Pet Health: Aquamation – An Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Flame Cremation or Burial

Story and photos by Dr. Kellie Barrett, Kindred Spirits Pet Services
Unfortunately, all pets eventually pass away and families are faced with the decision of what to do with their beloved companion’s body. Until recently, pet owners have been limited to burying their friend in the ground or choosing flame cremation. Both processes result in a breakdown of body tissues and leave bone remains, but both also come with disadvantages for the environment. Ground burial produces methane, a greenhouse gas, and can release harmful euthanasia medications or other chemicals in the soil. These toxic substances can pose a danger to the ecosystem as they could be ingested by scavengers that might dig in the burial area. Flame cremation burns fossil fuels at 1400-1800 F° and releases greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the air.

Aquamation is a pet aftercare alternative that has no harmful greenhouse gas emissions and does not contaminate the soil or ground water. It uses no fossil fuels and uses less than 10% of the energy of traditional flame cremation. It is a water-based process known scientifically as alkaline hydrolysis and was patented more than 130 years ago. The modern technology has been in place for over 25 years and is used for both animal and human disposal in prestigious hospitals like Mayo Clinic and many other major universities across the country like UCLA and Duke University. Aquamation is approved for use in the human funeral industry in more than 20 states.

This process is essentially an accelerated version of what takes place during natural decomposition in the soil, similar to Mother Nature. The body is placed inside a stainless-steel machine designed specifically for pets.  A combination of gentle water flow, warm temperature, and alkali chemical are used to accelerate the natural process of tissue breakdown. The amount of water used during aquamation is low; about the same amount a family would use to give the pet a bath. The alkalis make up only 5% of the water solution and are the same alkalis used in cosmetic products, body washes, and even food preparation. After 18 hours, the alkali has been completely consumed and all organic material in the body is reduced to its most basic building blocks, leaving a sterile water solution and inorganic bone remains. The water solution is recycled or can be returned to nature as a liquid fertilizer containing micronutrients, amino acids and sugars that are beneficial to the environment.

After flame cremation, some pet families choose to have the “ashes” returned to them. The “ash” is actually pulverized bone fragments left behind after the other organic material is burned away. Aquamation also results in bone remains that tend to be more brittle as they contain only the bone mineral calcium phosphate. The bone remains are processed into a sand-like powder or “ash” that can be returned to the family, as with flame cremation. Aquamation can result in up to 20% more remains than flame cremation as some of the bone is destroyed and expelled into the atmosphere through incineration. The bone remains are 100% safe and free of disease, chemicals or pathogens after the aquamation process.

Pet families can use the aquamated remains to memorialize their dear friend in a variety of meaningful ways just like with cremation “ashes”. The most common methods are storing them in an urn, scattering or burying them in a special place. The powdered remains can also be mixed into soil when planting a memorial garden, tree or plant. They can be incorporated into glass jewelry or art, tattoos, paintings, ceramics or solidified into parting “stones”. The remains can be made into synthetic diamonds and even fireworks. They can be mixed with concrete for steppingstones, statues and even memorial reefs in the ocean.

Pet aquamation cost is comparable to flame cremation, which varies among crematories and veterinary clinics. Just like with cremation, pet families can choose to not have the aquamated bone remains returned to them and the pet is comingled with other pets in the machine. This is a less expensive option and can vary by pet weight. Pets can also be aquamated individually as they are placed within segregated compartments in the machine, completely separated from other pets. There is no comingling of the remains which are returned to the family in an urn or container. Individual aquamation is more costly and varies according to the size of the pet and the type of urn selected.

Aquamation is similar to flame cremation in that bone remains result from both processes that can be memorialized in a variety of ways. However, aquamation is a much slower process, more natural and gentler than incineration by fire and does not harm the environment. Pet aftercare is a choice and families can seek the best option for them.



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