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Pet Cremation Guide: A resource for when it’s time

Pets bring so much happiness and joy to our lives. So it’s no surprise that people don’t want to think about a time when they are no longer with us. For most dog owners, losing their beloved friend happens way too soon. But even though no one wants to think about losing a pet, it’s important to have a plan in place before it’s time.  Join us as we discuss your pet cremation options. Plus 10 ideas on what to do with the ashes.  

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Why You Should Plan Ahead

As a child I was sheltered from the realities of dealing with the death of a family pet. So, the first time I had to deal with the remains of our beloved dog was when I was married. At the time of death we did not know Charlie, our 8 year old, golden retriever, was dying. Just a couple of months before his death, Charlie had gone through a series of tests to check for cancer. He needed surgery for an unrelated knee issue so they were making sure he was otherwise healthy. The tests, including x-rays, showed he was cancer free.

It was just two months later when we dropped him off at the veterinarian’s office for more tests. He was barely eating and would just lay in one spot. We had been ensured just the week before that his lack of appetite and movement was due to recovering from the surgery. But I couldn’t shake the feeling something else was wrong. He was not his usual happy self. Unfortunately I was right. A few hours after dropping him off we received a call to come as quickly as we could. By the time my husband arrived at the veterinarian’s office Charlie had died. The test results, that came later that day, showed he had cancer.

There was no time….

There was no time to make decisions. We were soon asked what we wanted to do with the remains. Our hearts were broken and in no shape to start thinking about what our options were. So in the end we chose cremation. The veterinarian’s office took care of all the details. It wasn’t until years later that we discovered the remains we received back may not have been Charlie’s.

Pet Cremation Facts

Pet Cremation Options

There are two ways to cremate your pet in the United States; the traditional method of cremation and aquamation.

  • Traditional cremation uses high temperatures to breakdown organic materials.
  • Aquamation uses a combination of water flow, temperature, pressure and alkalinity to accelerate the breakdown of organic matter.

We will go over each process and the cremation options available for both. Let’s start with the traditional cremation process.

The Traditional Cremation Process

The traditional method of cremation uses high heat to breakdown the organic matter. We refer to cremation by heat as the traditional method of cremation because it has been used for at least 17,000 years.

Note: The process of cremation is slightly different depending on if you choose a private or a communal cremation. We will talk more about the cremation options available in the next section. For now let’s focus on what happens in a private cremation.

Private Cremation

  1. When choosing a private or semi-private cremation, your dog should be tagged. This allows the staff to keep track of the remains throughout the process.
  2. The body is stored in a cool place until it is time for the cremation.
  3. When it is time for the cremation the body is brought to the chamber. If you choose a witnessed cremation you will be able to see your dog one last time.
  4. Next the body is placed in the cremation chamber. Some cremation providers will allow you to cremate a special toy or blanket with your dog as long as it is nontoxic.
  5. Then the chamber is heated to an average temperature of at 1400 – 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The actual heat may vary based on the provider.
  6. The intense heat reduces the organic matter to dust and dried bone fragments.
  7. When the remains cool, they are checked for pieces of metal. The metal can come from collars, surgical pins or other metal that might be on the body at the time of cremation.
  8. Any metal is removed from what is left of the body.
  9. Then larger bone fragments are processed into smaller pieces.
  10. Depending on the options chosen, the ashes will either be returned to you in an urn or in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box.

Traditional Pet Cremation Options

With traditional animal cremations you can choose between a:

  1. Communal Cremation: A communal cremation means that your pet is cremated along with other animals in the same chamber. With this option you generally do not get your pet’s ashes back. Even if you can request your pet’s ashes to be returned to you, they may not be your pet’s ashes. It’s common for the ashes to become commingled in the crematorium.
  2. Semiprivate Cremation: A semi-private cremation means that your pet is cremated alongside other pets but with a barrier to separate the bodies. Many providers place bricks between the bodies inside the chamber to provide separation. This will help keep the ashes from commingling. However due to the nature of heat cremations you may still end up with some ashes from another animal.
  3. Private Cremation: A private cremation means that your pet is placed in the chamber alone. Since there is only one body in the chamber you will only get your pet’s ashes back.
  4. Witnessed Cremation: A witnessed cremation means you can watch the body as it’s placed into the chamber. This option is generally only available for private cremations. Some cremation centers will allow you to stay as long as you like. Some will only allow you to stay for a short time after the body is placed in the chamber. Be sure to ask about this before deciding on a crematorium.

Note: With each descending option the costs of cremation increase.

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Aquamation- An Alternative to a Traditional Pet Cremation

An alternative to the traditional method of cremation is aquamation. Aquamation can also be referred to as a water cremation. When compared to traditional cremation, which goes back to 3,000 BC, aquamation is a relatively new concept. It was first patented by Amos Herbert Hobson in 1888 as a way to process animal carcasses into plant food. Today it’s billed as an eco-friendly and gentler way to return the body back to the earth.

