Layne has worked in veterinary medicine for almost 10 years and is a licensed veterinary technician.
Aquamation: An Alternative to Burial and Cremation
From pet parent to pet parent (or guardian), my heart goes out to you. If you are faced with having to plan for the passing of your beloved friend, whether your best friend is a horse, dog, cat, rabbit, or bird, I know what you are going through.
I recently learned about an eco-friendly alternative to cremation that is more natural, more dignified, and better for the planet. This process is called aquamation, and it is already being used in medical settings. Many advanced veterinary practices or major cities are already incorporating or offering this service to clients, but let's learn about aquamation and why it is an excellent alternative to cremation.
What Is Aquamation?
Aquamation is a natural process that involves the decomposition of biological material in a gentle but accelerated manner. Whereas “aquamation” is the commercial term for the process, this method is more appropriately referred to as alkaline hydrolysis.
How Does It Work?
Alkaline hydrolysis is created using the flow of water, select temperatures, and alkalinity. These factors create the perfect conditions for “accelerated,” natural decomposition of organic material, much like with burial, but within the span of 20–24 hours.
For a better understanding, think of human digestion. The very food that you eat is digested via alkaline hydrolysis in your intestines. This is how your body receives proper nutrition. It's a natural biological process.
According to Peaceful Pets Aquamation (Vancouver, WA), Mayo Clinic, UCLA, and Duke have already been using this technology for the sterile decomposition of biological matter.
Why Is It Green or Earth-Friendly?
Aquamation is a green, earth-friendly process (compared to incineration). Whereas cremation emits carbon and greenhouse gases, aquamation is said to only have 1/10th of an impact on the environment. Peaceful Pets Aquamation states the following:
“[Aquamation] uses one-twentieth of the energy, cutting natural gas use and carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent and electricity by 66 percent. It is also mercury-free. Think about this: The amount of energy a crematory uses to incinerate a cat would heat your house for three days in minus-15-degree weather.”
How Much Is It to Cremate Your Pet? (Dog, Cat, or Horse)
The prices depend on pickup (can add 90+ dollars; weekends are more expensive), whether or not you choose to purchase a fancy urn (30 dollars to upwards of 300 dollars), and whether you intend to bury your animal (500+).
- Dog Cremation: $50–300 (euthanasia can cost $150–300 based on location and size)
- Cat Cremation: $50-150 (euthanasia can cost $30–70 based on location and size)
- Horse Cremation: $600–1000+ for a 1,000-pound horse (euthanasia can cost $170–250 based on location and size)
What Is the Cremation Process for a Pet Like?
As a veterinary medical professional, I’ve witnessed both euthanasia and post-care processes. In most vet clinics, the process is as follows:
- Your pet is humanely euthanized
- A paw impression may be made
- Your veterinarian or a contracted service collects your pet
- Your animal is bagged and stored in a freezer (alternates with step 3)
- Your animal is cremated
- Your animal is returned to you
Note: You can choose from group cremation or individual cremation (more expensive) depending on available funds.
What Is a Good Alternative to Cremation?
Alkaline hydrolysis has been adapted to accommodate companion animals, and many funeral homes are now offering aquamation for pets because cremation rates are costly and on the rise. Bio-Response Solutions Inc. is one such provider of these machines and sells units to funeral homes, hospitals, and veterinary clinics. Aquamation machines (specifically the PET-400 alkaline hydrolysis machine, Bio-Response Solutions, Inc.) cost around 70,000 dollars and can hold 400 pounds or approximately 14 animals.
How Aquamation Works
What Is the Process Like?
The detailed process is as follows: Diluted (in water) potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide is circulated through a stainless steel chamber that contains your pet. 24 hours later, the body is decomposed and the bones are collected and reduced into the consistency of sand. Here is a more detailed order of events:
- Animals are collected in a refrigerated van or animals are dropped off by clients
- A paw print is made (clay or ink)
- Animals are placed inside the 3 x 7-foot machine (14 pets total/400 pounds). Small pets (e.g. birds and hamsters) get placed in bags.
- After 20 hours of processing (chemicals circulating in stainless steel), the chemicals are neutralized and drained. All that remains is calcium phosphate (sterile).
- Some veterinarians take the green process even further and use the water for fertilizer and eco-oriented purposes (full circle!).
How Much Does Aquamation Cost?
- Prices often start as low as $69 and may go all the way up to $350+.
It’s hard to track how many people are cremating, burying, or using aquamation to process their deceased pets. That is because these industries are not regulated by the government.
Is It Legal to Bury Your Pet?
Many people choose to bury their pet on their private property. It's important to know your city or county's laws as some areas restrict individuals from burying larger animals in their back yard (it should be mentioned that some people do it anyways). Many people who own property choose to place their beloved pet in biodegradable materials or lay them directly in the ground and plant a rose bush or headstone on top as a marker.
What About Pet Cemeteries?
The best bet is to talk to your local veterinarian for a recommendation of pet cemeteries nearby that would be suitable for your beloved companion. Prices are often higher for burial in designated plots of land, but this method is a legal method.
Where Can You Scatter Your Pet's Ashes?
Generally, scattering ashes on private property is legal per the owner's permission. Some areas will allow the scattering of pet ashes in bodies of water so long as prior approval was granted. Many national parks and state or government-managed parks prohibit the scattering of ashes in bodies of water but allow for the scattering of pet ashes into the "wind." Just be sure to do your research before proceeding. According to rootedpet.com, you can use the following methods:
- Casting: Releasing the ashes downwind
- Trenching: Digging a small hole and burying
- Ringing: Creating a ring of the ashes
- Raking: Raking the ashes into the ground
- A biodegradable urn: A green method of containing the ashes but allowing them to biodegrade
- Scattering: Releasing the ashes into water or similar
- Sending ashes to space: Per rootedpet.com, this can cost roughly $2,000+!
There's No Right Way to Grieve
Losing a pet is hard. Remember that whatever method you choose, you are doing the right thing for you and your companion. Know that your pet understands no matter what your financial restrictions are. It's love that counts. Do what is most reasonable and keep your pet's memory alive in your heart (most important of all!).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 03, 2019:
Liz—I agree. The first time I read about it was in a local nature magazine up in Washington/U.S. I then encountered it again recently and felt it was well worth writing about. I hope it gains popularity too. Gentle for the Earth and gentle for the body!
Liz Westwood from UK on June 03, 2019:
I had not heard of this process before. It sounds like a good alternative to the other options. It will be interesting to see how it gains in popularity over the next few years.
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 01, 2019:
Thanks so much for the read Lora! I'm glad you agree with the importance of green alternatives. I find it to be much more gentle and respectful than the thought of incineration. I wish I had known about it for a beloved family member of mine at the time—we went for cremation. I'm hoping that the prices for aquamation stay affordable for individuals since the process requires less energy.
Lora Hollings on May 31, 2019:
A very interesting article on aquamation, Layne. In this day and age with the looming threats of climate change and this option now becoming available in most veterinary clinics and hospitals, I think it’s a very good choice. Even for humans, this is now becoming available. Washington now allows this option. And it is much better for the environment than cremation too. Thanks for this very informative article that pet owners definitely need to be aware of.