, the various services offered, how to choose the right pet crematorium, the cremation process, cost of a pet cremation, what to do with your pets ashes, and frequently asked questions about pet cremation. We hope this provides you with useful information to help you make the right choice when the time comes for you and your family.
Dealing with the Loss of a Pet | What is a Pet Cremation? What Should I Expect? | Choosing the Right Pet Crematorium | Pet Cremation Process | Pet Cremation Cost | What Pets Can Be Cremated? | Planning Ahead for Your Pet's Cremation | Pet Urns and Memorials | Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Cremation
Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
Unfortunately, it's impossible to fully prepare yourself for the loss of a pet. No matter how much prep work you do, the passing of your loved one will hit you in unexpected ways. The good news? There are several ways to help you deal with this loss.
Preparing Ahead of Time
Trying to prepare for the loss of a pet is something most people try to avoid. However, discussing your options with your family and your pet's care team in advance can go a long way in helping you understand the process before grief makes it that much harder.
When you try to do it all after your pet's passing, your mind may not be able to process all the information thrown your way. From understanding why your pet has passed to having to choose between burial and cremation, where their remains will go, and how to live your day-to-day life without your best friend, it can be completely overwhelming.
So, while it may be difficult to imagine your life without your pet, preparing in advance will help you get the details figured out so you can focus your attention on the grieving process and beginning to heal.
Things you'll want to take into consideration include:
- Will your pet transition in the care of your vet or at home? Sometimes, this is completely out of your hands; however, it's worth planning if possible.
- Do you want to bury your pet, or will you have them cremated?
- If you are choosing to cremate your pet, what are your options for pet crematoriums?
- If you're going to cremate your pet, will you be keeping their ashes with you, or do you want them scattered?
Understanding the Grieving Process
It doesn't matter if you are dealing with the loss of a pet or the loss of family or friends - the grieving process is the exact same, and it begins the moment you realize the end is approaching.
The process typically begins with a level of denial:
- It's not time for them to go.
- There are more treatment options to try.
- There is someone out there that can help, etc.
Even once their pet has passed, individuals tend to sit in disbelief that their beloved friend has left them. This can sometimes lead to begging a higher power to bring their pet back or extend their life just a little longer because you simply aren't ready to let go just yet.
From there, many pet owners begin to feel anger and guilt:
- What did they do wrong?
- Why didn't their care team do more?
- Why didn't they know something was wrong (in the case of unexpected tragedy)?
These feelings can often be so strong that the pet owner lashes out at anyone they can. It's not something to take personally; this means they are right on the verge of accepting the reality that is.
Finally, once that reality does hit, the pet owner and their family will feel genuine grief and sadness. There is likely to be some level of withdrawal as things really start sitting in, and that could lead to depression.
While all of this is a normal part of the grieving process, it's important not to settle into this depression without developing healthy coping mechanisms to help you through it.
Coping with Your Grief After Losing a Pet
When dealing with the loss of a pet, it's crucial to have the right coping mechanisms to help with the grieving process. If you don't, your mental health can suffer significantly.
Here are a few ways to help you cope with your grief during this difficult time:
- You must acknowledge your loss. Your feelings are valid, and you shouldn't tell yourself otherwise.
- Express your feelings. Whether you are writing in a journal or talking to friends and family members, you want to find an active way to express your grief. Not only will you be acknowledging these feelings, but you'll also be actively releasing them instead of stuffing them deep within.
- Switch up your daily routine. Trying to return to "life as usual" can seem impossible after losing your pet, and that's okay. Changing up your daily routine is an excellent way to help you cope because it gets you "out of your head" and allows you to focus your attention on something new entirely.
Everyone copes differently, so don't be afraid to try different methods to see what works best for you.
What is a Pet Cremation? What Should I Expect?
As mentioned earlier, preparing yourself in advance is an excellent way to help you through the grieving process. While some people choose to bury their beloved pet, a large majority of pet owners now choose cremation because it allows them to honor their pet's transition. They can then decide to either keep their ashes or have them buried or even scattered.
If cremation is the path you choose for your pet, then you'll want to make sure you take enough time planning what pet crematorium you'll be using and familiarize yourself with their expectations.
