According to a recent nationwide survey by FuneralFide, during the coronavirus pandemic cremation was the chosen aftercare option about 50% of the time for humans, but only 30% opted for pet cremation. Aquamation was less popular, but has been growing in the past 5 years.

Flower memorial for deceased pet
Pet memorials are growing in popularity

Cremation is a process by which a body is exposed to extreme heat, usually 1700-2000 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more in a special furnace called a cremation chamber. This process limits the body to its essential elements, called “cremated bodies” or “buried remains.”

Traditional Cremation Process

The cremation process follows a few basic steps:

  • Animal remains are ignited using intense heat. The time it takes depends on the size of the animal.
  • The cremation chamber operator does a residue inspection for metal objects and removes any metallic objects.
  • Large chunks of bone that are not flammable may also be removed.
  • For animals in private cemeteries, the cremains are then placed in their storage baskets. The crematorium will encourage you to provide special urns, boxes, cages or other containers.

Pet Aquamation Basics

As an alternative to traditional fire-based pet cremations, many pet aftercare specialists and animal hospitals have begun to offer Aquamation which is a water-based alternative. Aquamation uses an alkaline bath that contains salt from soil to break down an animal’s body naturally.

Aquamation or Alkaline Hydrolysis Process

The process begins with placing the pet’s body (sometimes in a sealed bag) in a pressurized stainless-steel chamber. Next, the chamber is filled with 95% water and five alkaline chemicals (either potassium hydroxide KOH, sodium hydroxide NaOH, or a mixture of both), then heated is then heated to about 350-350 C.

The combination of pressure and chemicals breaks down the chemical bonds in the animal’s body to accelerate the decomposition process. This water-based cremation takes nearly as much time as a traditional, flame-based cremation.

Next, the water and alkali solution are removed from the chamber. Since this liquid solution is a mixture of amino acids, peptides, sugars, and salts, the water must be filtered and purified, before it can be returned to the natural water cycle. What remains, is bone fragments and white ashes. Some providers will also rinse and pulverize leftover bone fragments. Ashes, which are about 20% more than what is saved after a traditional cremation, are returned to the owner in an urn or burial container or may be sprinkled outside.

Aquamation Can Be More Expensive Than Cremation

Aquamation cost more than cremation. Lots of equipment is needed, and that’s why funeral homes charge a lot to cover the cost of the equipment they use. Prices may start as low as $70 and can exceed $350.

When it comes to traditional cremation, there is a high variance in cost based on the animal species, size, and whether euthanasia is involved. For example:

  • Dog Cremation: $50–300 (euthanasia can cost $150–300)
  • Cat Cremation: $50-150 (euthanasia can cost $30–70)
  • Horse Cremation: $600–1000+ for a 1,000-pound horse (euthanasia can cost $170–250)
  • Bird Cremation: $30–150 (euthanasia can cost $130–350

When cost is the driving factor in pet aftercare selection, consider donating the body to a medical school who often take care of transporting the body and handling the remains.

Aquamation Is More Environmentally-Friendly Than Cremation

In traditional, flame-based cremation heat build to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit in order to break down body tissues. This process releases harmful emissions into the environment.

On the other hand, aquamation uses much less energy than conventional cemeteries, and no toxic gases are released into the atmosphere.

Aquamation Takes Longer Than Cremation

Aquamation typically lasts between six and eight hours, but can extending to 20 hours depending on size of the animal. Cremation doesn’t normally exceed six hours.

Cremation Is Available in Most Areas but Aquamation May Not

An essential difference between the two methods is their availability. Check with local funeral homes to determine which method is available nearby this aquamation is available and where it is not. There are great resources available on the internet with all the pet cremation options available in the US.

Cremation Is Most Popular, But Still Lags Burials

In the USA, animal owners are more likely to bury their deceased pets than cremate them. Many people choose to bury their pet on their private property though this may not always be legal. It is essential to verify city and county ordinances, particularly for larger animals. 

Cremation may be easier for the mourning process and certainly doesn’t negatively impact the landscape of a back yard.

Some people attempt a “Do-it-yourself pet cremation” which isn’t recommended. While watching a pet burn may be cathartic for some, it can be traumatizing for others.

Ashe Color and Volume Differ between Cremation and Aquamation

Cremation remains often turn grey and sandy. Alternatively, aquamation produced a white uniform powder.

With aquamation, the family receives more remnants than the cremation process, approximately 20-30% more ashes.

Conclusion

Many people still do not consider aquamation because they believe that cremation and burials are the only options. If the surviving family’s seeks an eco-friendly alternative, aquamation may be the best option.

Author Bio

Dr. Rabia Khan is a Veterinarian and pet lover and FuneralFide’s Animal Aftercare Specialist. She completed her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan. Dr. Khan is continuing to deepen her knowledge with an MSc in Animal Breeding, Genetics and Reproduction from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan.