The loss of a pet is deeply affecting. Pets hold a special place in our lives and hearts, and their death creates a gaping hole that causes real, true grief. On top of this, pet owners are responsible for properly and legally disposing of the pet’s body.
So you want to know how to bury or cremate a pet while also allowing you and your family the time and opportunity to grieve the loss of your furry friend. This is where a DIY pet funeral can be helpful.
In many areas there are pet cemeteries or even pet funeral homes that can help you with this, for a fee. If that is not an option in your location or if the full-service option is out of your price range, you will be best served by a DIY pet funeral.
Just so you know, we sell pet cremation urns at Urns Northwest and also recommend some other products in this article for which we may receive a referral commission, should you choose to purchase something on our recommendation. See our full disclosure here for more details.
Read on for our guide on how to plan a pet funeral service to honor the memory of your beloved pet.
DIY Pet Funeral Guide: How to plan a pet funeral service
Here is an overview of our DIY Pet Funeral Guide.
- BODY DISPOSITION
- Pet Burial
- Home Burial Tips
- Pet Cemeteries
- Pet Cremation
- Burying the Ashes
- Scattering the Ashes
- Keeping the Ashes
- Public Disposition Options
- Pet Burial
- FUNERAL SERVICE IDEAS
- What to say
- What to do
- PET MEMORIAL IDEAS
The first thing you will need to figure out is what to do with the body. As with humans, when a pet dies you can choose to bury or cremate the body. Let’s take a look at the options for each choice.
If you own your own property, in most cases you can legally bury your pet in your backyard. However, you will need to check your local state, county, and city laws and ordinances for any restrictions.
Some areas may prohibit or severely restrict pet burial. This includes many large cities or property located on the water table. Other times the laws may not be clear, or you may get vague or even conflicting answers from city officials.
This leads some people to argue that, in many instances of pet burial on private property, “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
HOME BURIAL TIPS
You do want to be careful about contamination, especially if your pet died from a disease or was euthanized. Especially with the latter, which involves extremely toxic chemicals, you want to make sure the pet is buried where the chemicals will not affect other animals, plants, or water sources.
Also, when burying in your own property, find out where power and utility lines are buried. Make sure you are downhill from any wells, at least 100 feet away from any water source, and dig a hole at least 3 feet deep. Four feet is better. If you hit bedrock or if your hole fills with water, choose another location, as the decomposing body of your pet can leech down into the water source.
Wrap your pet in thick plastic if euthanized, to prevent the chemicals from seeping into the soil. If not euthanized, you may prefer a more natural burial without any plastic. You can purchase a pet casket online, or make your own from wood or a cardboard box. Pack the soil in tightly when refilling the grave, and place one or more large paving stones over top to prevent animals from digging it up.
If you choose to have the pet buried at a local pet cemetery, they will take care of all of this for you. You can still have a DIY pet funeral, whether at home or perhaps in a favorite outdoor location (with proper permission, of course).
Pet Burial – Quick summary:
- Laws vary, but you can often bury your pet on your own private property
- For burial at home, bury away from any water sources, check for utilities beforehand, and bury at least 3-4 feet deep. Cover with paving stones to prevent other animals from digging
- If your pet was euthanized, wrap the body in plastic to prevent the chemicals from harming the environment
- You can also use a pet cemetery or funeral home for the burial, while still having a DIY pet funeral service on your own
- Contact your veterinarian, local humane society, or animal control for more tips and options
- If you bury or abandon the carcass of any dead animal in any lake, river, stream, meadow or other public place, or within 1 mile of another’s residence who does not consent to the burial or abandonment you will be guilty of a misdemeanor. [Source]
BURYING THE ASHES
If your pet has been cremated, burial of the ashes is similar to full body burial but a little simpler and easier. There are no legal restrictions on burying ashes on your own property, other than concerns about the container (a.k.a. urn) and accidentally hitting utility lines.
It is ideal to use a biodegradable cremation urn or container, such as a cardboard box, when burying cremated remains. Or you could skip the urn or container entirely and simply bury the remains directly into the ground.
At Urns Northwest, we offer one special way to bury your pet’s remains that uses the ashes to help grow a memorial tree. This is a biodegradable cremation urn that includes a tree seed and is made with a nourishing mixture that will help the tree grow healthy and strong while incorporating the pet’s remains into the tree itself. You can see the memorial trees and options here, and read more about process here.
