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My mother has lost a few cats in the last year, and mine aren't getting any younger. Suffice to say, end-of-life planning has been on my mind.

The problem is... I don't want to have them cremated; I feel that deliberately destroying their bodies isn't respectful. (For similar reasons, I don't want to have them taxidermied.) I'd also somewhat prefer to take some steps to stave off decomposition, though e.g. mummification seems a bit extreme.

I also don't want to feel that I'm "not letting go"... but neither do I want to bury them in the yard or even in a local cemetary (my current residence doesn't have much in the way of emotional attachment and I almost certainly won't be staying here indefinitely).

What I'd like to do is either preserve them somehow such that I can set them aside until such time as I find a more satisfactory "permanent resting place".

Is there such a thing as embalming pets? Are there other ways to preserve a body without destroying most of it? (Encasing them in artificial amber or something similar? Irradiating in a sealed container? I'd consider formaldehyde, but I'd prefer something less fragile.)


I don't think it's productive to nitpick what "respectful" means. The purpose of this SE is to be useful to many people; if we sit here debating what it means to me, that will limit answers and limit this question's usefulness to others. Please just reply with alternatives (ones that are practical in the US — and not outrageously expensive; say, $5,000 or less — are preferred). The whole point is to know what options exist.

That said, here are some examples that are definitely not what I want:

  • Cremation (immediate and total destruction of the body)
  • "Sky burial" / leaving the body to be eaten by scavengers
  • Taxidermy (oh so many reasons...)

Please refer back to the bold text above; methods that accomplish that objective are probably on the right track.

p.s. No, the body does not need to remain viewable.

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    I don't really want to open that can of worms, but what is or isn't "respectful" varies a lot between different people and cultures. I would suggest concentrating on the objective criteria that are acceptable to you. Does the entire body have to stay intact or is it acceptable to remove certain organs that decompose first? Is it ok to keep the remains invisible (like in an urn) or do you want to be able to see them? If you want to see them, in what condition should they be? Both mummification and formaldehyde drastically change the appearance of a body.
    – Elmy
    Feb 4 at 8:20
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    Could you please edit your post so that your definition of “respectfully” becomes clearer? As it stands, I’m afraid it’s opinion-based, which would make this post off topic. If you would prefer to do a back-and-forth of ideas, join us in Pets Chat.
    – Stephie
    Feb 4 at 13:51
  • When a friend's mother died, he had a bench with an inscription built at her favorite hiking overlook. Everyone who hiked there got the pleasure of resting there and remembering her or someone else. I hope you can find a way to memorialize the pet without spending a lot of money that could be donated to a shelter, and that wouldn't take a huge amount of time that could be spent volunteering at a shelter. And that is still satisfying to you. Maybe travel somewhere warm-ish where you can have the pet's body contribute to the circle of life? Feb 5 at 19:56

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Even though you've stated that cremation is not what you want, maybe the following option might appeal to you, as it is neither keeping an urn around nor dispersing or burying the ashes.

Ashes from cremation can be added to clay, and pottery be used to preserve the body "in one piece" that way.

The resulting object could then be used for a classic burial, or even serve as a headstone which is also holding the remains, but you will always be able to retrieve and move it with you should your residence change or a better spot for burial becomes available.

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The respectful way to part with your pet is to have a plan for what you will do when the time comes.

As I read your question, you are looking for a way to store the dead body of your friend; this is, as I see it, the opposite of treating your pet in a respectful way.

There is no way you can avoid dealing with the loss of your pet at some time in the future, so why not make the plans now when you have the time to prepare what you need to do?

I know this answer might look insensitive, but I have lost many pets during my life and I miss them every single day; planning for what to do is the last thing you want to do on top of the sadness of losing your pet.

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  • There is no way you can avoid dealing with the loss of your pet at some time in the future - well, he could die himself before, either intentionally or by accident.
    – Haukinger
    Feb 6 at 17:32
  • I suppose you're entitled to your opinion. Still, this is almost exactly the opposite of answering the question. In fact, "have a plan" might as well be restating the question.
    – Matthew
    Feb 7 at 15:20
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While the question itself is quite subjective, I believe the body of the question is not. It asks how to preserve the body of a pet until a more permanent arrangement is made.

Our beloved college cat died at the beginning of the pandemic and we asked the vet to keep it in morgue for more than a year before we can decide on what to do. The morgue apparently had a suitable facility which basically froze the animal enough so that it will not rot (but not a cryogenic chamber, which would be insanely expensive). You can explore similar options, you can even froze it yourself if you are willing to buy a freezer for that purpose.

However, personally, I would be more inclined to bury it, maybe with a coffin so that I can replace it if a better resting place becomes available.

As a final point, procuring enough formaldehyde to dip a cat in might alert local law enforcement officers, because it is not something an average citizen does. If you plan to go with this route, I suggest you also consult a lawyer.

I hope this helps

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  • Part of my goal is to be able to relocate / [re]bury a body and not a puddle of decomposed matter. But you're on the right track, +1. (Incidentally, I did decide on a method; going to wait a few days yet and see if anyone else mentions it. Apparently it isn't very well known... Here's a hint: the first step is the same as you did!)
    – Matthew
    Feb 7 at 16:15
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I'm going to post this as a somewhat-exhaustive survey of what options I've found, along with brief commentary where I think each stands with respect to the stated goal. I'm also going to focus on preservation, as that seems to be the thrust of the question. Methods of burial are more-or-less orthogonal, likely to be highly subjective, and less likely to need enumeration.

Cremation

Should be self evident.

Pros: Inexpensive. Remains are essentially stable and can be subsequently used in many ways.

Cons: Typically involves immediate and almost total destruction of the body. (Might be possible to get the bones back intact.)

Liquid Suspension

The body is submerged in a preservative fluid, preferably formaldehyde. As I understand it, however, while this method may preserve a body for years, it isn't very "permanent". It's also likely to be extremely awkward for a number of reasons. Overall, not recommended.

Embalming

The body is injected with formaldehyde, displacing blood. Particular organs are punctured to allow outgassing, and some may be removed. While this procedure is likely possible, it is not widely practiced, and finding a mortician may be difficult. (However, any human mortician is a potential candidate.)

Pros: Allegedly inexpensive (~$500). The body is largely preserved.

Cons: Decay is slowed but not halted; this is probably only suitable if the body is to be buried "soon".

Mummification

The body is subjected to various processes, ultimately resulting in complete desiccation. Organs are typically removed and treated separately.

Pros: If done correctly, the body will be at least partly preserved for a very long time (thousands of years).

Cons: Very expensive (>$20,000), and organizations to do this are virtually non-existent.

Freeze-Drying

The body is placed in a very cold, very low humidity environment which allows moisture to slowly sublimate out. The end result is a sterile body that can be handled at room temperature, allegedly indefinitely. (Moisture is to be avoided.) Similar in a sense to taxidermy, and potential providers are likely to also be traditional taxidermists.

Pros: Modestly priced (~$1,000-$2,000). Most or all of the animal's own body is preserved (some sources mention removal of some of the entrails).

Cons: Takes a very long time (6-9 months, possibly more if the provider is backlogged).


My take-away advice? Ask your vet to freeze the body. They'll probably do so for free or at least a negligible cost, and this will allow time to consider options. Freezing is essentially immaterial if you wind up opting for cremation after all, or simply burying the body without additional preservation, and is already the first step in freeze-drying. This approach will give time to consider and/or make arrangements while keeping most options open.

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