A pet crematorium is the same as a typical crematorium used for humans. Sometimes crematoriums do both human and pet cremations, although there are many out there that only cater to animals.
Once you've decided to visit pet crematoriums, you'll want to familiarize yourself with what you will likely encounter upon visitation. In most cases, you'll be greeted by a friendly staff member and given a tour of the facility, allowing you to become familiar with the process of cremation and pick out options for urns or keepsakes.
The most common setup you'll find when working with most pet crematoriums will include:
- The memorial room - This is where you'll choose your pet's cremation urn and be able to browse the available keepsakes that the crematorium has available. Some keepsakes will even allow you to use some of your pet's ashes to be made into stunning pieces of jewelry or glass artwork.
- Business office - This is where you'll be able to sit down and plan out the details of your pet's cremation, discuss your specific wants and desires.
- Viewing room - While many pet owners will choose a private cremation where there are no witnesses to the process (it can be quite difficult for some people to handle), pet crematoriums that do offer a witnessed cremation will have a room dedicated for viewing the process.
- Cremation room - This room is where the cremation chamber is housed and where the process takes place.
Remember, it's entirely acceptable to visit pet crematoriums and ask for a tour so you can get an idea of the process.
Choosing the Right Pet Crematorium
With the popularity of pet cremation, there are many options available as to where your beloved family member can be cremated. Whether you’re looking for a cremation service right away, or planning ahead for the future, it’s always a good idea to visit a few of the nearby pet crematoriums. Similar to funeral homes and crematoriums for people, these facilities typically have an atmosphere that’s peaceful and calming with a friendly, welcoming staff. To find pet crematorium options near you, do a quick internet search and check their website and online reviews, or reach out to your local animal shelter or veterinarian to see who they recommend.
Many pet crematoriums will have the following areas within the facility (smaller ones may combine some of these into one room):
- Business Office: This is typically the room you enter from the front door and where you would meet with staff and finalize all arrangements related to your pet’s cremation.
- Pet Cremation Room: This area is almost always separate from the others and contains one or more cremation chambers. If you do not prefer to see this area of the facility, be sure to let the staff know during your visit.
- Viewing Room: If witnessed pet cremations are offered, this is the room where you would do the viewing from.
- Memorial Room: Most pet crematoriums have memorial rooms where they display the various urns, jewelry and keepsakes they offer. They may also have additional memorial options available in a book or pamphlet form, so be sure to ask if you’re looking for a particular memorial for your pet.
During your visit, meet with the staff, check out the cleanliness of the facility and ask questions. Some common questions can include:
How much does the pet cremation cost?
The cost for pet cremation varies widely so make sure whatever facility you choose fits within your budget.
What are the options for pet cremation at your facility?
Most pet crematoriums will offer private pet cremations (where it’s only your pet being cremated) and also communal pet cremations (where your pet is being cremated along with other pets). Communal cremations are typically much more affordable than private cremations.
How is my pet transferred to the crematorium?
Most pet crematoriums will allow you to bring your own pet in, however, many also offer pickup services. If this is of interest to you, be sure to ask.
How long after cremation can I get my pet's ashes back?
Most pet crematoriums will perform the cremation of a pet within a few days to a week after receiving the body and you can receive the ashes within a day or two after the service is performed. If you want your pet’s ashes back, make sure you let the crematorium staff know that. Even with communal cremations (where your pet is cremated with other pets), some families choose to get a portion of the communal ashes back.
Does the crematorium offer witnessed pet cremations?
While more common with humans, witnessed pet cremations are starting to be offered by various crematoriums. This would include viewing your pet being placed into the cremation chamber and many find it helpful with closure. If this is of interest to you and your family, be sure to ask the pet crematorium staff about this option.
What pet urns and memorials does the crematorium offer?
While there are thousands of pet urns and memorial options available online, it’s always a good idea to find out what options the pet crematorium offers and, if you’re looking for ideas, find out what they recommend. Pet crematoriums commonly get discounted wholesale pricing from suppliers and can sometimes offer urns and other memorial options at more competitive prices than you can find online.
These are just a handful of ideas for questions - be sure to think of anything on your mind related to your pet’s cremation. There are no bad questions and the staff at the pet crematorium should be willing to help make you feel comfortable and address all your questions and concerns.
