Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
If you thought that putting your dog to sleep was hard enough, picking up the ashes can be equally difficult. Many dog owners struggle with this, and it's quite understandable. Here is a bit of information so that you can be better prepared with what to expect when you pick up your dog's cremains.
When I first started working for the vet's office, it was often my job to schedule euthanasia appointments. I eventually got used to people crying over the phone when scheduling these appointments, but I must admit that the very first times I had to assist, I had to excuse myself and lock myself in the restroom as warm tears would start to flow uncontrollably down my face. It would take me a bit to regain my composure and act normal again.
Little did I know that things would be just as difficult when the dog's cremains would come in and the owners had to pick them up. Actually, to be sincere, at first I didn't even know our hospital took care of giving out the cremains.
Your Vet Is Responsible for Returning Your Pet's Cremains
I always thought this was the responsibility of the company taking care of cremation services. So the first time I was approached by a crying owner telling me: "I am here to pick up Marley," I remember acting a bit clueless as I looked up the chart that had the list of hospitalized pets. I even remembered "doing the rounds" earlier and couldn't recall any dogs going by the name of Marley. "If Marley was truly hospitalized, she must have been in pretty bad shape," I remember thinking to myself. Then, luckily my manager approached me and whispered to me: "She is here to pick up her dog's cremains; let me help you."
So I followed her and found out that just on the bottom shelf right behind my desk in the reception area there were several small boxes. "See, each box has a name tag attached. This is hers." She handed me the wood box and there I was, handing Marley's owner a small box full of her beloved dog's ashes. "I am so sorry for your loss," I whispered in a sort of unrealistic tone, a tone that in my opinion could really not do much to help ease the owner's grief. She nodded as she grasped the box and held it tightly as she exited the reception area.
Since my desk was the closest to the shelf and I worked the morning shift, I was put in charge of receiving the remains from the cremation company early in the morning, keeping them nicely organized on the shelf, and handing the cremains to clients while giving them condolences.
For many clients, grief over a deceased pet can continue well after the pet is gone, and receiving a pet’s ashes may cause emotions to overflow.
— Alice Villalobos, DVM
FAQs About Retrieving Your Dog's Ashes From the Vet
A few days after a dog was put to sleep, we had the company responsible for cremation services bring in the ashes first thing in the morning from the back door. It was my job to count and sign when I received the boxes; it was very important for them to acknowledge that somebody was responsible for receiving them, as these were people's beloved pets and these people paid for their dog's private cremations so there was to be no margin for error.
I then placed the ashes on the shelf and would start making phone calls to let the owners know that their pet's cremains had arrived. Owners were often emotional when they received these calls, but many times I would just leave a message.
Do I Have to Pick Up My Dog's Cremains Right Away?
No. There was really no time limit as to how long we would keep the ashes for them, as each person grieves differently. Some people would pick them up the same day, eager to bring their beloved dogs back home; some others would wait even several months as the whole idea just hurt too much.
It's normal to dread picking up a dog's ashes. It's a difficult time as it means coming to terms with a dog's death. Many dog owners may feel uncomfortable being around people at this time so they may opt to pick up the ashes when it's very early first thing in the morning or when the hospital is about to close. The good thing is that no appointment is needed to pick up a dog's ashes so clients can do so at their convenience.
Is It Okay If I Cry or Get Emotional?
If you are worried about getting emotional upon picking your dog's ashes, please understand that veterinary staff are used to seeing the owners crying, and often being owners themselves, they completely understand. I have met some of the most compassionate people when working at the vet's office, and many of us would also shed a tear or two at times when a pet was put to sleep.
If you are worried about crying in a public place, you can always wear sunglasses. Many people choose this option when going to funerals or picking up cremains, and it can really help a lot. In the past, women would wear veils for this purpose at funerals, but now sunglasses are quite popular for both men and women.
How Do I Ask for My Dog's Cremains?
