Would You Donate Your Dog’s Body to a Vet Education Program?

Two puppies with microscope and stethoscope.
Two puppies with microscope and stethoscope. Photography © gurinaleksandr | iStock.

The passing of a cherished pet is something every pet owner dreads, and yet it’s something most of us have to face eventually, whether due to terminal illness, serious injury or just old age. When your dog crosses the rainbow bridge, your vet will ask you what you want to do with his body. Usually, you can choose to bury him at home or in a pet cemetery, or to have his remains cremated. But what you might not know is that sometimes a third option is available. Some dog owners, looking to make sense of the worst day of their lives, choose to donate the body of their beloved dog to a veterinary educational program, taking some comfort in the fact that even in death, their dogs can help other pets.

Such programs, which are called educational memorial programs or willed body programs, and are modeled after human cadaver donation programs, are offered at several veterinary universities in the United States. If you live close to a veterinary university, you might consider inquiring about the possibility of donating your dog’s body to help train the veterinary students of tomorrow.

Why should you donate your dog’s body?

A sick, older dog lying on the floor.
We you ever donate your dog’s body to a vet school? Photography ©stonena7 | Thinkstock.

“I think the main reason owners donate their pets to educational memorial programs is that they find comfort in knowing their pet helped train the next generation of animal caregivers, which in turn provides benefits to other pets in the future,” says Lili Duda, MBE, VMD, BA, clinical professor of radiation oncology and coordinator of the Educational Memorial Program at University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Similar to the way donated cadavers are used in human medical school, donated pets are used for educational purposes, not for medical research. “There are many lifelike models that veterinary students use to practice skills before they perform them on live animals, but none have the same educational value as donated cadavers,” Dr. Duda says. “Donated cadavers offer increased learning opportunities and a more realistic learning experience.”

How do you donate your late dog’s remains?

Depending on the university you live near, each program might vary somewhat, but typically you must make donation arrangements ahead of time, so this is something to consider before your pet passes on. Some schools allow you to arrange to donate directly to them if your pet is treated at their hospital; others have you work with your veterinarian to arrange a donation. There also might be a limit on how far away you live from the university.

“Each school has its own guidelines and procedures,” Dr. Duda explains. “When a pet is euthanized at Penn Vet, donation to the EMP is one of several options offered to the pet owner for disposition of the remains. In general, pets must be current on their rabies vaccinations and not thought to have any zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases that can be transmitted to people).”

Do you still receive your dog’s ashes after he is cremated?

Something else to consider is whether you would like to have your pet’s ashes returned to you after cremation. When you donate the body, this is sometimes not an option. “Remains donated to the EMP [at Penn Vet] are used for instruction only and are cremated once training is complete; however, it is not possible to return the pet’s ashes,” Dr. Duda says. “For owners who want this option, individual cremation may be a better choice. For owners who want to know more about their pet’s medical condition, an autopsy [called a necropsy in animals] may be a better choice [than body donation].” Some programs, such as the one at Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, Pomona, California, can return cremains for small and medium-sized pets (under 55 pounds).

The following schools offer some type of donation program:

  1. Oregon State
  2. Tufts
  3. Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, Pomona, California
  4. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia. For information, call 215-898-4680.

Tell us: What do you think? Would you donate your dog’s body to science?

Thumbnail: Photography © gurinaleksandr | iStock.

Read more about dog health on Dogster.com:

19 thoughts on “Would You Donate Your Dog’s Body to a Vet Education Program?”

  1. There is no way I would do this. I do not trust that my pet would be treated with respect. This is not the right option for my four-legged family member. I’d rather take the remains from the vet to the local crematory so that I know that the cremains I’m getting belong to my pet. I knew someone whose vet “lost” their pet’s remains. It was bad enough that her pet died. But then the vet took no responsibility for losing the remains. So I only trust myself to make sure that my pet gets taken to the crematory and cremated. I don’t trust the vet’s office to do it.

  2. I wish this was all over. I would love to donate my dog’s remains but I live too far from all the places that do research.
    I think just like Donate For Life, donating your pet is a wonderful idea. The more research that can be done, the longer someone could have their pet maybe.

  3. I would love to find somewhere here in illinois that would do this. However i can seem to find anything unfortunately. The effort to further the treatment of this horrible disease is appreciated. Our diagnosis just came two days ago, so the countdown clock has started.