SCATTERING THE ASHES
There are no laws against scattering ashes, but anything you place or scatter on property that is not your own needs to be done with the property owner’s permission. This means that you should ask before scattering ashes at a park, beach, or natural forest.
Choose a container for the remains that is easy to open and allows the ashes to come out smoothly. A mason jar works reasonably well, as do a variety of cremation urns and keepsake boxes.
You can also “scatter” the ashes at sea using a biodegradable water burial urn. This is a container that is designed to deteriorate naturally in the water, meaning that you can avoid wind issues and simply place the urn into the water. These urns float for a few minutes, then gracefully sink to biodegrade and disperse the remains over time.
KEEPING THE ASHES
One of the most popular options for a beloved pet’s remains. When you cremate a pet, you get the option to keep the ashes close by, in your home. Even if you move, you can keep the remains with you. This is one of the great draws to pet cremation.
To keep the pet’s ashes, you will want a cremation urn. You can, of course, use just about any container as a memorial urn. The remains will come from the crematorium in a simple container, which works just fine.
For something a little more personal, you can always make your own urn. Use a jar and decorate it, sew a pouch and place the remains inside (the ashes will come from the crematorium in a protective plastic bag), build a keepsake box, make your own ceramic vase.
There are also many, many beautiful and unique pet cremation urns.
Above we show one of our wooden pet urn, made from real wood here in the USA and custom engraved with your pet’s photograph and name.
Below is a lovely little handmade ceramic vessel that includes a heart and is personalized with your pet’s name.
There are many, many more pet urns available. Here are a few resources:
- Urns Northwest – Our collection of premium pet urns
- Etsy – Pet urns handcrafted by artisans
- Amazon – Affordable pet urns on the world’s most popular marketplace
Pet Cremation – Quick Summary:
- You can legally bury a pet’s ashes in your property
- Check for utilities first, the dig 3+ feet deep and bury the remains in an urn, a biodegradable container, or directly into the ground
- Mark the burial site with a tree, rock, or personalized stone or monument
- You can scatter remains anywhere as long as you have the property owner’s permission
- Scattering on your own property is ideal
- You can also keep the remains in the box provided by the crematorium or in a decorative memorial urn designed for your pet
Some areas, especially major cities, may provide free pet disposition. This is typically cremation. However it may involve steps that are not as dignified as you might want for your special friend.
For instance, in Los Angeles, the Bureau of Sanitation will remove and dispose of a dead animal, free of charge. You need to contact them and leave the pet out by the curb on collection day in a plastic bag and labeled as a dead animal. Other city sanitation departments may allow/require you to place the body directly into the receptacle, i.e. into the trash can.
For the cost (free), that is definitely an option to consider, especially as the city has regulations that affect whether you can bury the pet in private property.
But as for how you feel about leaving your pet out on the curb in a trash bag… well, it’s not for everyone. You can certainly do it in a dignified way, wrapping the dear pet’s body carefully, perhaps decorating it or including notes of grief inside. If free public disposition is the only option for your budget and location, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it when you proceed with dignity and love.
Other free or low-cost options may be through animal control or humane societies. Feel free to call around to find out more options in your area.
Public disposition options – Quick Summary:
- Some city sanitation departments offer free pet disposition, usually via cremation
- Other organizations that may take your pet’s body include animal control and humane societies
FUNERAL SERVICE IDEAS
What to Say
What you say at a pet’s funeral will depend largely upon your personal beliefs and who is in attendance. You can also make it as long or short as you would like. The tone of the pet funeral can be serious and ceremonial or fun and lighthearted, or somewhere in between.
Here are a few popular quotes and readings for a pet funeral:
- “How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh
- “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras
- “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” – Helen Keller
- “Don’t cry because it’s over, Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Suess
- More funeral quotes here
Some specific examples of what you can say are:
- [Pet’s name] was a dear friend and the very finest pet a family could have. You will be missed.
- Goodbye, [name]; we honor your memory.
- Today, we honor the life of an amazing dog. [Name], we love you and will hold you in our hearts always.
And here are two lovely and simple poems you might consider reading or reciting:
If I had known that on that day our time was near the end…
I would have done things differently my forever friend.
I would have stayed right next to you deep into the night…
but I thought I’d see you in the early morning light.