You may also find it difficult to say what you are there for as you enter the hospital as it may sound quite surreal accepting that your dog is gone. If you have been a client for some time, chances are staff will know exactly what you are there for and they'll just hand you the box of ashes without you needing to say a word.
Many dog owners are also confused about what exactly they need to say. "I am here to pick up Molly's ashes" or "I am here for my dog's ashes" works well, but if it makes you too emotional, you can always bring another family member or friend to help you out. The friend or family member can also come in handy if you feel too emotional to drive.
Can I Ask for My Dog's Ashes to Be Given to Me in Private?
While back when I worked for the vet's office we handed the boxes of ashes in the reception area, now more and more vet's offices seem to be handing the ashes in private. I believe that this is a much better practice. Putting the client in a room away from other people picking up bags of dog food or medications seems the most sensible option to me. I don't think it hurts to ask in advance if you can be given the ashes in private.
What Do Dog Ashes Look Like After Cremation?
What do dog ashes look like after cremation? Black? Grey? White? A combination of the three? Many dog owners wonder what their dog's ashes will look like when they pick them up. The ashes are not really readily visible since, just like with human cremains, they are usually enclosed in a box along with a certificate if private cremation was chosen.
The cremation boxes come in different sizes depending on the size of the dog. In our vet's office, the boxes came in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. The ashes will be seen only if you decide to open the box.
The Box May Be Light, But the Grief Is Heavy.
I want to be honest here: When you are first handed the box, this is when you are most likely to feel emotional. Even I felt that way the first time I handed those ashes to the dog owner picking up Marley. That big, furry dog is now in this small box of sand that feels very light considering the size of the dog when it was alive.
A 50- to 80-pound dog may easily end up weighing just a little bit more than a pound once cremated. Feeling great sorrow and grief at this time is totally normal as this is when it really hits you that your dog is gone.
You Don't Have to Open the Box If You Don't Want to.
When it comes to opening the box, again, as with many different ways people grieve for their dogs, it's a personal choice. Some people don't want to look at or touch their pet's ashes for different reasons and that's OK. For those who wish to open the box, the ashes are usually contained in a sealed plastic bag.
The ashes are normally ground to a fine, uniform powder with some bits of bones, but some companies don't ground them up so they may appear more as small chips of bone rather than powder. The ashes are generally pale white in color. At times, there may be small specks of colors which derive from the minerals in the bones.
What to Do With Dog Ashes
How does it feel to bring a dog's ashes home? For some, the "fairy dust" brings a sense of closure; to others, it reopens a wound. Many dog owners report that their homes feels "homey" again now that their dog's cremains are back and their beloved dogs are back home, watching over them. But what to do with a dog's ashes once you've brought them home?
Put Them on a Mantel or Shelf Along With Photos
Many people decide to just keep the ashes in their original box or they may purchase a fancy urn and place it on a visible place such as a fireplace mantel or shelf along with pictures of the pet. Knowing that the pet's remains are always nearby can provide great comfort after the loss.
Scatter Them in a Special Place
Others decide to scatter all the cremains or a part of them in the yard, by a river, at the beach, or other favorite places where the dog loved playing or spending time exploring. Owners can invite friends and family to gather at a specific location that held special meaning for the pet.
Bury Them or Make Them Into a Keepsake
Some people decide to bury the urn so that they have a place they can go to when they need to connect with their deceased pet.
Some others may send the ashes to companies that make special artistic keepsakes such as glass or crystal sculptures containing the ashes or even diamond rings made with the dog's ashes. These gems provide a wonderful way to celebrate the life of a beloved animal and can even become family heirlooms.
“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” is a common phrase declared at funeral services. The saying delivers a fundamental message: that all of us living souls, including people and animals, are destined to return to dust. Being aware of the process and what happens upon picking the ashes up can help provide peace of mind to those mourning the loss of a loved pet.
The price we pay for loving an animal is loss.
