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.
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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!