Pet Cremation Process
What Does the Pet Cremation Process Look Like?
One of the aspects of death that leaves most people feeling uncomfortable is the unknown of what happens once your loved one or pet passes. For many, the idea of cremation is intimidating because it's not something that is talked about regularly. One of the best ways to prepare for the loss of a pet is to understand what the cremation process looks like from start to finish.
Your Pet Will Be Dropped Off or Picked Up
The initial step in the pet cremation process is getting them to the crematorium. If they pass away suddenly or are euthanized in the comfort of your home, then you'll likely need to drop them off at your chosen crematorium yourself. However, in the case of home euthanasia, those administering the medication may offer to take the pet to your chosen crematorium for you.
Another thing to consider is whether your chosen crematorium offers pick-up services. While not all do, there are many out there who offer to come to pick up your beloved pet from either your home or your vet's office once they have passed on.
You'll also want to speak with your vet's office to see if they will deliver your pet to the crematorium or if they'll require you to do the transporting yourself.
You'll Decide What Type of Cremation Process Suits Your Preference
Depending on the pet crematorium you decide to work with, there may be several different cremation processes to choose from. The most common include:
- Private cremation - This service allows your animal to be cremated on its own in a private chamber. This ensures that the ashes you receive are that of only your pet.
- Communal cremation - This cremation service is a little different in that your pet will share a cremation chamber with other pets. This service is often chosen over private cremations because it costs less; however, there is a chance that the remains you receive may include some from the other pets in the chamber.
- Witness cremations - This is a service that allows pet owners to witness the process from a designated viewing room. Some choose this option to help them with their grieving process because they can see that their beloved pet is being properly respected.
Each cremation process comes with its pros and cons, and you'll want to make sure you talk with the crematorium and your loved ones to determine which option is right for you.
The Process of a Pet Cremation
After deciding on the cremation service that best suits you and your pet, it's time to move forward. Once your pet arrives at the crematorium and it's time for their service, they will be placed in the cremation chamber.
Once sealed in, the chamber's temperature is brought up to between 1400 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for an average of one to two hours (depending on the size of the pet or number of pets cremated). This extreme heat essentially vaporizes the organic matter and reduces your pet's remains to ashes. Most states require that there are dedicated pet cremation chambers and human cremation chambers.
While most of your pet's remains will break down completely during the cremation process, some larger materials will not. In that case, those remains will be turned into a powder and combined with the rest of your pet's ashes.
What to Expect After the Pet Cremation Process is Complete
Once the process is completed, your pet's ashes are left to cool down before being placed in your chosen container.
Sometimes a pet is cremated while wearing their tags or with surgical equipment (such as pins or plates that were used during previous procedures) within their bodies. Once the remains have cooled and before they are placed in the chosen container, someone will go through and remove any metals. In the case of tags, they may be returned to the owner along with their pet's ashes. Then, the ashes are pulverized to result in a sand-like powder with uniform consistency. These are typically a pale white or grey color, however, the color can vary due to medications or diet of your pet. The ashes are then commonly placed in a sealed plastic bag, that is placed in a box, tin, or urn of choice.
If the remains are to be returned to you, it is up to you how to proceed once they are in your possession. Many pet owners choose to display their pet's urn, allowing them to remain a constant part of their life, while others choose to bury or scatter their pet's ashes to help them along their journey to the afterlife.
Pet Cremation Cost
The cost of cremation for pets can vary dramatically from one facility to another. One of the major factors a crematorium takes into consideration in pricing is the weight of your pet – the cremation of smaller pets is much quicker than larger pets. Below we provide insight into some of the average costs.
- Communal Pet Cremation costs anywhere from $50 to $150. This is where your pet is cremated in the chamber alongside other pets.
- Private Pet Cremation costs anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on the type of cremation and the weight of your pet and if you want the ashes back or not.
- Horse Cremation average cost ranges from $500 to $2,500 depending on the weight of your horse, where you are located, and if pick-up is required.
Additional Pet Cremation Costs
- Picking Up Your Pet: $30-$50 if it’s within relatively close proximity to the crematorium (additional charge are typically incurred for further distances)
- Witnessed Pet Cremation: If you prefer to view the cremation, there is an extra cost that typically ranges from $25 to $100
- Pet Urn and Memorial: There are many pet urn and memorial options available at a wide range of prices (anywhere from $49 to over $500). Below we provide more details on this.