Questions & Answers
Question: My great fears in regards to the death of my dog have always been, "How do you know whose ashes are in those boxes? Are they mixed together with previously cremated animals? How can you find out if the crematorium only cremated one pet (your pet) at a time?" I didn't make the arrangements. I couldn't, I was too distraught, so my mother handled everything. She loved him almost as much as I did and do. Can you recommend a good online support group for bereaved pet parents?
Answer: Losing a pet can be devastating. One can only ultimately trust the ethics of the company doing the cremation or attend the pet's cremation service, which can be very distressing and not all cremation companies allow this. Facebook has a support group that has helped me when my dog passed. It's called The Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss and Grief Support.
Question: How long does it take normally to get pet ashes back after being sent out for cremation?
Answer: It really depends on several factors such as location, how far out the cremation company is in cremating (those servicing several vet offices may be quite busy) and how many animals they can accommodate. When working for the vet, we used to get ashes back in three days, but when my dog was privately cremated this past summer, we got her ashes back the next day.
Question: How much does cremation cost for a small dog?
Answer: It depends on several factors such as weight of pet and whether you want a private cremation (dog is cremated individually and ashes are returned to the owner) versus a communal (pet is cremated along with others and ashes are not returned). Every place charges differently.
© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 31, 2020:
It's very difficult to pick up a pet's ashes. When I lost my dogs, we didn't have to pick up the ashes from the vet because we decided to attend our dogs' cremation service directly. Right afterwards, the ashes were given to us there. This was difficult, but it also gave closure.
The fact your cat sat next to his brother's ashes is very touching. Animals grieve just like us. Hugs to you.
Pamela Lipscomb from Charlotte, North Carolina on May 31, 2020:
I had a cat that passed and I was devastated. I dreaded picking up his ashes, but I know I needed to bring him home. I cried and talked to my old friend. I put the urn on my bed and his brother jumped on the bed and sat right next to his brother's ashes for hours. I know he also was grieving. Dang, this happened over a year ago and I still get tears in my eyes just writing about it.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 21, 2020:
Michael, I agree, investigate this as this is a grave error but it can happen sometimes.. So sorry this has happened to you. Hopefully somebody received Roxy's ashes and is looking for the ashes you received and you can just exchange.
Michael Smith on March 20, 2020:
We recently lost our dog Roxy, and had her cremated, we got the box with her ashes in it on Tuesday of this week, but I didn't open it today, on the bag inside was another dogs name.. what should I do ?
I called the vet and they said to bring the ashes back and they will try to figure out what happened to Roxy, my wife is going to be devastated.. any suggestions
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 04, 2020:
Nereyda, nothing wrong with that, we each mourn our pets in our own ways.
Nereyda E Diaz on February 03, 2020:
Its it okay to hug your pet ashes while your asleep?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 29, 2019:
Jason, that's something you will need to ask the cremation company. I know some pet owners who weren't able to pick them up for several weeks, and it wasn't a problem, not sure though about waiting a couple of years. Sorry for your loss.
Jason on June 29, 2019:
If I decided not to take my dogs ashes home with me right away, can I still get them after a couple of years?
Rhonda GUERNSEY on April 22, 2019:
I just picked up my dogs cremains and they are black chunks(looks like coal) is that normal?
Dale on January 29, 2019:
It’s now 2 weeks and I have still not got my dogs ashes back is that normal
Sue bray on June 04, 2018:
My Luke passed away Dec 3. 2014 I had him from the time he was 8 weeks old he would have been 15 years old if he had made it to Jan. 2015. I know people will think I'm crazy and that's OK. But I still sleep with his ashes on my bed, he is on top of the covers in the spot he slept in when he was herin life. I hope it is not unhealthy to do this but I just can't seem to place him somewheres els,he was my ♥. And I still grief deeply for him. I have a new baby laya she is so sweet but she has her place in my heart, and Luke still has his.
