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Pet funerals – laying your pet to rest

The care we owe our beloved companion animals is for life. If we’re lucky, we’ll share many years together and adapt our care for their senior years and end-of-life stage. This includes doing our best to give them a peaceful passing when they reach the end of their life. As painful as it is to say goodbye, a compassionate and dignified farewell for our beloved pets is an act of love that can also comfort us and our families as we grieve.

When you know your pet is approaching the end of their life or their health is deteriorating, your veterinarian is the best source of advice. Apart from offering treatment to manage any illnesses and keep your pet comfortable for as long as possible, your veterinarian can also suggest other options that you might want to consider.

Understanding pet euthanasia

Euthanasia is sometimes recommended when your pet’s quality of life or symptoms become unmanageable, as it prevents unnecessary pain, discomfort or distress in their last days.

Traditionally, euthanasia has been administered on-site at veterinary clinics, and this may still be required in some emergencies, but pet euthanasia at home is an option which often provides the most peaceful and comfortable end for your pet. Some clinics offer this service through home visits or referral to a mobile veterinarian who specialises in home euthanasia. Possible advantages of home euthanasia include:

  • lower stress and anxiety for your pet, as transporting them while they are in pain is often difficult.
  • the comfort of home surroundings where pets can spend their final moments in their bed, their owner’s lap or another favourite spot they are familiar with
  • having the whole family present
  • time for families to be with their pet for as long as they need, which is not always possible in the veterinary clinic environment
  • more privacy for owners to be with their pets during this sad time
  • easier to arrange burial and memorial options or take mementos (such as a paw print or lock of hair.

If you have your pet insured, the cost of essential euthanasia may be covered. This depends on your insurance policy. It is always best to read the PDS for what covers are provided.

Options when laying your pet to rest

Your veterinarian can also advise you on options for laying your pet to rest. These include:

  • Cremation through a private pet cremation service, which you can organise either directly or through your veterinarian. You can then keep the ashes in an individualised cask or urn or scatter them in a place that has special meaning to you and your pet, providing you have approval from the council or private landowner as needed.
  • Burial, which traditionally owners have performed privately in their backyard; but before doing this, seek the approval of your local council and ensure your pet’s body is securely contained in a casket. There are risks involved if you bury your pet in the backyard. In some cases, this can cause environmental contamination from infectious diseases such as parvovirus. It can also cause the death of other animals if they manage to dig up a pet who was euthanased, because the euthanasia solution may last for up to 12 months in the body. A safe alternative to home burial is a pet cemetery, which also has the advantage of being permanently available to owners who may move to a new house in future.
  • Disposal of the body can be organised by your veterinarian without you receiving your pet’s remains. The body would be sent to a facility for deceased pets.
  • Donation of your pet’s body to a local university to support the training of future veterinarians. Your veterinarian will be able to assist you with this.

Commemorating your pet in a way that honours the bond you share doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. The pet end-of-life care business is growing in Australia and caters for all types of pets, so there are many options you can choose from. This industry is unregulated, so seek the advice of your veterinary clinic or an animal welfare organisation for recommendations.

These are some ideas you may wish to consider:

  • a pet funeral – this can be organised through a pet funeral company, but you can also organise your own gathering of those who loved your pet. You may wish to include their animal friends as well
  • burial in a pet cemetery, including a collection service and a range of caskets, plaques, a memorial tree and mementos such as guardian angels. Some also offer a crematorium and areas for ashes to be memorialised.
  • planting a special tree in your pet’s favourite spot
  • donating to an animal shelter or spending time helping animals in need, such as by volunteering with the RSPCA
  • creating a photo album or slide show of your pet’s life
  • having their portrait painted and mounted somewhere in your home
  • spending time in the places you went with your pet
  • displaying mementos that offer you a sense of connection with them, such as their collar, a favourite toy or even an item of pet clothing

The options are endless but remember that grieving for a lost pet is completely normal and there is no right or wrong way. This is a time to think about how to best care for yourself. We feel the loss of our pets deeply due to the strong bond we share.

Although some people may not understand this, there is increasing awareness that as a society, we should start recognising the loss of a pet as ‘real grief’. If you find you are struggling and need extra support, speak to your veterinarian about finding a specialised pet grief counselling service, or use some of the mainstream support services such as Lifeline or Beyond Blue which can also help you to cope with the loss of your pet. Don’t forget that any remaining animals at home may be affected by the loss, so keep up their usual routines and seek the advice of your veterinarian as needed.

The loss of a pet is life changing and the grief is very real. This is a testament to the love we have for our pets and the depth of the bond we share. To cope with this sad but inevitable part of having a companion animal, it’s important to seek support, including from a trusted veterinarian. It also helps to commemorate our beloved friend in ways that bring comfort and that celebrate the joy our pet has brought into our lives.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.