End-of-Life Alternative | Alkaline Hydrolysis

The following is an excerpt from an article in Trends Magazine written by Kent A. Kruse, DVM.  To see the full article CLICK HERE.

The recently published 2016 AAHA/IAAHPC End-of-Life Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats is an excellent and thorough reference for veterinary healthcare team members. As pets enter the end-of-life stage, owner caregivers depend heavily on the compassionate treatment and advice that can be best provided by veterinarians and their team members. This advice is particularly important to alleviate concern about the treatment of their pet’s body after the pet has died.

Certainly, veterinarians have considerable knowledge and experience about burial and flame cremation. But because alkaline hydrolysis (AH) has only recently become commercially available for pets, this alternative to cremation may be unknown to pet owners. This article is intended to provide veterinary team members sufficient background information to confidently discuss the AH alternative with grieving clients.

What Is It?

Aquamation is one of several brand names for the scientific process known as alkaline hydrolysis. As applied to the treatment of pet remains, AH is the acceleration of the natural body decomposition through a combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity.

The process reduces the body to its basic building blocks (amino acids, small peptides, sugars, and salts) dissolved in water. The only solid remains are the mineral ash of the bones. The AH process mimics tissue degradation, which occurs naturally when bodies are buried in the earth and subjected to the effects of insects and soil bacteria. In addition to the treatment of pet remains, AH has other potential applications, such as the disposal of laboratory tissue from research and diagnostic laboratories and for the treatment of contaminated large animal or fowl carcasses when highly infectious disease entities are either suspected or confirmed.


The first US patent for the AH process was issued in 1888, but the patent for the first commercial “tissue digesters” was not issued until 1994. The first units were installed in medical colleges and research facilities, including veterinary diagnostic laboratories. Because the AH process destroys all infectivity of viral and bacterial entities within tissue, digester units quickly began to be installed and utilized in a variety of research and medical centers in the United States, Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Europe, and Canada. By 2003, a total of 29 such units had been installed worldwide and were fully functioning. By 2006, more than 60 digesters had been installed in various veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the United States alone, according to Joseph Wilson, CEO of Bio-Response Solutions.

In 2005, the Mayo Clinic installed the first single-body, human AH system to be put into commercial operation. In 2008, the first unit for pet end-of-life purposes was installed at a pet crematory in Ohio.

As a result of the success of the Mayo Clinic operation, individuals within the funeral industry began to take notice, and in 2010, a Columbus, Ohio, funeral home installed the first AH commercial unit for funeral use. Presently, the AH process for funeral disposition has been approved for the after-life treatment of human remains in 15 states and 3 Canadian provinces. AH is under regulatory review by the departments of health in other states as well. For human use by institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and for pet and institutional applications, the AH process is allowed in all 50 states and Canadian provinces, Wilson says. 

To continue reading the article, please CLICK HERE.