Claire doyle on July 05, 2017:
Can I have my dogs ashes sea nd back to mè
Becky V on June 13, 2017:
Last Tuesday, I had to euthanize my border collie, Butterball. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. The only comfort is knowing she is not suffering anymore from Cancer and Glaucoma and that she's now in Heaven with Jesus and my family.
Today I picked up her ashes.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 05, 2017:
Katie, sorry for your loss. Thanks for the updated prices for a dog cremation.
Katie on September 16, 2016:
I opted for cremation after putting down my 84lb Dalmatian last weekend. Her body was shutting down so we decided it was time to ease her pain. It was $220 for the 60-100lb weight range at my vets office. Her ashes came back on Wednesday. I was going to pick them up today, but my husband wants to be there to bring her home so we're going to get her tomorrow morning.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 29, 2016:
Hello Karen, back when I worked for the vet, the charge varied quite a bit, depending on the dog's weight.Generally speaking, private cremation of a dog may range anywhere between $50 to $200. I am looking at the price list I used to have for the services offered, but I think it might be even a bit more now. There is no charge for picking them up.
Karen Hellier from Georgia on August 24, 2016:
Until I read this I never even realized it was possible to have your dog cremated and then pick up the ashes. I thought that was just the end of your pet...you either take the body home to bury it or the dog is cremated and the company takes care of the remains. I have taken our dogs home and buried them in our backyard. You didn't mention how much this procedure and picking up the ashes costs. Can you give us an average figure? Thanks, and thanks for this information.
Picking Up Your Dog's Ashes Can Be Difficult - pets
Our pets are every bit a part of our family as humans are. As with any of our loved ones, when we lose a pet, we grieve our loss and we want to make sure we create a proper memorial so we can be reminded of all the joy they brought into our lives.
For some, this means cremating the pet and memorializing the ashes. If this is your choice, this guide can tell you everything you need to know about animal cremation services.
Sign That Dogs Smell Other Dogs' Ashes. For humans, ashes have no smell and we certainly can't distinguish between animal or human ashes in any way. Once a body has been reduced to ash, any scents that the body carried previously will have disappeared after the cremation has taken place.
There is some evidence that suggests that not only can dogs smell ashes, but they may also be able to differentiate between human and animal ashes, specifically a dog's ashes. There are a number of signs that you can look out for if you think your dog has been able to sniff out another dog's ashes.
End of Life Care
Coping with the impending loss of a pet is one of the most difficult experiences a pet parent will face. Whether your furry friend is approaching his golden years or has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, it’s important to calmly guide the end-of-life experience and minimize any discomfort or distress. As your pet’s health declines, you may elect to care for your pet at home—with the supervision of a veterinarian—or you may decide to end his suffering with euthanasia.
Read on to find out how to help make your pet’s final days peaceful and dignified.
Is Your Pet In Pain?
When cats and dogs are suffering, they may not show outward signs that we normally associate with pain like whimpering or crying. Sometimes an animal will continue to eat or drink in spite of pain or disorientation. Some physiological and behavioral signs that your pet might be experiencing pain include excessive panting or gasping for breath, reclusiveness, reluctance to move and food pickiness.
Caring for an Elderly Pet
The most important thing you can do for your elderly pet is to minimize any pain or distress she’s experiencing.
- Consult with your veterinarian and treat any health problems, since undiagnosed issues can cause discomfort and rapid deterioration.
- Surround her with her favorite things, like a warm blanket or special squeaky toy.
- Since pressure sores can develop in pets with limited mobility, it’s also essential to provide a warm sleeping spot with plenty of cushioning.
- Some older pets may develop incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, so be sure to check your furry friend regularly for any wetness or soiling. If your pet needs help getting up to urinate or defecate, you can purchase a sling or use a large towel to wrap under her body and assist her.
