Can I Bury My Dog Or Cat At Home?

Updated January 6, 2021

Burying a dog or cat is an important part of the grieving process for many people. It certainly was for me. So as someone who advises it, and has done it, I was annoyed to see “Why you shouldn’t bury your pet in the backyard” featured on my ABC.

It’s the classic case of sitting in an ivory tower making the rest of Australia feel guilty for doing what comes naturally. It also says some fairly silly things. So before I give you some simple tips for a proper home burial, let’s clear them up.

Q: Is the concentrated anaesthetic used for euthanasia dangerous to other animals?

A: Not if pets are buried according to our advice.

Q: Should their remains be enclosed in a container that prevents animals accessing the body?

A: No. This will inhibit the normal decomposition process.

Q: Could the diseases they died from spread to other animals or people?

A: If a pet dies of a contagious disease such as Parvo, home burial is not recommended. However, this is now exceedingly rare.

Q: Is your dog or cat’s body useful to science?

A: Rarely. I encourage donations for research and training (see below). However, universities are neither willing nor able to accept the sorts of numbers involved.

Q: Do local councils have restrictions on pet burial

A: Not to our knowledge. I rang my three local councils, and visited many other websites. I am not aware of any council in Australia that has rules against pet burial. Many even give sensible ‘how to’ guidelines.

Pros & Cons Of Home Burial

Reasons why home burial may be right for you include:

  • Grieving- no two people respond to the loss of a pet the same way. For some, having them buried at home is a great comfort.
  • Environment- done well, a pet burial will be carbon neutral and your animal goes back to the soil.
  • Cost- we have to be realistic about what people can afford.

However, home burial is only an option, and these days less people do it. I suspect the reasons are:

  • Difficulty- a good home burial is both physically and emotionally draining.
  • Availability- many people don’t have access to suitable land, especially if they are renting or live in an apartment.
  • Preference- the Animal Welfare League here provides a good cremation service that most owners find very comforting.

Another potential problem (as discussed in the comments below), is leaching of the pentobarbitone from the body into surrounding soil. Euthanasia drugs appear to persist for a long time in the environment. This is of particular concern if food crops are being harvested in the vicinity.

How To Bury A Pet Well

Follow these simple guidelines for a responsible pet burial.

  • Choose an area set aside for ornamental plants, not food crops. Be aware of locations of utilities such as power and water, and future plans for the area.
  • Put your other pets away until afterwards and do not let them see the burial.
  • Dig a hole at least one metre or three feet deep
  • Wrap your pet’s body in something biodegradable like a cotton pillowcase or woollen rug. Avoid synthetic fabrics, plastic bags or sealed containers.
  • Lay them in the hole and cover with all the dirt, tamping it down periodically to make it hard to dig.
  • Mark the location. To be extra sure, place a slab or stones over the top.

Just a warning: it’s very hard to do. Having done this several times, I now wish I had asked someone who wasn’t so emotionally attached.

Importantly, commercial species such as chickens and other poultry cannot be legally buried. Contact your council for advice in your area. Here’s the advice from the City of Salisbury, in Adelaide, South Australia.

Alternatives To Cremation & Burial

Pet cremation services allow for a wide range of choice, from special urns and keepsakes all the way to plastic containers for scattering the ashes. You can look at the Animal Welfare League’s options here. Costs are usually around $300 and go towards supporting their animal shelters.

I have enquired with the Companion Animal Health Centre at the Adelaide Uni veterinary school. They are willing to accept donations, mainly for student teaching, but aren’t able to guarantee they could always say yes. The answer will depend on storage space and current student needs.

Another disadvantage of donation to a teaching school is the lack of availability for most Australians. Even here in Adelaide, it’s a long drive.

In saying all this I haven’t asked you how you’re going. I hope the loss of your pet hasn’t been unbearable,. If you’re having trouble, you’re not alone. I’ve written some advice here on bereavement after losing a pet that I hope you find useful.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!

Andrew

24 Replies to “Can I Bury My Dog Or Cat At Home?”

  1. Hi Andrew,

    We just lost our family German Shepherd yesterday. When we buried him last night we did not cover him or wrap him up. Will that be a problem?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Janet. There is no absolute requirement. Most people wrap or cover them just because they prefer it that way but as long as you follow the other instructions it should be okay.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    We recent lost our pet bird and would like to bury him in a pot with his favourite plant on top. Is there a safe way to do this? While we aren’t currently planning on moving, we would like to take the plant (and Percy) with us when we do.

    Thanks,

    Jason

    1. Hi Jason. What’s probably most important here is that the volume of earth is much, much greater than the size of the bird. This will allow proper decomposition without anyone noticing from outside. I would guess around 20 times the volume would be a minimum but you are on uncharted territory here. A reasonable request though.

  3. Hello, I had my cat put to sleep. I get him back Tuesday. I own my own place. I gather in a pillow case, 1m deep. Compact the soil. Put a stone slab on. Any more things I should do

  4. Thank you for this reassuring post. Yesterday we had to make the decision to put our cat to sleep. Your words confirmed our back garden burial in the tall bed filled with catnip and cat mint was both appropriate and safe. Thank you.

