In the UK there are approximately 51 million pets, with almost 44% of the population caring for at least one pet. Although we can spend anything from £30,000–£40,000 in the lifetime of a pet (based on an average life span of 12 years), when they reach the end of their life, only a very small percentage of the population make arrangements for the aftercare of their pet.
Considering that many pet carers have stated that they loved their pet more than other members of their family, it’s surprising that many pet carers are so quick to dismiss the thought of making arrangements for their pets when the pet is still alive and well.
Pet carers that don’t plan ahead for the aftercare arrangements of their pet often suffer from such intense pain and grief when their pet dies, that they find making a decision for aftercare too overwhelming and it’s easier for them to leave the arrangements to the vet. This is the equivalent of a family member dying in hospital and leaving the funeral arrangements to the doctor.
A pet carer can take several aspects into consideration when deciding which aftercare option to choose and religious beliefs can play a part in the decision-making process.
What many pet carers do not realise is that there are different standards and options for cremation. It is often days, or sometimes weeks later, before the pet carer discovers which choices were available, and what their vet recommended may not necessarily be what they thought they were choosing for their pet.
In some cases pet carers can suffer enormous guilt, feeling that they abandoned their pets to an unknown fate, which can stay with the pet carer for a long time afterwards, and lead to a mistrust of their vet.
Ask any pet carer why they leave their pet’s aftercare arrangements to the vet, and the majority will all respond in the same way; they will tell you that they trust their vet 100%. Perhaps the question to the pet carer needs to be reworded: how much do you trust the company your vet uses and has your vet actually visited the pet crematorium your pet will be taken to? Trusting your vet is one thing; trusting the company they use for pet cremations is another. Unfortunately, it is quite rare for a vet to visit the crematorium that they recommend to their clients.
Research has proved that when a pet’s aftercare is dealt with properly, with the same respect afforded to other members of the family, it reduces fears and concerns the pet carer may have throughout the time they are grieving, knowing that they ‘did the right thing’ by their pet.
Under the current terms of the law (2021), deceased pets are classified as ‘waste’, and therefore anyone involved in the handling, cremation or burial of pets, abide by the same laws applied to our household waste. A sobering thought for the pet carer.
The licensing of pet crematoria covers the actual day-to-day operation of the crematorium as a disposal site. Therefore the only concern from a legal point of view is that the ‘waste’ material being transported and handled is done so within the requisite guidelines, with no provision made for the body of a pet being treated with respect, or procedures for the proper handling of a pet’s ashes being removed from the cremator.
Pet carers are shocked to discover that many pet crematoria are, in fact, just waste management sites (hence the reason many pet crematoria are in industrial estates). Given there are no legal guidelines, with regard to handling a pet’s body with respect, this leaves the industry wide open to unscrupulous characters, ready to make a quick buck without due care for the dignity of a much loved pet. The law relating to pet crematoria changes regularly, and those working within the industry often have trouble keeping up with the changes. Always check what the law is in your local area.
Over the years, the media has reported on many horrific cases about what goes on behind the scenes in human crematoria: from bodies being removed from coffins prior to cremation, to multiple bodies being cremated in a chamber at the same time. Like most stories recounted over a period of time, they have been exaggerated, bearing little resemblance to the original story. These stories were soon transferred to the cremation of pets, and many pet carers began to recount gruesome stories of what had happened at pet crematoria, sadly some of these accounts were true.
Many pet carers do express a wish to have their pets ashes placed in their own coffin when they die, however it is illegal in the UK to place ashes of a pet in the coffin prior to cremation or burial.
There are many privately owned pet crematoriums and cemeteries throughout the UK who offer a dignified and professional service. Pet carers travel from all over the UK to have their pets cremated or buried at their chosen crematorium/cemetery.
If a prior appointment is made, well managed crematoria will allow pet carers to wait, or return within a two-hour period (this will vary depending on levels of business), to collect the ashes of their pet. Reputable pet crematoria can facilitate the pet carers wishes to check that the chamber is clean and empty prior to the cremation, and some have a ‘viewing’ window to enable the pet carer to see the cremator and the handling of the pet’s body. However, this is not the lasting imagine pet carers wish to have of their pets and it is not something recommended, but having the option shows the crematorium has nothing to hide. In some cases pet carers may have the requirement to view the cremation process due to religious reasons.
When you attend a cremation for a human, you can more or less guarantee that the crematorium will be of a particular standard. However, this is not necessarily the case when it comes to pet crematoria. They may have the appropriate licences to operate, yet the standards vary greatly. It’s important for the pet carer to know exactly what standard the pet crematorium/cemetery operate under before agreeing to send their pet there.
A cremator is a large piece of equipment, and requires to be stored and operated in an ‘industrial’ type unit as a requirement by law, however this does not mean it has to be in an industrial estate and there are many beautiful crematoriums in countryside locations. Some pet crematoria have multi-chamber cremators allowing them to individually cremate several pets at a time, and cremators equipped to cremate horses have a vast capacity – the size of a small shipping container.