However aquamation is not available for all animals. Unlike traditional cremation, aquamation has a 400 pound limit on what can be placed in a vessel. This limit may change in the future so please check with your local provider.

How Aquamation works

Aquamation is based on alkaline hydrolysis which uses water, heat and lye to reduce the organic matter down to its simplest form.

  • Aquamation or water cremation uses a stainless steel vessel to hold the body and alkaline solution.
  • The vessel is filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide.
  • Some water cremation centers use sodium hydroxide in addition to potassium hydroxide in the water solution.
  • All materials like collars, blankets and toys are removed from the animal before it’s placed in the vessel. Only organic materials can go through the alkaline hydrolysis process.
  • Next the vessel is heated and pressurized to accelerate the natural decomposition of organic matter.
  • At the end of the process the water is removed and cleaned.
  • The only part of the body that remains is the bones.
  • Next the bones are left to dry and are then crushed into ash before they are returned to their family.
  • Because water cremation is gentler than heat cremation more of the bones are left, resulting in 20-30% more volume of ashes. 

Pet Aquamation Options

There are less service options with a water cremation than traditional cremation, but you can still choose between:

  1. Communal: With this type of cremation your pet is placed in the vessel with other animals. Your pet’s ashes will not be returned to you with this option.
  2. Private: A private water cremation means your pet is placed in a private chamber within the machine providing a complete barrier between individual pets. You can receive your pet’s ashes.
  3. Witnessed: A witnessed water cremation is generally only allowed for private services. Check with your provider to determine how they handle witnessed cremation.

Is Pet Aquamation Legal in the United States?

Yes. For pets it is approved in all 50 states and Canada.

Is Aquamation Eco -Friendly?

According to a white paper written by Aquamation industry professionals, pet aquamation is eco-friendly when compared to fire cremation because of the following:

  • Aquamation uses just 10% of the energy needed for fire cremations
  • Fire cremations often use temperatures in excess of 1,000 ̊ C, and are major energy consumers
  • With aquamation, there are no air emissions; meaning they are 100% air pollution free
  • But in a fire cremation 200 kg of greenhouse gases are released each time.

How Long Does it Take to Cremate a Dog?

Depending on the size of the animal, a traditional private cremation can take from one to two hours. For larger animals like a horse it can take longer. This does not include cooling time or time to reduce larger bones in the smaller pieces.

Aquamation takes longer. The exact timing depends on the size of the animal, the temperature used and the amount of pressure applied. For aquamation that uses high heat and pressure it can take between four to six hours. For aquamation that uses a lower heat and pressure it can take fourteen to sixteen hours.

How Much Does Dog Cremation Cost?

The cost of dog cremation depends on a few factors like:

  • Where the cremation takes place
  • If it is a private, semi-private or communal cremation
  • The size of the animal
  • Whether you choose a traditional cremation or aquamation.

For traditional cremations in New York State on average the cost can be between $50 for a small animal up to $450 for a large dog.

Aquamation in New York State can average between between $200 for a small animal to $500 for a large dog.

These prices can be higher or lower depending on where you live.

Both traditional cremation and aquamation can cost less than a traditional burial in a pet cemetery.

Do You Really Get Your Pet’s Ashes Back?

This is a common question when it comes to dog cremations. Although there have been a few dishonest operators, most animal cremation centers will want to provide you with quality service. The key is to find a reputable center.

1. Find a reputable center

The first step to getting your pet’s ashes back is to deal with a reputable cremation center. Start by asking if the center is fully licensed by the state in which it operates. Depending on the state you live in animal cremation centers may be subject to an assortment of regulations. Check with your local government to determine what types of licensing and inspections are required where you live.

Certifications and accreditation can also indicate that the center is looking to provide the best possible service to their customers.

Don’t forget to check online reviews. Also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints about the place you are considering.

Request to tour the facility. A reputable center will be open to showing you the crematorium. If they are not, this is a red flag.

2. Know what you are getting

Next choose either a private or semi-private cremation. It is impossible to get your pet’s ashes back from a communal cremation. The best option for getting all of your pet’s ashes back is to choose a private cremation. With a semi-private cremation it is still possible for the ashes to commingle.

3. Find out how they keep track of the remains

It’s important that the center has a good system in place to identify your pet’s remains throughout the process. Many centers use a steel ID tag that goes into the chamber with your pet.

Ask the center what system they use to keep track of your pet’s remains. If they don’t have an easy to understand process, look for a different center.

4. Be there during the cremation

Request to witness the remains being placed into the crematorium. Again a reputable cremation center will allow you to do this. But there may be an extra charge.