  5. Hi Andrew,
    I got a lot out of your article, thank you. We are saying goodbye to our 16 year old dog next week and have been weighing up options of what to do with the body. I’ve been leaning more towards burial but where I’d like to put her I won’t be able to dig down (300mm or so I reckon ) very far so was thinking about putting a raised garden / colorbond planter box above her which is about 700mm high , the edge of the plater box would be about 400mm away from the dog in every direction sideways if that makes sense. Do you think this would be ok ?

    1. Hi Matt. That sounds okay as long as you plan to live in the same home for a while. I can only foresee a problem if a new owner tried to remove the planter within a roughly 10 year timeframe.

  6. Hello. I have safely buried one cat and one dog in my veggie garden; they were both euthanized by a vet and I’m wondering if it is safe to still plant veggies? Is there a time limit as to when the drug in their systems becomes harmless? I plant veggies every year but their deaths have changed things and the only option for us was to bury them in the veggie garden. Thanks for your time and wisdom:)
    Barb

    1. Hi Barb. The drug commonly used in pet euthanasia is pentobarbital or pentobarbitone. It has been shown to persist for an extremely long time (at least two years) in soil and will also be leached by water and possibly spread. Therefore, burying dogs and cats in the veggie patch would be hazardous, and further consumption of food from that soil or even nearby would be best avoided.

  7. My friend buried her dog deep with a backhoe one of her other dogs sat on the grave that night .In the morning that dog was found dead on top the grave.Even dogs can die of a broken heart. Better to keep your dog away from the site.

  8. I am in a rented public housing unit, it has a deep brick garden that is useless to plant most edible vegetation, as it is either over hot or shaded as the sun moves over, an ideal site and close to me.
    My 14-year-old companion, all of three terrier breeds in her bright bouncy body as a puppy and into her adulthood died of degenerative heart disease 14 days ago. She was my constant companion, just her and I for all that time. I had her mother who had to be put to sleep because of Cushing’s Disease but my last little one passing was so hard to cope with.
    I am an 82-year-old male who has just aged a few years more now that the house is empty. I keep looking at where she used to sleep, and even though she seemed to know that she was going to leave me, she still brought her favourite toy out to me for a play, but those times became shorter and shorter.
    The last 20 minutes of her life where agonising to watch and the tears poured out of me as I could do nothing to ease her pain, although I felt that she was brain dead, as when I touched her eye there was no response. Even now, as I write this the tears are falling. I will get another little one which is Okay with my age as I have a friend that would take her if and when I depart this mortal coil. I have read everything on your site, Andrew, and I am not alone, and we must have a balanced view as humans often live longer than their pets. But it still hurts.

  9. Hello my tenant just moved out of my home and I have just found out that she burried her dog in MY backyard is this illegal what can I do I am in shock -Patricia
    The backyard is not large but the dog was

    1. Hi Patricia. Whether it’s illegal will depend on local regulations, but I certainly commiserate with the lack of consent given. I think it’s only fair that if tenants wish to bury a pet they would be best to get the landlord’s approval first.

  10. What a clear, helpful, informative, sensible and sensitive article. I too was annoyed and mystified by that ABC advice. I am dreading the imminent day my loved one dies, but I now feel equipped to handle at least one aspect of it.
    Thank you Andrew
    Jan

  11. Hi Andrew, my 13 year old corgi has breast cancer and will die soon. My question is should I have her euthanized, or let her pass normally? She has lost a lot of weight, is incontinent, and has slowed down considerably. I’m not working and funds are tight, however I don’t want her suffering and will come up with any costs.

    1. Hi James. It’s good question, and my advice is clear: get her euthanized as soon as there is any risk. Dogs don’t complain or show you they are suffering so you have to be proactive. Better a week early than a day late. Your vet is the best guide to the right time, but as a general rule, once dogs withdraw themselves, it’s already a little late. You don’t want to know how long a dog with cancer can keep going – it’s not natural to die like this in the wild as they don’t reach this age or get these conditions.

  12. Thank you, very useful information since at the moment my pet cat, “Who” has had hyperthyroidism for over five years, has lately developed kidneys problems. So I´m prepared for whatever comes but my deeper concern is that I don’t like cremation.

    And as I live in a Strata Title village in Tasmania I was wondering if it is legal to bury a pet in my backyard. Any comment would very much appreciated
    Belinda

    1. Hi Elena.I couldn’t really comment on a strata title, but if you have the ability to do other things in your garden without asking consent, then you probably also have the right to do this. However, it wouldn’t hurt to ask at the next strata meeting.

  13. Hi Andrew, when a dog has to be put to sleep, is it best for a remaining dog to have contact with the dog who have now died, or should the burial take place without the other dog knowing. By that I don’t mean seeing the dog being buried.

    1. Hi Margaret. That’s a hard one. It seems right to let them view the body as long as they don’t see the burial. Whether it helps is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. I think that if a dog if quite dependant on a dog that died, there will always be a difficult time afterwards no matter what you do, whereas if two dogs are reasonably independent it always seems to be OK.

    2. Agree Margaret regarding the other dogs seeing your deceased dog. In 2015, we said goodbye to our 15 yr old Kelpie. Both of our other Kelpies were able to see and sniff her prior to us burying her in our back yard. We also knew that we would have to say goodbye to our 16 yr old Kelpie. We had a backhoe in to dig 2 graves Once again, our youngest Kelpie was able to see him and sniff him prior to us burying him. I quite often stand beside their graves and our other Kelpie on most occasions is there with me.

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