Pet Hospice Care
Pet hospice care, also known as palliative care, is an option if your pet is suffering from a terminal illness and a cure is not possible. The goal is to make a pet’s final days or weeks more pleasant with the proper use of pain medications, dietary strategies and human interaction. Pet hospice is not a place, but a personal choice and philosophy based on the principle that death is a part of life and can be dignified. When considering hospice care, pet parents should very careful not to prolong the suffering of pets who are in pain or experiencing poor quality of life.
A participating veterinarian will teach pet parents how to provide intensive home care to keep an ill pet as comfortable as possible. Hospice care requires an active commitment and constant supervision from pet parents, who work with their veterinary team to make sure their pet’s life ends comfortably. If you decide hospice care is the right course for you and your pet, you will become your pet’s primary nurse and caregiver, as well as the link between your pet and the veterinary team. Consult with your primary veterinarian and see if she recommends hospice care for your pet based on his specific needs.
Euthanasia provides a painless, peaceful end for a pet who would otherwise continue to suffer. Your veterinarian has special training to provide your pet with a humane and gentle death. During the procedure, your vet will inject your pet with a sedative followed by a special medication. The animal experiences no awareness of the end of life—the process is akin to undergoing general anesthesia for a surgical procedure and takes about 10 to 20 seconds.
Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you on when the time is right to euthanize—information from medical tests is often more accurate than what a pet owner can observe, and pet owners often delay the moment of euthanasia in anticipation of grief. Observing and keeping an accurate record of your pet in his daily activities can help you to decide. If you observe that moments of discomfort outweigh his capacity to enjoy life, it is time to euthanize, even if your pet still experiences pleasure in eating or socializing. If your pet is in pain, your main goal should be to minimize his suffering.
What to Do If Your Pet Has Died at Home
If your pet is under the care of a veterinarian at the time of his or her passing, he or she can guide you through next steps. However, if your pet dies in your home, there are options to consider. Whether you simply want the body to be removed from your home, or you wish to permanently memorialize your pet in some special way, the choice is yours.
- Depending on your decision, you may have to keep the body in your home for a short period of time. A well-cooled body can be held for up to 24 hours, but the sooner it can be taken somewhere else, the better.
- Placing the wrapped animal in a refrigerator or freezer is recommended, with one exception—if you plan to have a necropsy (autopsy) performed to determine cause of death, the body should not be frozen (refrigeration is still okay). It is essential that you contact a veterinarian as soon as possible if you would like a necropsy.
- If the animal is too big to be put into a refrigerator or freezer, the body should be placed on a cement floor or concrete slab, which is the best way to draw heat away from the carcass. Do not cover or wrap the body in this instance. Doing so will trap in heat and not allow the body temperature to cool.
- As a last resort, you may keep the body in the coldest area of your home, out of the sun, packed with bags of ice. In this case, the body should be placed in a plastic bag to prevent it from getting wet.
Pet Cremation and Burial
It is very common for pet owners to have their deceased pets cremated. You need to decide if you wish to keep your pet's ashes as a remembrance. If so, you will want to arrange an individual (or private) cremation, meaning that your pet will be cremated alone. Businesses that offer individual cremation commonly offer home pick-up/delivery of remains as part of their service packages.
Depending on local laws, it may be legal to bury an animal on your own property. It is typically illegal to bury an animal on public lands such as parks. If you desire burial for your pet but do not have land of your own, check to see if there is a pet cemetery or memorial park in your area.
If you wish to simply have your pet’s body removed from your home, consult your local government to find out if your sanitation department picks up animal remains.
Dealing with Pet Loss
There are many forms of grief that are completely normal in the wake of the loss of a beloved pet. It can help to memorialize your pet in a way that includes others who cared about him or her. Friends and family can help form a support network. If severe symptoms of grief persist, it is best to consult with your doctor about your feelings and ways to cope with this loss.
Cremains Create Moments Of Emotion
The return of a beloved pet’s ashes to the owner after cremation can be a very delicate moment.
The return of a beloved pet's ashes to the owner after cremation can be a very delicate moment.
