What to Do When Your Cat Dies

Get Help Dealing With the Remains If Your Pet Dies at Home

Portrait of a couple and their two cats
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When someone faces the imminent death of a terminally ill beloved cat, or when a feline companion has suddenly died, the last thing we want to think about is "disposal of the remains." Because of our reluctance to even contemplate these thoughts, we often make hasty emotional decisions that we may regret later.

People end up making choices they later regret, so it is important to plan ahead of time to handle things as smoothly as possible when you are coping with heavy emotions.

Which Disposal Options Are There?

Many methods of disposal are governed by individual state or local laws, so part of planning in advance includes investigating laws in your location. Some counties prohibit the burial of pets in backyards, for instance. Since scattering of human remains is so tightly regulated, it is doubtful that scattering of pet cremains would be legal in most areas. Here are some options to consider.

Cremation

Cremation can be arranged through your veterinarian. There are two methods:

  1. Communal Cremation: The remains of a cat are cremated along with other deceased pets, and disposed of according to law. Usually, there is no charge for this service.
  2. Individual Cremation - The remains of a cat are cremated, and the remains are returned to the cat's owner for final disposition. The charge varies, as do the costs of permanent memorial urns for pet cremains. Some people even go so far as to save the remains of their loved pets to be buried with them when they die.

    Whole Body Burial

    When it comes to burying your pet, you may have the option of burying him or her at home or in a pet cemetery.

    • At Home: This method is used regularly by grieving human survivors, who want to feel the "closure" of having a private service at home and having the remains of the lost cat close. The disadvantage of this method is threefold: First, apartment dwellers do not have private back yards. Second, in our mobile society, people often move and the kitty graveyard is left behind. Last, it is prohibited by many local and state laws, so cat owners who use this method of disposal are in danger of fines and/or jail time.
    • In a Pet Cemetery: Because of escalating land values, pet cemeteries may be difficult to find. Your veterinarian may be able to help you locate one and/or arrange for burial services. Be certain to check that the pet cemetery has set aside funds for perpetual maintenance of the burial grounds, and that deed restrictions are in place, guaranteeing that the grounds will always be used for pet burial.

    Taxidermy

    While not for everyone, some people may find immense comfort in having a permanent lifelike visual reminder of a cat they dearly loved in their homes. The price for this service usually starts at around $1,000.

    Commonly Asked Questions 

    No matter how prepared you think you are, the loss of a pet still comes as a shock, and handling the practical aspects afterward can be emotionally exhausting. Below are some common questions people ask about handling the remains of their pet:

    Will someone come to my home and take away the body? If you have a mobile veterinary clinic in your area, they may be able to accommodate your needs. Animal control services will also pick up deceased pets for a fee. However, your pet's passing will not be considered an emergency, so at night or on weekends or holidays, they may refuse to respond until the next business day.

    If there is a delay, what do I do with my cat's body? Like people, upon death, cats expel fecal matter or urine. This is not a signal that they passed in pain; when they die, the internal organs and muscles loosen, releasing waste. You may want to clean up your pet a bit after he has passed. Depending on how long you have to wait, you may be able to just wrap the body carefully in towels and place it in an appropriately sized box. If you have to wait more than two hours, or in hot weather, wrap the remains thoroughly in plastic wrap, place it in a large plastic bag, tie it closed tightly, and place it in an ice chest with ice packed all around. These details are painful to think about, and even more painful to carry out, but try to remember that your cat's essence is no longer in his body.

    Be strong, and remember that we are capable of heroic acts we never thought we could perform when called upon to do so. Your careful, respectful handling of your beloved cat's remains will serve as a testament to your love.

    When It's All Over

    When you have handled all the final details, the enormity of your loss may hit you immediately, or you may find yourself feeling numb and unable to cry. Grieving any loss is a long process, and you will never feel fully "recovered." But by understanding and recognizing the progressive stages of grief, the day will come, sooner or later, when you will be able to look back on your life together with love, and smiles instead of tears.