What Pets Can Be Cremated?
The most common pets that are cremated include dogs, cats, and horses. You can also cremate other animals, including rabbits, birds, hamsters, iguanas, and snakes, among many others. Even though there are certain extra steps that need to be taken for large animals, such as horses, almost every type of pet can be cremated.
Planning Ahead for Your Pet's Cremation
The passing of a pet, a beloved family member, can be an extremely emotional and stressful time. For this reason, many families are choosing to take care of arrangements in advance. This includes choosing the right pet crematorium for you and your family, deciding on the type of cremation, and selecting a proper memorial for your beloved family member.
Pet Urns and Memorials
There are thousands of pet urn options available online, with many also offered by your local pet crematorium. With so many options, it can feel overwhelming trying to find the right one for you and your pet.
Pet urns come in a number of sizes, styles, and prices. Below we provide information on some of the most popular urns and memorials that include the ashes of your pet.
Traditional Indoor Urns for Pets
There are many traditional pet indoor cat and dog urn options available - this typically includes a wooden box urn or metal urn that can be kept in the home. Many of these urns also come with engraving options - giving you the option to personalize it for your beloved pet.
Indoor Plant Urns for Pets
Companies, such as Biolife, have taken the indoor pet urn option a step further by incorporating living plants or bonsai trees. This includes The Living Urn Indoors for Pets, which is made out of high quality porcelain and comes in three colors - white, celadon blue, and honey butter. Another popular option is the PlantUrn for Pets, which is made from recycled hardwoods and gives you the option to plant a succulent or small plant on top.
Pet Tree Urns
The patented Living Urn for Pets is the proven market leader in this category and gives you the ability to grow a beautiful tree of choice from a special BioUrn holding your pet's ashes. Over fifty tree options are offered, narrowed down by zip code to what grows best in your area!
Scattering Urns for Pets (on Land)
One of the most popular things families do with their pet's ashes is to scatter them at one or more special places. This can include at a favorite spot in the yard, a special park, off a hiking trail, or another location they hold dear. There are a few great biodegradable scattering urn options available, including the Eco Scattering Urn for Pets.
Scattering Urns for Pets (in Water)
Many pets love the water and it is a common place where families choose to memorialize their four-legged family member. The leading option in this category is the Eco Water Urn for Pets - the biodegradable urn floats on top of the water for up to a few minutes until the bottom slowly breaks open, freeing the ashes below. This special urn comes packaged in a bamboo cylinder case, making for a great way to protect the urn while traveling to that special place on the water to scatter. In addition, the bamboo casing can be engraved, making it a more personal experience for your pet's memorial.
A simple yet beautiful granite headstone with a saying or your pet’s name and other information engraved on it can be a great way to remember and honor your beloved four legged family member. Place this special stone at a special place in the garden, yard or other place of your choosing. Click here for some great pet headstone options.
Pet Keepsakes & Jewelry
Many people choose to keep a small portion of their beloved pet's ashes with them at all times with a special keepsake or pet cremation jewelry of their choice - with a quick internet search you can find many great options. Because they only hold a small portion of the remains, many people will also purchase another urn with the keepsake.
Pet Glass Decorative Pieces
A relatively new growing offering by many urn suppliers and glass makers includes decorative glass decorative pieces that hold a portion of your pet's ashes. These can combine beautiful colors and designs that makes for a wonderful piece to include in the home. With a quick internet search, you can find multiple options.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Cremation
It isn't every day that a family loses a pet, so questions around the cremation process, cost, and memorials are quite common. Below we provide answers to some common questions we receive from families.
Pet Cremation or Burial: Which option do I choose?
Having your pet cremated or buried is a personal decision and there is no 'right' answer. Many people choose to cremate as it is typically more affordable and considered by many to be more environmentally friendly. In addition, you can still choose to bury the ashes of your pet, if that is what you prefer to do.
What should I do if my pet dies at home?
Losing your beloved pet is difficult in any situation. If your pet passes away suddenly at home, you will need to take certain steps and make a few decisions right away.
