How to explain pet loss to children
©VetFolio LLC and Vetstream Ltd. Created and peer-reviewed by VetFolio LLC and Vetstream Ltd.
Pets are often treasured members of the family, and we mourn for them when they die. When your child is attached to a pet that dies or is euthanased, it is important to recognise his or her feelings of loss and help your child express those feelings.
The human-animal bond
The human-animal bond is increasingly recognised as a powerful and unique relationship. This bond offers much-needed comfort and companionship in our hectic lives, and can improve our mood and even our blood pressure. When our beloved animals die or are euthanased, it is important to recognise our feelings of bereavement and to express them. Families often have a pet for a number of years, so children grow up with the pet as part of the family. Unfortunately, dogs and cats usually live for only 10 to 15 years and smaller animals usually live for fewer years, so a child may lose a few pets before reaching adulthood. Recognising the importance of the pet in your child's life and preparing your child for the loss are crucial to helping your child cope with grief.
What to say when a pet dies
Children are often very attached to the family pet, so loss of a pet can be very traumatic for a child. Honesty is the best policy when explaining a pet's death to your child, but you should use language appropriate for your child's age. Your child wants to understand what happened, so use simple terms; however, do not say that the pet "was put to sleep" because your child may become afraid to sleep. Your child needs time to grieve and may want to memorialise the pet by making a scrapbook or having a memorial service. Talk with your vet about obtaining your pet's ashes and burying them, and ask about other memorials that your vet may offer, such as making a paw print for a keepsake that your child may treasure. To help your child focus on happy memories, share funny stories about your pet and frame a picture of your child with your pet.
Where can I get help?
Talk with your vet about ways to help your child cope. It may be helpful for your vet to talk with your child. It is important for parents to inform school officials that their child has lost a pet. If your child shows behavioural changes or signs of depression, your child may need to talk with a professional counsellor.
Veterinary schools may offer a pet-loss support hotline and support groups for small animal owners experiencing the loss of a pet. Several good sources of information on pet loss are also available on the internet.
What to do when a pet dies
- Honesty is the best policy when explaining a pet's death to your child, but use language appropriate for your child's age.
- Memorialise the pet by making a scrapbook or having a memorial service.
- Talk with your vet about obtaining your pet's ashes and burying them.
- Ask your vet about memorials that he or she may offer, such as making a paw print as a keepsake for your child.
- To help your child focus on happy memories, share funny stories about your pet and frame a picture of your child with your pet.