Burying your pet at home

April 29, 2024by sacvalleyvet

Burying your pet at home

A great option that requires serious considerations
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Burying your pet at home – A great option that requires serious considerations

If you have already lost a pet or if you are making arrangements to do so, another question you must consider is what are your plans with your pet’s remains? While there are a few different options for you, here we are going to discuss  the burial of your pet. While this may seem self-explanatory, it is important to note a few important aspects to ensure it is done correctly for the safety of other animals and to comply with your specific local ordinances.

Deciding to bury your animal at your home can be a lovely idea as you will have a memorialized place for your pet that you can visit.  Home burial is also a more cost-effective option than cremation.  At this time, the state of California deems burial of animals on public land illegal but as stated here on the Sacramento County website, home burial is legal but not recommended due to potential biological contamination. To avoid biological contamination, the biggest factors to consider are depth and location of burial of animals that have been euthanized by injection.

What makes my pet’s body a biological hazard after euthanasia?

The medication used by veterinary professionals to achieve death is called sodium pentobarbital. Sodium pentobarbital was originally used as an injectable anesthesia for animals, but has been discontinued as the margin for error with overdose is very small. We now use this drug purposefully as a one-time overdose, strictly to achieve a peaceful, efficient passing for your dog or cat. Death occurs by that medication entering their bloodstream which travels throughout the body. Sodium pentobarbital unfortunately doesn’t decompose at the same rate as your pets remains, rendering the carcass a toxic hazard to other animals that may want to dig up and consume your pet as well as being toxic if leached into waterways and drainage systems.

As unsettling as it may be, digging up and eating a dead carcass is just the nature of many creatures from wild animals to domestic dogs and cats. Following is the abstract from a case report where two dogs were tragically poisoned from un-earthing the carcass of a horse that had been previous euthanized by sodium pentobarbital:

“Two dogs, a 13-year-old spayed female and a 7-year-old neutered male, were diagnosed with

pentobarbital poisoning. Follow-up investigation determined that the source of pentobarbital was the carcass of a horse that had been euthanized more than 2 years previously and that was also apparently responsible for the death of a least 1, and possibly 2, other dogs. The fact that the horse carcass remained lethally toxic more than 2 years after it was euthanized reemphasizes the necessity of proper disposal of euthanized animals.”

While we do not know exactly how long sodium pentobarbital remains active in the remains of euthanized animals, we now know that at least two years post mortem it is still active enough to cause death just by ingestion of those tissues. We also must consider from this study the potential of that drug leeching into the ground soil throughout the decomposition process, possibly becoming part of water run-off. This is also not something we want other animals or even us humans coming into contact with.

How to mitigate chances of biological contamination if you choose to bury your pet:

  1. Depth of burial – Most resources you see are going to recommend 2-5 feet in depth. If you do choose to only dig the minimum of two feet, be sure that means two feet from the level of the soil to the top of your pet’s body when placed in the hole.  If you have a large animal (giant breed dog or livestock such as horses) a backhoe tractor can be very helpful if you have one available to you. Adding some larger, wide rocks to the dirt as you re-fill the hole on top of your pet can also help minimize the chance that your pet is unearthed. The take home message here is that a deeper hole is always better.
  2. Location of burial – Choose a location far from water sources to ensure that the decomposition of your pet’s body will not biologically affect waterways and run off. It is tempting to have a grave near a pet’s favorite place to swim or a beautiful creek you enjoyed together, but at least 50 feet away from water is a good starting point. A high ground location is best.
  3. Body covering – If you choose to wrap your pet in any type of covering, it is best to contain their remains in a type of material that will easily decompose. While this may seem counterintuitive as we are trying to avoid biological contamination, let the Earth do her work and turn your pet back into fertilizer for nature. Do not wrap your animal in plastic wrapping/a box that will not decompose. Wrapping in a light cloth or something that will break down is your best option. You may even sprinkle the ground with a cup of lime (found in most hardware and feed stores) inside the hole before placing your animal inside to assist with decomposition.

 

While talking about the logistics of burying your dog or cat at home after euthanasia may be a difficult subject to consider, as you can see, it is important.  Home burial is a great option if you would like a spiritual place to visit your pet in years to come after saying goodbye, we just need to approach it correctly to ensure the safety of other animals and humans. And always, we recommend checking with your local government regarding ordinances or policies regarding home burial of a euthanized pet.

Ashley Froschauer, RVT

https://animalcare.saccounty.gov/Licensing/Pages/AnimalBehaviorHandlingFAQ.aspx

 

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