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Why are my dogs ashes black?

Why Are Some Cremated Ashes Different Colors?

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Whether you’ve already picked up a loved one’s cremains or you’re preparing for that day, you might be wondering what to expect. You might have noticed, or you might have heard, that cremated ashes can appear different in color from person to person. But why would that be?

Jump ahead to these sections:

  • Are Cremated Ashes Actually Different Colors?
  • What Causes Ashes to Turn Different Colors?

Below, you’ll discover whether cremated ashes can really appear different in color and consistency. You’ll also read about why that might occur and how the science of cremation can affect your remains.

Tip: If you’re looking for something very unique to hold a loved one’s ashes (think a game, their motorcycle, or instrument of choice), you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.

Are Cremated Ashes Actually Different Colors?

Yes, cremated ashes range in color from light gray or pasty white to dark gray or gray-brown.

If you receive cremains of any color within the gray-to-beige color range, you can rest assured that everything is as it should be. If you receive cremains outside of this normal range, you might want to ask your cremation service why that is.

Aside from their color, cremated ashes also vary in other aspects, including their weight and coarseness. The average weight of cremated ashes for a human is about five pounds, but you might receive more or less depending on your loved one’s age and height.

The texture of cremains is typically uniform but coarse, like sand on the beach. And just like sand, cremated ashes can be slightly coarser or finer.

» MORE: Your family has 500 hours of work to do after you die. Learn how to make it easier.

What Causes Ashes to Turn Different Colors?

We’re all made up of the same basic skeletal structure, so why would cremated ashes range in color?

The cremation process

First, it’s essential to understand how cremation works . Here’s a quick review:

  1. The funeral home places your loved one’s remains in a cremation casket or container, which must consist only of wood, wicker, or other fully-combustible materials (no metal or plastic).
  2. The cremation technician places the remains in a special crematorium unit called a retort, where it’s exposed to direct flames at temperatures of up to 2100 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three hours.
  3. After cremation in the retort, the body isn’t yet reduced to ashes. Instead, there remains a mixture of dust, bone fragments, and metal debris, such as dental implants. The crematorium staff first removes the metal debris and then gathers up the dust and bone fragments.
  4. The bone fragments are ground into a uniform “ash” consistency.
  5. Finally, the “ashes” are transferred to an urn or container and given to the family.

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Understanding “ashes”

In the above breakdown of cremation, you might have noticed the word “ashes” in quotation marks. That’s because cremated remains aren’t entirely ashes. They might appear that way, but most of the content of cremains is the result of the grinding that takes place after cremation in the retort.

This is important when it comes to the color of ashes because many people assume that “ash” is always dark grey or even black. But when we’re talking about remains, we’re mainly talking about processed bone fragments.

Light vs. dark ashes

The critical difference in color between different cremains is between light and dark. Some ashes might be pearly white, while others are a dark, dusty gray. Now that we’ve gone over the cremation process and what ashes are made of, we can look at why that is.

Chemical composition

First, the color of cremated remains depends on the chemical components present in every human body.

The human body is made up mainly of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. It also contains calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, magnesium, and other trace elements.

Some elements, like oxygen and hydrogen (which together form water), are found mainly in the organs and the blood. Others, like calcium and phosphorous, are primarily found in the bones.

The composition of cremains is mainly calcium and phosphorous. That’s because most of those other elements “boil away” as the body reaches high temps during cremation.

The bones become brittle and easy to grind down into “ashes” once the chemical bonds within them are weakened. Most importantly, phosphorous and calcium change color, from light to dark, and back to light, based on temperature. This process is explained more in detail below.


As mentioned above, an ideal cremation temperature is upwards of 2100 degrees Fahrenheit. As the body approaches that scorching temp, it goes through several changes:

  • At approximately 572 degrees, the organic components in bone begin to carbonize, turning black or dusty brown.
  • As the temperature reaches around 1400 degrees, the bones become darker black.
  • At more than 1472 degrees, the calcium and phosphorus in the bones changes to light gray or white (depending on how long they remain at that temperature.

But if cremation technicians use the same temperatures for everyone, why do some cremains come out lighter or darker than others? In short, it’s because the temperature of a cremation retort depends on the size of the person inside.

A larger individual with a higher body-to-bone ratio will often have darker ashes than a thin individual with dense bones. The retort’s temperature fluctuates based on how large the individual is inside, and people with more adipose tissue (fat) or muscle require higher temperatures and more time in the retort to achieve the same results.

Cremation technicians often raise the temperature of the retort and give the body more time accordingly. But sometimes, the bone fragments still don’t reach the required temperature, for the required period of time, to achieve a lighter white color.

» MORE: Everyone’s life is worth celebrating. These tools keep their memory close.

Alkaline hydrolysis (flameless cremation) ashes

Another factor that greatly affects the color of your loved one’s ashes is whether you chose standard cremation (as discussed above) or flameless cremation.

Flameless cremation is growing in popularity as an alternative, “green” method of final disposition. However, most cremation processes still involve high temperatures and a cremation retort.

If you choose alkaline hydrolysis cremation, the bone fragments and remains don’t go through the same chemical changes described above.

Rather than changing from light to dark and back to the light, the remains stay very close in color to their original shade. The remains you get back are typically white to creamy tan.

