Pet Burial Laws

The Realities You Should Consider Before Burying a Pet

Most people are familiar with the time-honored "funeral flush" used to dispose of a child's dead goldfish via the toilet, but what laws govern the removal or disposal of larger pets?

There are legal realities you should consider following the death of your beloved pet dog, cat, bird, snake, gerbil, hamster, or any other furry, finned, or feathered non-human companion. These include whether it's legal to bury a dead pet in your backyard or on some other property you legally own.

People burying pet
Ryan McVay / Photodisc / Getty Images

Rising Regulation

The inexorable growth of human population over time, whether in existing or newly developed areas, inevitably results in the need for more rules and regulations governing the increasing complexity of the actions and social interactions of the people living in any given community.

While you or your parents might fondly recall shooting fireworks in your yard on July 4th, or trick-or-treating on Halloween, many local communities now dictate if, when, and how these activities may legally occur. The same is true concerning the action of burying a dead pet in your backyard or on any property you legally own.

For many reasons, including your personal safety, the well-being of others, environmental and other concerns, many local and/or state governments now regulate if/when/how you can bury the remains of your beloved pet in your backyard or on any property you legally own.

Do not assume that burying the body of your beloved pet in your backyard or on some other property you own is legal.

Laws Vary Significantly

The laws and regulations governing the removal or disposal of your pet, and whether it's legal to bury a dead pet on your property, can differ by state, county or municipality. Therefore, before attempting a pet burial on land you legally own, you should fully research and understand all laws pertaining to your property.

The laws governing the disposal of dead animals in Washington state not only specify what constitutes a "dead animal" (fish and other primarily aquatic animals are not included), but also dictates how quickly the pet's owner, or the owner of the property on which the dead animal is found, must properly dispose of the corpse (within 72 hours).

This Washington state law also mandates not only the approved methods owners can use for a dead pet's/livestock's final bodily disposition (such as landfilling, incineration, composting, rendering, burial, or some other approved form) but, in the case of burial, specifies how/where residents may legally bury their animals.

Among other requirements, a minimum of 91.44 centimeters (3 feet) of soil, covering "every part" of the animal, is required, and the burial spot must be more than 30.48 meters (100 feet) "from any well, spring, stream or other surface waters."

In Michigan, residents generally must dispose of dead pets/animals "not intended for human food" far more quickly (within 24 hours), but may legally bury animals at the less-backbreaking depth of (at least) 60.96 centimeters (2 feet) under the ground's "natural surface."

Among other requirements, Michigan law also stipulates that residents must separate individual animal gravesites by a minimum of 76.2 centimeters (2.5 feet).

Missouri's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which regulates the disposal of dead pets, livestock, and other animals, considers these remains "solid waste" and views on-site burial as the least-desirable option due to the risk of water pollution.

Those who insist on burying a pet on their property might still encounter difficulties complying with state law, however, because the Missouri DNR also requires the following, among other things, for such burial sites:

  • At least 15.24 meters (50 feet) from property lines
  • At least 91.44 meters (300 feet) from an existing neighboring residence
  • At least 91.44 meters (300 feet) from any wells, surface water intake structures, public drinking water-supply lakes, springs, or sinkholes

There is significant variance among the laws and regulations governing the burial of a dead pet or animal on private property. Before attempting a pet burial, you should fully research and understand all laws pertaining to your property.

A Word From Verywell

If you've experienced the death of your beloved pet and wonder if you can legally bury it in your backyard or on some other property you legally own, the reality is that you might find it difficult to comply with the laws governing pet burial in your state, county or municipality.

While nothing will likely prevent you at the time from burying your deceased pet on your private property, all it can take is one complaint from a neighbor to local authorities to trigger monetary fines and/or imprisonment for violating your local law.

You might want to consider other options, such as burial in a pet cemetery, cremating your pet, or creating a pet memorial on your property.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fox Rothschild LLP. Animal law update. Updated July 15, 2019.

  2. Washington State Legislature. WAC 246-203-121 disposal of dead animals. Updated August 5, 2007.

  3. Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. Transporting and disposal of dead animals.

  4. Fulhage CD. Dead animal disposal laws in Missouri. Extension University of Missouri. Updated November 2018.

By Chris Raymond
Chris Raymond is an expert on funerals, grief, and end-of-life issues, as well as the former editor of the world’s most widely read magazine for funeral directors.