How to Prepare for the Death of a Pet

No one wants to think about it—but at some point, all pet owners will be faced with the inevitable loss of their loyal, furry friend. Whether the death occurs from natural causes or euthanasia, saying goodbye to a beloved member of the family can be heartbreaking. "The decision to put a pet to sleep is very personal and different for each person and situation. It's important to consider the pet's quality of life when contemplating euthanasia as well as the wishes of family members," says Richard S. Goldstein, DVM, who owns Mobile Vet Squad in Westchester County, NY. "I tell my clients that they will know in their heart when the time is right."

The loss of a pet can be emotionally significant. It's not unusual to experience sorrow as intense as losing a relative. That's why it's beneficial to decide now how to handle the remains so when the time comes you can focus on coping with your grief. "Just like with other family members, planning ahead may help ease the burden of having to make emotional decisions when the time comes," Goldstein explains.

Aftercare Considerations

One of the first hurdles you'll face after the death of a pet is deciding what to do with the body. Goldstein says that when a pet dies at home, you can either bring the body to the vet, or take it directly to a pet cemetery. If the pet dies or is put to sleep at the vet, then the pet cemetery used by the vet usually picks up the body.

Exploring Your Options

Once your pet is at the pet cemetery, you'll need to decide whether you want burial or cremation. When weighing the choices, Goldstein says to think about your personal preferences, as well as financial considerations.

Here are three of the most common options:

  • Communal cremation. With this option, the pet cemetery will cremate your pet along with others. In the case, the ashes won't be returned but some pet cemeteries have gardens where they will sprinkle them.
  • Private cremation. With private cremation, you'll get the ashes back from the pet cemetery. Most pet cemeteries allow you to choose from a selection of containers ranging from decorative tins to very ornate urns. You can save the ashes or release them in a place that was meaningful for you and your pet (your backyard or favorite walking path, for example).
  • Burial. This can be done at the pet cemetery. Or, in some places, local ordinances will allow you to bury a deceased pet on your property. (Be sure to check your local ordinance. It's important the body be properly wrapped and buried deep enough to discourage wildlife from interfering.)

Finding a Local Pet Cemetery

When handling the details yourself, Goldstein suggests checking with your vet in order to find a reputable pet cementary. Family, friends, and neighbors may also be able make recommendations.

Pet Preservation

Though less common-and somewhat controversial-taking a pet to a taxidermist for preservation is a growing trend. While this can be a pricey way to go, having their pet's body stuffed helps some people keep their animal close after death.

Richard S. Goldstein, DVM, reviewed this article.



Goldstein, Richard S., DVM, Mobile Vet Squad, Westchester County, NY. Email interview 20 March 2013.