Does Cremation Ash Color Matter?

You might be wondering, does it matter whether my loved one’s ashes are light in color or dark? The good news is that no, the color of your loved one’s ashes doesn’t really matter. That is, it doesn’t affect how your cremation service treated your loved one throughout the cremation process.

Even if you were expecting white ashes and received dark gray ones, they still consist of the same cremains either way. And both light and dark ashes are equally safe to scatter or do whatever you have planned . You can even have a memorial diamond created from ashes with a company like Eterneva or turn your loved one’s ashes into natural stones with Parting Stone.


  1. “10 Things You Don’t Know About Cremains: Our Experts Explain.” Cremation,can%20be%20gray%20at%20times.
  2. Rubin, Gail. “The Composition of Human Cremated Remains.” A Good Goodbye. 10 June 2015.

Answers to Important Questions About Dog Urns and Ashes

Dogs are family and when they pass it can be a time of high stress and strong emotions. Also, because this isn’t something that happens to often, many people have questions about what to do next and what type of dog urn or memorial to get. In this blog, we help answer some of the most common and important questions veterinarians receive about dog urns.

dog urns size

What size urn do I need for my dog?

As a general rule of thumb, the cubic inch volume of the urn should equal the dog’s weight (in pounds). For example, if your dog weighed 30 pounds, you need to find an urn that is 30 cubic inches or larger. If your dog was 90 pounds, you need to find an urn that is at least 90 cubic inches.

Also, rather than just getting a single urn, many families will opt for a series of smaller urns and to divide up the pet ashes among family members or scattering at different locations. For example, for a 100 pound dog, you can choose to get four 25 cubic inch keepsake urns to divide up the ashes.

Where should I put my dog’s urn?

There are many places to put your dog’s urn and it depends on the type of urn your choose. A traditional wood, ceramic, or metal urn can be placed at a special place indoors, a biodegradable urn can be buried outdoors, or a scattering urn can be kept indoors until you are ready to scatter, among many other options.

How much does it cost to get my dog cremated?

The average cost of a dog cremation ranges from $30 for a small dog in a communal cremation up to $300 for a large sized dog in a private cremation. There are many reasons for this large variance in cost. One of the main reasons is the size of the dog – the larger the dog, the longer it takes to cremate so pet crematoriums need to dedicate the cremation chamber to that dog for a longer period of time. Another main factor is the type of cremation – communal cremations includes cremating multiple pets at one time in the same chamber and is much cheaper than private cremations, which only includes your pet. Another factor determining the cost includes the location of the pet crematorium – in general, pet cremations cost more in areas with higher rent and labor costs.

Do I really get my dog’s ashes back?

Getting your dog’s ashes back depends on the type of cremation you choose. You can choose a private cremation and request to get your dog’s ashes back, a lower cost communal cremation and ask to get a portion of the ashes back from this process (which would include your dog and others), or choose to have your pet cremated and not get your ashes back (in this case, many pet crematoriums scatter the ashes at a place of their choosing).

In addition, if you prefer to get your dog’s ashes back, it’s important to ask questions and make sure the veterinarian or pet cremation provider you’re working with follows processes and procedures to identify your pet throughout the cremation process.

How long will it take to get my dog’s ashes back?

You can typically get your dog’s ashes back 1 to 5 days after your dog passes. This range depends if you’re working directly with the pet crematorium (which can speed things up) or the veterinarian (which can take a bit longer), if there is any backlog at the pet crematorium when your dog passes, and the time of year (some crematoriums close during the holidays). If you want to get your dog’s ashes back sooner than later, it’s important to ask your veterinarian or pet cremation provider the time it will take before you agree to do the cremation with them.

Do microchips survive cremation?

A microchip will not survive cremation. If it is not removed before the cremation is performed, it will be incinerated as part of the cremation process.

In order to identify the remains, many pet crematoriums include a steel ID tag with your dog that will stay with them through the cremation process. After the cremation is performed, many pet crematoriums will clean the tag and include it with the bag holding your pet’s cremated remains.

How long do dog ashes last?

Dog ashes do not decompose or dissolve – the will last as long as you will be alive. The ashes are non-toxic and there are many beautiful memorials to do with your dog’s ashes – you can bury them in the ground with a permanent urn or a biodegradable urn, include them with a Living Urn pet tree burial planting system, include them in an indoor urn inside the home, or scatter them at a special place, among many other options. If you bury them in the earth or scatter them, the ashes will be mixed with the natural environment.

What color are dog ashes?

Dog ashes are typically a greyish white color and there can also be black, red, yellow, orange and red pigments present. Many times the pigments are a result of a dog’s diet. If you opted to have your dog cremated with aquamation, the resulting ashes will typically be white.

Can my dog’s ashes be buried with me?

For most states, it is not illegal to have your pet’s ashes buried with you, however it’s always recommended to check with your local county or city offices to find out if any restrictions exist where you live.

Many people choose to combine their pet’s ashes with theirs in a traditional urn in the home or in a biodegradable urn to grow a tree, scatter, or simply be buried in the ground. If you prefer to be buried with your pet in a more traditional cemetery or memorial park, it is important that you first check with the location — many have separate areas for pets and people, while other more progressive cemeteries are now allowing people to be buried with the ashes of their beloved four-legged family members.

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