Checking if a pet crematorium is licensed can be done easily by checking the Environment Agency’s website. However, a far better way to check the credentials of any pet crematorium is to visit them, and ask about the services they provide. If they are reluctant to answer any questions, or the answers are not what you would have expected, you have to ask yourself if that is the type of company you would trust to look after your pet.
Another way to check the credentials of a pet crematorium is to look at the prices they advertise on their website, then telephone and ask the price. The price given over the phone is often much higher than that stated on their website once all the additional but necessary extras are added on.
Often the pet crematoria are only quoting for the cremation, and pet carers are surprised when many ‘surcharges’ have been added to cover home collections, return of ashes, urns etc. Reputable pet crematoria will quote for the total amount that the pet carer is expected to pay, with no hidden extras being added on when the invoice is presented.
Some pet crematoria claim on their websites to offer a complete and efficient service, whereby they will collect a pet directly from the home and return the ashes within twenty-four hours, when, in fact, the reality is that they may not offer this service at all on the day you require it. It’s always worth checking by telephoning the crematorium directly or email if time permits.
Pet carers who organise an individual cremation through their vet are not aware that, due to health and safety regulations, their pets are placed in a bag and stored in a freezer prior to transportation to the crematorium, in a van, along with several other deceased pets. Pet carers are under the impression that an individual cremation also means an individual service, similar to that offered by a human undertaker. Pet undertakers and a few pet crematoria will offer an individual service, coupled with an individual cremation.
Sadly, things can go wrong at the time of cremation, especially where a company is dealing with a large volume of pets as many of them are. Most pet crematoria cover a large area, often up to 100 square miles or more, giving veterinary practices and pet carers a fairly large choice of companies offering a wide range of services, types of cremation and cost. The pet crematorium a vet uses is often due to the best financial arrangement rather than the dignity afforded to pets.
Is it worth the risk? Just because a veterinary practice has used the same crematorium for years, and are happy with the fact that the crematorium van turns up on time, every week, to collect the pets for cremation, is not a good enough reason to accept that the crematorium they recommend to their clients is carrying out individual cremations in line with their clients expectations.
To protect the veterinary practice and prevent any possible errors made inadvertently by a pet crematorium that could ultimately land on the veterinary practice, pet carers should be allowed to make an informed choice of which company or pet crematorium they wish to use and most vets respect their choice. That means the veterinary practice places the onus on the pet carer to make their own choice, thus exonerating the practice from any blame should things go wrong at the crematorium.
Interesting information about pet cremation –
Cremation Options - Individual Cremation
Traditionally, pets in the UK were buried in the garden, or for the poor old goldfish, it was, and still is, traditional for them to have a rather undignified ending by being flushed down the toilet.
Many pet carers assume that all pet cremations are carried out individually, in the same manner as human cremations. However, unlike organising a human cremation, there is no need for the pet’s death to be registered officially, and there are no elaborate funeral arrangements to organise. Therefore, a pet’s cremation can be arranged very quickly and the pet can be cremated on the day the pet dies.
The length of time the cremation actually takes depends on the size and weight of the pet. Most pets have to be weighed prior to cremation however more modern cremators weight the pet as part of the process, the crematorium has to keep accurate records of this. When the cremator is at the required temperature, it can take approximately forty-five minutes to cremate a cat, and 2-4 hours to cremate a dog depending on its breed/size.
Despite the body being subjected to intense heat for this length of time, there may be some large pieces of bone fragment remaining. Once the cremation is complete the ‘cremains’ should be removed carefully and then placed into a cremulator, where they will become powder-like ash in a few minutes, after which they are ready for scattering or placing into an urn. (A cremulator is a grinder that turns bone fragments into ash).
If a pet has ever had metal (Titanium) - orthopaedic implants due to an operation, these withstand the intense heat of cremation and pet carers should be given the option for these to be returned to them.
Once ash is carefully removed from the cremulator, it should be placed into a bag and the bag should be labelled with the pets name and date of cremation, prior to being placed into a casket. This simple method of checking greatly reduces the risk of the wrong ash being placed in the wrong urn and consequently being return to the wrong pet carer.
The amount of ash returned often raises questions for the pet carer, some expecting more ash to be returned but few expecting less. A pet carrying a bit more weight will receive less ash than that of a muscular dog like a sighthound as the soft tissue and excess fat leaves no ash.
Communal Cremation and Mass Incineration
These types of cremation are exactly what they imply, where several pets are cremated together. How many pets are actually cremated together depends on the capacity of the cremator and the size of the pets, but it could be anything from approximately ten pets upwards.
Ash from communal cremations is required, by law, to be buried in a licensed landfill site. Communal cremation is the less expensive option for the pet carer, and also provides a lucrative financial return to the vet and the pet crematoria. Unless a pet carer asks specifically for their pet to be cremated individually, their pet will be cremated communally and they will not receive their pet’s ashes back.
Mass incineration is similar in nature to communal cremation, the main difference is mass incineration is not carried out at a pet crematorium and there is no special handling of the ashes post cremation, mass incineration is carried out at a waste disposal facility, where the bodies of deceased pets are incinerated along with other waste material.