Companion animals are part of our families, but inevitably the time comes for us to say goodbye to them due to old age or disease.
Many pet lovers opt to bury their pets in the backyard. However, there are some hidden risks to this, and there are other options that will help other pets, and even the owners who love them.
Why the backyard isn’t best
Backyard burial may seem like the easiest way to respectfully take care of your pet’s remains. Unfortunately, it can be dangerous for other pets and wildlife. Most pets are put to sleep with an extremely concentrated anaesthetic agent, which results in a very peaceful death (hence the term euthanasia, which means “good death”). However this drug, pentobarbital, persists in the buried body of the pet for up to a year. Any animal scavenging on the remains will be poisoned by the euthanasia solution.
I have seen two cases in my career where this has happened, with serious consequences. In one case a family had their pet mouse put down and buried it in the backyard. The family’s terrier dug up and ate the mouse, and was comatose in intensive care for nearly a week. In another case, two farm dogs scavenged some bones from a cow which had been euthanased on a farm months before. One dog died and the other was seriously ill for several days.
If your pet dies of a disease which could be spread to other animals or even people, their body might also pose a risk. While vaccination has reduced the amount of dangerous pet diseases in the community, some diseases like parvovirus still occur in outbreaks and are very hardy and spread readily between dogs.
What do to instead
One option is pet crematoriums and cemeteries, which are available in most large cities and regional centres in Australia. The services are very professional and cover a variety of options and price ranges that suit most pet owners. Costs may vary with the size of the pet.
Professional burial or cremation avoids the risks of environmental contamination or disease that might occur with backyard burial. For my own pets which have passed away, I chose cremation which typically costs A$200-300, and then buried their ashes under a memorial tree in my garden.