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Helping Kids Cope with the Death of a Pet

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

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Our pets are family members, and losing a family member–even one with four legs–can be devastating. I know that I got ill when our cat of 21 years died. It was hard on me, my husband, and our child.

Children deal with death differently than adults. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 see death as temporary. I remember watching the Sesame Street episode where Mr. Hooper died. Big Bird was sad. Then the next day, he asked why Mr. Hooper was no longer at his store. When he was told that Mr. Hooper died, Big Bird got flustered and then mad. It was a moving show that really explained how kids that age feel about death.

Children between the ages of 5 and 9, start understanding death as permanent, and from 10 on up, children know that all living beings will eventually die. They also understand that death is final. Understanding death and accepting it are two very different things.

5 Tips on Explaining Death to a Child
1. Don’t tell a young child that you are putting an ill animal to sleep. That term is too vague, and it can make a child too afraid to go to sleep. Instead be honest. Explain why euthanasia may be the most humane option.

2. Ask your child what death and dying mean. Then as best as you can, explain it to him, and let your child know that the pet is not coming back.

3. Talk to your child, and let him know that he can talk to you about his feelings anytime. Ask him to write down his feelings or draw pictures. You may want to hold a memorial service to say goodbye, and have your child share his feelings at this ceremony.

4. Don’t hide your feelings from your child. You are grieving too. I know when my dad died I wanted to be strong around Jordon. I tried to hold it together as best as I could. I became incredibly cranky, until I finally fell apart. I think it is important for a child to see his parents cry; it actually encourages children to open up.

5. Tell you child’s teacher that the family pet died. This can clue your child’s teacher into your child’s behavior, especially if your child is acting differently.

Losing a pet is hard on everyone. The best remedies are to talk about the loss and the sadness, and to allow time for healing.

9 comments to Five Tips on Helping Kids Cope with the Loss of a Pet

  • Excellent article. I especially liked linking the maturational levels of children to how they deal with death and pet loss. If people would like more practical advice and empathy for this devastating type of loss, I would like to suggest reading the book my husband and I wrote. It’s called Saying Goodbye to Your Angel Animals. Read more at http://www.sayinggoodbyetoyourangelanimals.com. We wrote it in response to the hundreds of letters and calls we have received over the years from people who read the books in our Angel Animals series. It includes three types of memorial services that people can mix and match, depending on their spiritual beliefs and what comforts them most. We’ve been through pet loss ourselves and know how much it hurts!

  • This is a great article on a very difficult subject. Parenting can be so hard sometimes, it is great to read some different ways of coping with the death of a kids best buddy.
    The pet ash pendant portion of my glass business was actually founded on this issue. My neighbors dog died suddenly and her son was carrying around the box of ashes after the dogs cremation. They commissioned me to create a memorial that he could hang in his bedroom window or even carry i his pocket. My neighbor said she felt like they could spread their friends ashes and still keep a part of him around forever. Ole’s ashes are encapsulated in a small pendant memorial that their sons hangs in his bedroom window so he can see it first thing in the morning and before he goes to sleep each night.

  • Doug

    My wife and I had to tell our 9 year old that his pet cat died. It was horrible. Thanks for this article.

  • Marty Kaplan

    Excellent post. this is such a difficult subject. We are going to hang on to this and talk to our 12 year old because our 19 year old cat won’t be here forever. If only…

  • Joyti Cohen

    thanks for explaining a difficult subject. I am going to share this with my kids at school.

  • Prasad

    Like you, our cat has been here longer than our child. So they have a strong bond. We will keep this post handy for when the time comes. Thank you.

  • Marvin Glasser

    Have you ever thought about writing an article on pet memorials? I liked Melissa’s comments. Having a memorial is a good way to get over grieving.

  • Sam B.

    Touching and important. Thank you. It is hard for everyone suffering with the loss of a fur kid.

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