How to explain the death of a pet to children
The problem with pets is that they simply do not live long enough. Unfortunately, the simple truth is that our furry companions will not survive for as long as most of us, even though we wish and hope that they could. It is hard enough for us as adults to comprehend the death of a pet that is a family member in our eyes.
Losing a pet is hard for anyone, but it’s an especially difficult concept for a young child to grasp. That can make it pretty hard for you to help them deal with the death of a pet – how do you break the news? There is no right way to tell a child that a family pet has passed away. Each child is different and will respond differently. During this difficult time, we’ve listed some tips below to help you have the hard conversation for your furry friend has crossed the rainbow bridge.
- Prepare them beforehand. When a pet is getting old or has an illness, consider talking about the possibilities of your pet passing away in the near future, and encourage your child to enjoy the time remaining with their companion. When an animal needs to be euthanised, explain that the Veterinarian has done everything to help your animal but now it is time to take your animals pain away. You can always use this as an opportunity to explain ‘dog years’ and how they are much shorter compared to ‘human years’.
- If a pets death is sudden, explain truthfully and calmly what has happened. Never twist the truth that your pet has run away or been taken, as it may give your child false hope that the animal will soon return or that you should go looking for the pet.
- Be there, we think it is extremely important to be there for your children in their time of mourning no matter their age, explain to them that it is completely normal to feel a range of emotions.
- Stick to the facts. Try to give your child an age-appropriate explanation of what happened. Simply state the facts: Fido was struck by a car, or had cancer and had to be euthanised, or died of old age. You don’t need to share the details, just tell your child what she needs to know: “Fido died. We’re very sad that we won’t see him anymore.” A curious child may want to know more, so you might consider explaining that when animals get very old or very sick, their bodies stop working.
- Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. It’s okay to be sad or mad about the death of a pet and make sure your child knows that. Don’t be surprised if your child isn’t as upset as you are, especially if they are young. They may not have grasped the concept of death or never being able to play with their pet again.
- If you’ve made the difficult decision to euthanise your pet, be honest. Consider it an opportunity to talk to your child about grief. Be sure to let them say goodbye if they want to, making sure they understand their pet won’t be coming home.
- Share your grief about the death of a pet. Learning how to deal with sad feelings is an important lesson for young children, so let them see that you’re sad too. (After all, teaching your little one about compassion and empathy is one of the benefits of having a pet at all.)
- Memorialise your pet. Sometimes it can be helpful for a child to say goodbye after losing a pet, to hold a simple ceremony to honour their pet’s life or by drawing a picture. Encourage this — and help them remember the good times, either by looking at photos or telling stories about the pet’s antics.
- After losing a pet, take a break before getting a new one. Give your family time to grieve before bringing another animal into your lives. If you do decide to get another pet, let your child know that it’s okay to still feel sad about the old pet and that they can be excited about their new four-legged friend.
One more thing to keep in mind when losing a pet: Expect all sorts of behaviour — some children may not do well with change, especially sudden ones. Your child might act out, be extra cranky, or have trouble sleeping when their much-loved kitty or pooch dies. They might get super-clingy — after all, if a pet can die, so can the people they love. Help them adjust by being extra patient and reassuring.