When a pet dies, what do you do with it?

By on Aug 8th

This is Nelly. She is my studio cat, my house cat, my friend, and the best cat. She just turned eight, and so we hope she has many good years left in her, but Nelly's time will come. I've had many pets die — fish, birds, mice, dogs, kittens, cats, and even a horse — but animal burial was my dad's job. When Nelly finally goes to the great sunny windowsill in the sky, it will be our job to decide what to do with our most-beloved Little Miss. Our cheesebelly. Our Nelly-belly. For the first time ever, I will be a grown up with a dead family pet.

In preparation of the sad time that a pet dies, let's talk about how to take care of your friend's final arrangements. But first, everyone has to do me a favor:

My mother-in-law is more superstitious than I, and she has a habit of touching her nose with her index finger once or twice when she talks about a negative hypothetical. As in, "If something happens to you on this trip, [nose tap], we should know where your important documents are." It's her way of say, "God forbid!" It would make me feel much better if we all do a nose tap while reading this post. Okay. Let's go.

Burial

Simple, traditional, culturally meaningful — burial is a great choice if you have a home and a bit of land. Things to consider when burying a pet:

  • Before you do anything, call your local utilities office to come mark your yard. The last thing you want to do is break a gas line with your shovel.
  • Wrap your pet in a cotton cloth. If she had a favorite blanket, maybe it would do the job.
  • If your pet is small, place her inside a cardboard box. If you have the heart and the desire, you might decorate it. Consider whether you'd like to add a favorite toy.
  • Dig deep. Make the grave at least three feet deep to prevent smells or scavenger intrusions.
  • Prepare a few words. If you haven't already said goodbye to your pet, let him know how much he means to you and how much you will miss him. Wrap up by remembering something you loved about your pet.
  • Mark the grave: You might place paving stones, plant a tree, buy a marker, or devise another sort of memorial for your pet.

Problems you might encounter in burying your pet:

  • It's winter. The common advice is to put your pet in the freezer if he dies when the ground is frozen. …I don't know if I could deal with that, and your pet may simply be too large. In this case you might consider one of the alternatives.
  • You live in an apartment. I once had a conversation about what I'd do with a dead pet if I still lived in an apartment. We actually talked about sneaking into a park and burying said hypothetical pet, but I don't know that I'd actually recommend that.

Cremation

Veterinarians can give you a reference for a pet cremation service. Things to think about when it comes to cremation:

  • If it's important to you, ask about individual cremation. It will cost more, but you will know you're getting back your pet, not a mixture of animals.
  • Consider what you will do with the ashes. If you're not the type to hang on to ashes, you might sprinkle them in a favorite park, outside a window your cat enjoyed, or over a new planting in your pet's honor.
  • If you want to keep the ashes, there are many urns available — even in the form of wearable lockets.

Mummification

The Observatory is a store in Brooklyn which offers mummification classes using actual animals. They say nothing about pets, but I have to wonder if you might be able to take the class and preserve your dearly departed. On one hand, I'd have to cut open someone I loved, but on the other… that would be a pretty amazing way to remember a pet.

Pet Cemetery

Growing up, my neighbors up the road ran a pet cemetery. Fun fact: amputated human body parts are often buried in them, as well!

Pet cemeteries are pretty easy to find with the old Google. They are especially good choices for very large companions, though Loving Rest, one of the cemeteries in my city, offers burial for fish and small pets.

Taxidermy

I have heard many stories of pets being taxidermied, but I just can't deal with that. That's some Norman Bates-level shit.

Funeral Pyre

This option is unorthodox — even more so than mummification. Most likely, creating a funeral pyre for your pet would not be feasible — legally or practically — but there are places in the US which allow funeral pyres. If you live in a rural area, can't spring for cremation, and feel competent in creating a funeral pyre, this might be worth researching.

When your pet is MIA

Sometimes pets wander off, never to be seen again. We always hope they've been taken in by new families, but their absence definitely leaves a hole. Here are a couple of options for if Fluffy runs away — or how to further memorialize a pet who's now buried in the garden:

  • Gather a few favorite toys, frame a nice photo, and place them together on a shelf as a quiet tribute.
  • Add his tags to your keychain, or loop them on a chain and hang them in a visible place.
  • Make a donation in your pet's honor. You might decide to help the ASPCA, your local animal rescue, a school of veterinary medicine, or a charity which collects supplies for pets of displaced or disaster-struck families.

Now that you've read the saddest post ever, go hug your fluffikins. And here. Watch Maru:

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About Cat Rocketship

I was the Managing Editor of Offbeat Home for a year and a half. I have a rich Internet life and also a pretty good real life. Hobbies include D&D, Twitter, and working on making our household more self-reliant. I also draw things.