Are Pet Cremation Centers Regulated?

Yes. It is often believed that pet cremation centers are not regulated, but a properly run center will have to follow the local laws. These laws can include zoning laws, air emissions standards and proper waste disposal. They may also be subjected to inspections and licensing. In most states they are regulated by the state’s environmental protection agency. You can learn more by going to your state’s website.

Pet Cremation Certificates and Accreditations

Pet crematories can seek accreditation from the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories (IAOPCC).  IAOPCC is a not-for-profit organization that was created to advance the standards, ethics, and professionalism of pet cemeteries and crematories.

To achieve accreditation through the IAOPCC, pet crematories are evaluated against a pool of more than 250 standards that represent the best practices in pet cremation care and crematory management. For consumers, IAOPCC provides a statement of what you can expect from an IAOPCC Member. You can find it here

To find an IAOPCC Member in your area, view their Member Directory.

In addition to the accreditation, pet crematorium operators and their staff can become a Certified Pet Crematory Operator through a joint program between the IAOPCC and Cremation Association.

How to Transport Your Dog to a Cremation Center?

There are a few options when it comes to transporting your dog to a cremation center.

If your dog dies at the veterinarian’s office, the vet can make arrangement for transportation from the office to the cremation center. Although this arrangement might be easiest it may also limit your choices.

If your dog dies at home you can either transport your dog to the cremation center yourself or many cremation centers will pick up your dog during normal work times.

How to Choose a Pet Cremation Center: Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Center

As I mentioned earlier in this post, finding a reputable center is an important step in the process. To do this you must ask a lot of questions before choosing a cremation center. After all you want to make sure your pet is in the hands of people who will take good care of them.

Questions You Should Ask Your Veterinarian:

  • Can you recommend a few providers?
  • Will you coordinate the cremation?
  • How will the body be transferred to the center?
  • When will the body be transferred to the center?
  • How is the body stored prior to transfer?
  • Can you choose between a private, partitioned or communal cremation?
  • Have you visited the cremation company to see how pets are treated?

Questions to Ask the Cremation Center:

  • Are they accredited by the International Association of Pet Cemeteries & Crematories?
  • Can I tour the crematory?
  • How are the employees/owner trained?
  • Are they certified in the process?
  • What is the identification process to ensure I get my pet’s remains?
  • Can I see my pet before the cremation?
  • Can I watch the procedure? Is there an additional charge for this?
  • What services do you offer?
  • Cost of cremation? What’s does the price include?
  • Can I cremate my dog with their favorite toy or blanket?
  • How will my pet be returned to me?
  • How long will the process take?
  • When will I receive my pet’s cremains?
  • Do you sell urns? Is personalization an option?
  • Also ask if you can supply your own urn?
  • Besides urns what other keepsakes do you offer?
  • Lastly, what happens if I don’t want the ashes back?

Take a Tour

Once you get the answers to these questions, follow through with the tour. Look for things like:

  • Is the place clean?
  • Do the people working there act professional?
  • Can they easily answer your questions?

If at any point you don’t feel comfortable with what you see or hear, look at other centers.

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Pet Memorial: What to do with the Ashes

Once you have decided where to cremate your pet, the next step is deciding on what to do with the ashes. There are many ways to memorialize your beloved dog; here are just a few ideas.

  • Keep them with you forever in a beautiful urn.
    • Broken Heart Urn (shown above) at Amazon.com
    • Blue Crystal Glass Urn by Urns UK (also shown above) – Available at Amazon.com
  • Scatter the ashes in their favorite place
  • Turn them into jewelry
  • Create art with them
  • Keep them close in small urns you can wear
  • Grow a memorial garden using Let Your Love Grow
  • Have a painting made with them
  • Add them to a ceramic vase
  • You can also use them to get a tattoo

For more ways to honor your pet, please read; Pet Memorial Ideas For Dogs And Cats

Can I Bury My Dog’s Ashes in the Garden?

Let me start by saying we tried this once and the tree died. As it turns out your pet’s ashes are not good to grow plants in. The remains can have too much sodium and too high of a PH level to grow plants in.

But there is hope. When researching options for this article I came across a product called The Living Urn at Amazon.com. The Living Urn is a biodegradable urn that comes with a mixture that helps the ashes blend with the soil to create an environment that is able to support a tree.

Planning ahead

Finally, as you can see, there is a lot involved with cremating your beloved pet. Even though no one wants to think about losing their dog, the best time to plan is before you need it. Once your pet dies, you will not be in the right state of mind to make these decisions.

Pet Cremation Resources:

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Lynn haun

Monday 28th of November 2022

I live near one. He wants to add more space for operation. What worries me is the chemicals and smell I will get that can harm me.

Beth

Wednesday 4th of November 2020

Heartbreaking and comforting at the same time. Thank you for this!