Can I Bury My Dog Or Cat At Home?

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.

That the concentrated anaesthetic used for euthanasia is dangerous to other animals

This isn’t an argument against home burial, it’s an argument for burying pets properly.

That we should enclose their remains in a container that prevents animals accessing the body

Please don’t do this. When you read the right way to do it you’ll see why.

That the diseases they died from might spread to other animals or people

We’re certainly going to recommend cremation if a pet dies of a contagious disease. However, this is now exceedingly rare.

That your dog or cat’s body may be useful to science

I encourage donations for research and training (see below). However, the idea that universities are willing or able to accept the sorts of numbers involved is ludicrous.

That local councils have restrictions on pet burial

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.

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 after 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, but this shouldn’t be necessary.

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.

Lastly, if you’ve seen our new clinic plans, you may know that we are building a pet memorial garden. It will be to lodge a remembrance and even place some ashes in a reserve that should exist for generations. Although the building is finished, the garden isn’t yet but we’ll let you know when it’s ready.

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.

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


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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

    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.

  5. 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.

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