  4. As a health care professional, I would definitely do this. Actually I was looking for a place to take my elderly dog who also is having mobility issues along with incontinence. I know that in my field of medicine, progress doesn’t happen without the help of kind people who donate their remains. If I can help save another animals life by donating my wonderful pet, it is all worth it. There are programs through the park department where you can have a tree planted or a bench and they put a plaque up to commemorate your pet.

  5. Why would if be so difficult to return the ashes to the owner who has donated a beloved dogs’ body for research? The article says the ashes are returned after the studies are complete only if the dog weighs under 55 pounds. Is it such a big deal to ship them ? What if the owner elects to pay for the shipping?

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi there Joan,

      Thanks for reaching out! We suggest contacting one of the programs you are interested in. They can provide answers to your questions based on the specific program.

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  8. Not me, not for any amount of money would I donate my loved companion and friend. My dogs or dogs would never do that to me so I owe them the same. With all of the dogs being put to sleep in every state, why should there be a shortage of doners,?
    using dogs that have no owner or loved one would prevent an owner from thinking later on maybe I did the wrong thing. While I feel wonderful things may come from this type of program, I would like to think the strays put to sleep would make for better donors. I bury and or cremate my great companions and true friends.

    1. People are not putting their healthy dogs to sleep. My dog is 14 and has cancer. She is at the point where she can’t eat and can’t walk for very long without falling over. I was researching this option because there is a lot to learn from her. She has 2 types of cancer and several other tumors that vet students could benefit from learning how to remove or study.
      Its selfish to not even consider it an option. We have 2 other dogs that are healthy and some day when they are old and sick we might do that but I would not do that to them now while they are healthy and not suffering from a cancer that is going to end their life.
      We have ashes from 4 previous anamals that have died. Never thought about it then when they died suddenly at home.

  9. Not me, not for any amount of money would I donate my loved companion and friend. My dogs or dogs would never do that to me so I owe them the same. With all of the dogs being put to sleep in every state, why should there be a shortage of doners,?
    using dogs that have no owner or loved one would prevent an owner from thinking later on maybe I did the wrong thing. While I feel wonderful things may come from this type of program, I would like to think the strays put to sleep would make for better donors.

  10. My sheltie is almost 14 now and losing weight rapidly. She has trouble walking sometimes and sometimes she has a hard time standing up. I know this is probably her last winter, and I would donate her body if I knew it is possible in Canada.

  11. Many years ago I had a miniature Poodle who in her later years had seizures which left her laying stretched out rigid on the floor in her urine and sometimes feces. After finding her twice this way when I came home from work, I had her euthanized and the vet sent her body for autopsy. Months later I received a letter from Cornell Vet University thanking me for donating her body for research. I am glad I did that to help other animals.

  12. I think it is good that body donation is an option. For myself, it was important to bring my boy home. Even though he was older, his death was unexpected. It might not make sense to some, but having his paw print and his ashes with me gave some comfort.

    1. Mary,
      If the facility guaranteed a return of the paw print, fur clippings and some of your pets ashes, would you be more likely to participate

  13. Thanks a lot for giving this option some publicity; to be honest, I’d not thought of it before but this is something well worth attention.

    As hard as it is to lose a loved one, there is some small comfort knowing there is a potentially large contribution for so many others’ benefit.

  14. I just lost my 16.8 year old Norwegian Elkhound mix 3 weeks ago today, she had suspected cancer and I couldn’t bare to put her through the stressful tests to confirm anything. I do wonder if that was the right choice, if I should have tried to find out more but she could no longer walk, she couldn’t even hold herself up when laying down. It all happened so suddenly, in November at her last appointment she had lost 12lbs in 4 months despite eating her whole amount of food and me trying to add extra meat, eggs and such. She could still walk but not stand up on her own and sit herself up at that point in time. I had decided than it was time to consider end of life and just almost a month later after doing really well she went downhill. December 22 I held her close and told her I’d see her again. I had no idea there was a body donation option for anyone living close to a veterinary training hospital, I’m 4 hours away from the closest one, but I did private cremation with a cast of her paw print and I brought her home. I think, for me personally, that was the best option I’m not sure I could stand not getting her back and moving her with me to the new house. I’ve got teeth from when she’s lost them over the years, I’ve got clumps of hair and even leftover food from her last bowl and medication bottles that she had just finished. I suppose that can be strange to some and I’ve heard it from a few people actually. I also know there are people who find it’s easier to not hold on to anything and I think it all just deepens on what works for you. I can commend the people who donate their precious fur babies for science, education and hopefully someday a cure to everything.

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