And so I said ‘Good-night’ to you as I walked in through the door…
never thinking of the time when I’d see you no more.
But if I had known that on that day our time was at the end…
I would have done things so differently my forever friend.
A Poem for Wally
Oh my sweet kitty, I love you still,
there’s a place in my heart, you always will fill.
I still feel your fur, and find it around,
bringing back memories of the kitty I found.
I miss you, I miss you, what more can I say,
I wish you were here for just one more day
If children are present, they will often have questions about where the pet went, what happens after death, and so on. I already covered this very thing in an article on pet fish funerals, so here is what I wrote there:
Use the time as an opportunity to talk about life and death. You and I may be a little jaded from living in this world longer than about 7 years, but our children take their pet very seriously. They will be sad when the family pet dies, and perhaps you will be too.
You can help make this sad event into a time of emotional and spiritual growth for your family by simply talking about it. You don’t have to be a professional, and you don’t have to have all the right words. Just talk about your emotions, ask your kids about how they are feeling and what they are thinking, and tell them it’s ok.
As your kids learn how to safely talk about their feelings and appropriately handle their emotions regarding the death of their beloved fish, they will be that much more prepared to handle other difficult events in their lives. This is simply good parenting.
It might also be a good idea to read a couple children’s books together that deal with grief and death. Here is our list of 101 Classic Books to Help Children Grieve, which includes books that talk about pet loss, family loss, grief, and more from a wide variety of perspectives. Specifically for Christians, here are 10 Solid, Biblical Christian Books for Kids About Death & Heaven.
What to Do
Keep the tone of everything simple and respectful. If some lighthearted humor is appropriate for your beloved pet, by all means encourage that by sharing a few stories or passing around photos. But there is also a seriousness to death that is best served with a reverent tone.
When you are ready to begin, say something to that effect so that everyone is on the same page. Open with a prayer or quote, or a simple opening phrase. Light a candle. Perhaps include a few moments of silence.
We are gathered here to honor our beloved Sparky. Let us begin by observing a moment of silence in his honor.
Then you can say, read, recite, or sing anything you like. Ideas include songs and poems about pets, hymns, or stories from the family that are written down in advance or shared extemporaneously. Pass around photos or play some videos of the pet, or play a favorite song or a clip from a movie.
If you are burying the pet, now is the time to place the pet in the grave. You can also gather drawings or notes from the children and place them into the grave along with the pet. Perhaps include some favorite chew toys or blankets.
If you are not burying the pet, you can use this time to gather the keepsakes together on a center table alongside the cremation urn.
Offer others the opportunity to share stories or say a final goodbye.
To close the service, say a final goodbye or prayer and blow out the candle. Then, if the pet is being buried, fill in the grave. If the pet has been cremated, take the urn inside and place it in the chosen location.
PET MEMORIAL IDEAS
Cremation jewelry holds a small amount of your pet’s remains, keeping them close to your heart. The one pictured above holds a pinch of ashes inside the paw print heart locket. It also features a lava rock bead, which is used for comforting aromatherapy with essential oils. This is not only a healthy practice in general, but also can help with grief.
Custom Garden Stone
Custom engrave a personalized garden stone for your pet. You can mark their grave or where you scattered the pet’s ashes, or simply create a memorial in your garden to honor their memory and their love of the outdoors.
Personalized Bird Feeder
There is something very life-affirming about a bird feeder memorial.
Maybe it is the way living, breathing, flitting nature is brought close to your home. Maybe there is a cycle-of-life aspect, with the birds being nourished in your pet’s honor. Or maybe it is simply that this is a beautiful cedar wood bird feeder that you can custom engrave with a special message for your departed friend.
In any case, these memorial bird feeders are incredibly popular and well-received as a gift.
Custom Pet Memorial Keychain Tag
This personalized tag is like your pet’s collar tag, customized with their name and details, but also includes cute paw prints and little angel wings to represent their soaring spirit.
Pet Memorial Plaque
Wooden sign engraved with a sympathy quote and your pet’s name inside of a dog’s outline. Light wood panels framed in contrasting dark stained wood, plus a spot to hang their collar.
Personalized Remembrance Candle
A soothing blend of rich lavender and fresh foliage. This handcrafted sympathy candle includes a customized label with your pet’s name and a loving quote.
More: Here are 29 Sympathy Gifts that you can easily use for pets