Below is a letter from Laurel Hunt, who edited and compiled two anthologies of memorial pet poetry, “Angel Pawprints” for dogs and “Angel Whiskers” for cats, available at Amazon.com.
Having recently lost Byron, my 14-year-old springer spaniel, I had that experience of dealing with cremains again. I know what an emotionally difficult moment it is and would like you to write about it.
I remember when you were treating Marmaduke and I was silently agonizing over what to do with her body when the time came. I didn't know of any place to bury her so I had gotten as far as figuring we would have her cremated, but then what? I knew we would move from that house and I hated the thought of burying her ashes there and leaving her behind.
One afternoon you asked gently, ‘Have you thought about where you will bury her?’ I said, ’I guess we'll have her cremated, but I don't know what to do with the ashes.”
You said, You don't have to do anything with the ashes. I have all my pets' ashes in a cupboard. When I go, they will go with me.’
Those words were so freeing for me, the idea that I didn't have to do anything, that I could keep the ashes with me. As it happened, we later buried Marmaduke and Molly's ashes in the casket with Chester, at Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, which was a wonderful solution.
When I was taking Marmaduke for treatments at your clinic, I noticed the little cardboard boxes on shelves in the reception area. I never asked, but I figured they contained pets' ashes. When Molly died, she was cremated and I knew I had to go pick up the ashes from your clinic.
For a couple of months I couldn't bring myself to pick them up. Then I began feeling guilty about leaving them there for so long. I didn't know how to go about picking them up–did I need to make an appointment, or just show up and ask for them? It would be good to explain the whole process to clients when they decide on cremation.
Finally I called, and the receptionist said just to come at my convenience. When I got there, they put me in an exam room and one of your staff–a new woman vet–came in with the box. I burst into tears at the sight of my big, beautiful dog reduced to a box of sand. Even though I had had a couple of months to absorb the loss, it brought it up all over again.
The vet handled it beautifully. She asked a few questions about Molly, got me to talking about her, and reassured me that I had given Molly a wonderful life. Then she suggested that I create some sort of memorial, such as planting a rose bush. I felt understood and validated. It was very comforting.
Since then, I have moved to another state. When I recently went to pick up Byron's ashes, I knew it would be hard but again, I didn't know quite what to expect. I called and told them I was coming. When I got there the receptionist asked me to have a seat in the reception area, which was empty at the time. She went into the back.
I thought she was checking on an exam room to use. But then, as I am sitting there flipping through a magazine, she comes out with a little white shopping bag in her hand and says, "Here's Byron." I burst into tears and she and the other receptionist did try to comfort me and were very compassionate. I don't know if handing me the ashes would have been done in private if there had been other clients in the waiting area I would certainly hope so.
It is truly the moment that it hits you that your pet is gone forever, and this moment needs to be handled with great sensitivity and in private if possible.
It is true–we don’t have an instruction book to tell us how to return a beloved pet’s ashes to family members. Anyone operating on the old utilitarian perspective for pets or with “cheerful efficiency” during moments that require compassion and sincerity would come off as harsh and insensitive, as Laurel so eloquently stated in her letter.
The best way to create positive feelings during delicate moments, such as handling cremains, is to train your staff to openly communicate compassion and understanding of the human-animal bond.
Teach staff to say something like, “We know that you loved Byron very much and that you will always miss him. We understand that seeing his ashes in this box might make you feel very emotional. We know that he was very special to you. The human-animal bond that you shared with Byron will always be part of your life.”
Teach your staff to ask questions about the deceased pet so that the family member can find comfort in talking about the good old days for a few moments. There is no wake for pets or supportive services surrounding euthanasia and very little social support during pet loss.
Pet hospitals are places that should expertly and openly offer condolences and pet loss guidance for grieving clientele.
Teach your staff to end this delicate conversation with optimism. They might say something like this:
“We will miss seeing you and Byron. We are looking forward to when you feel like forming a new attachment, maybe for a homeless pet. We would love to see you back in the love cycle of the human-animal bond.”