According to a 2021 nationwide survey by FuneralFide, 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.
According to the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC), the use of aquamation for pet aftercare has been increasing steadily in recent years. In 2011, only 1% of pet cemeteries and crematories in the United States offered aquamation services, but by 2019, that number had risen to 23%. Additionally, a survey conducted by the IAOPCC in 2020 found that 57% of pet aftercare facilities in the US are considering adding aquamation to their services.
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
If you are a mourning pet owner, you may be interested in learning about an alternative option to traditional fire-based pet cremations, known as pet aquamation. This is a water-based alternative that is becoming more popular among pet aftercare specialists and animal hospitals.
Aquamation uses an alkaline bath containing soil salt to break down the body of the deceased pet naturally. The process is also known as alkaline hydrolysis, water cremation, or bio cremation. Essentially, the pet’s body is placed in a container and then submerged in the alkaline solution. The container is then heated, and the solution and body are circulated for several hours, causing the body to break down completely.
After the process is complete, the pet’s remains are returned to their owner in an urn, which can be either biodegradable or traditional. The urn can be used to keep the pet’s ashes or can be buried if desired.
One benefit of pet aquamation is that it is an environmentally friendly option. It does not produce harmful emissions and does not require the use of fossil fuels. It is also a gentle process that is respectful to the pet’s body.
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 Cost for Pets
Aquamation for pets costs more than cremation. Prices may start as low as $70 and can exceed $350.
Lots of equipment is needed, and that’s why funeral homes charge a lot to cover the cost of the equipment they use.
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.
Some estimates suggest that cremation releases approximately 540 pounds of carbon dioxide per pet, while aquamation releases only about 32 pounds of carbon dioxide. This means that aquamation releases significantly fewer greenhouse gases and is a more sustainable option for pet aftercare.
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.
Additionally, the equipment used for aquamation is larger and more complex than that used for cremation, which also contributes to the longer processing time.
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.
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.
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.