- Call for Help
Losing a pet can be an extremely emotional time and, for most people, it's probably best if you are not alone (however some people may prefer that). If possible and it makes sense for you, call a trusted friend or family member that can help you deal with the situation in a practical way and provide you with emotional support. If you don't think you are physically and/or emotionally in a position to handle the body of your pet, choose someone who can.
- Contact Your Local Crematorium or Veterinarian
If it is during normal business hours, your local pet crematorium or veterinarian can typically help and let you drop off your pet right away, or many will even come pick up your pet. And, if your pet dies during the middle of the night or a holiday, many crematoriums or veterinarians have a 24 hour emergency line you can call. In most cases, your veterinary office will be able to store your pet's body for a few days while you make a decision about arrangements.
3. Proper Handling of the Body
If your pet dies at home and you are unable to transfer the body to refrigeration at your local veterinary office or crematorium, it is important that you properly store the body. This is especially likely to be the case if your pet dies in the middle of the night or over a holiday. The most important thing to understand is that the body of the pet will begin to decompose immediately after death and must be handled as soon as possible. Be aware that rigor mortis, the stiffening of the joints, typically begins within 10 minutes to three hours after death and can last as long as 72 hours, depending on temperature and other factors. Ideally, the remains will be properly handled before the onset of rigor mortis. If you need to handle and prepare the remains yourself, here is how to proceed:
- Wear latex gloves while handling the body. Upon death, bodily fluids are often released. You may wish to clean the areas around your dog's mouth, genitals, and anus if you notice fluid and/or waste. Note that additional bodily fluids and/or waste might be released when the body is moved.
- Use a blanket, towel or bed sheet that is large enough to wrap around the body. Also get a heavy duty plastic trash bag (double them up if the body is very large or if the bags are thin).
- Arrange the body on the blanket, towel or sheet. Place the body on its side in a curled-up position, as if sleeping. This will not only offer a sense of peace, it will also make it easier to handle the body.
- Tightly wrap the body in the blanket, towel or sheet. Slide the body into the plastic bag(s). In the case of a larger dog, this will be a two-person job.
- If possible, tie the bag into a secure knot (or, tape it closed if need be). You may wish to double up on bags. If the remains will be going elsewhere, be sure to attach a label or tag with your name and your dog's name.
- Remains should be kept in a freezer or refrigerator until cremation, burial or other arrangement takes place. If you are unable to store the remains in this manner and cannot get the body to your veterinary office or a local pet aftercare company, a garage or basement may need to suffice. This should be for no longer than 4-6 hours as the odor may become strong. Use of additional plastic bags is recommended if freezer or refrigerator storage is not possible. Be sure to remove the body from non-biodegradable materials (like plastic) before cremation or burial.
Does my veterinarian offer pet cremation?
Most veterinarians will offer pet cremation to the families they serve, however, they typically outsource this service to a local crematorium. The good news is that most veterinarians have vetted the crematorium and believe they are reputable (which can be helpful if you don’t want to do the research yourself). The negative side of this is that the veterinarians typically mark-up the service cost and rarely include extra services (such as witnessing the cremation, arranging a visit to the crematorium, etc.). If you work with your veterinarian, they typically arrange having your pet picked up from their facility and then have the ashes returned there for you to pickup.
How can I be sure that I receive my pet's ashes back?
With private pet cremation, your pet will be cremated by him or herself and you should receive all of the ashes back from that particular cremation. Most pet crematoriums are honorable and won't risk their reputation on only giving you a portion back or the wrong ashes. It is important to do your homework to make sure the pet crematorium is reputable (through online reviews, a phone call or visit) or rely on the pet crematorium recommended by others (your veterinarian, local animal shelter, etc.).
Does my pet need to be cremated in a cremation casket?
Unlike human cremations, which require a biodegradable cremation casket or container around the body, pets do not have this requirement. Many pet crematoriums will allow you to wrap your pet in their favorite blanket, and include a cremation casket if that is something you prefer.
Can special items be included with my pet during cremation?
Including special items of your pet in the cremation process depends on the crematorium and any local rules or regulations that may exist. Biodegradable materials are typically allowed and some allow collars, notes, a favorite toy, or other special items.