AVMA providing guidance on handling of pet remains

Published on August 30, 2017

The AVMA has adopted a policy and is creating educational materials to provide guidance to veterinarians on the handling of companion animal remains.

On July 21, the AVMA House of Delegates approved a resolution establishing the new policy "Handling of Companion Animal Remains." The forthcoming educational materials will advise veterinarians on the sensitive handling of pets' remains and selection of suitable vendors for services such as cremation, burial, and animal memorials.

Emily Patterson-Kane, PhD, an animal welfare scientist with the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, said fraud has sometimes occurred in the cremation of human and animal remains because crematoriums are not always well-monitored or -regulated. According to the statement about the resolution, "The AVMA has been monitoring reports about fraud and other improper handling of companion animal remains." There are concerns about whether cremations of individual companion animals are being properly performed in all cases, and reports exist of dumped animal remains that were traced back to deceased pets sent for proper disposal.

The new policy reads as follows:

Handling of Companion Animal Remains

Veterinarians should recognize that an owner's attachment to an animal extends beyond death and that the sensitive handling of animal remains is an important aspect of veterinary practice. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians:

  • Encourage prior planning so that owners are aware of their options and can easily communicate their preferences.
  • Be aware of all legal restrictions relating to the disposition of remains and counsel owners accordingly.
  • Handle remains in a sensitive manner such that is not unnecessarily disturbing to the owner or any other person with a valid reason to see the remains and that provides adequate containment of the remains.
  • Use trustworthy service providers for postmortem care or interment of remains.
  • If receiving remains following cremation, inspect remains upon receipt from service provider to verify the requested services have been properly executed.

The educational materials will show veterinarians how to identify vendors for services such as cremation, burial, or animal memorials by direct assessment of vendors or checking whether vendors belong to a professional association and participate in a valid certification program. According to the statement about the resolution, "These materials will assist veterinarians by outlining a simple vendor selection and review process they can implement to protect their reputation from being damaged by working with a vendor that is fraudulent or disrespectful to their clients."