Pet Death - Helping Your Child
Cope With Grief

By Jenny Jackson

For many children the death of their pet will be their first experience of death or loss. Children today often have a particularly significant relationship with their pets as families are smaller and both parents may work outside the home, leaving children to spend more time alone, with the family pet taking the role of daily companion. 

Suffering Grief from the Loss of Your Pet?


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For many children, a pet can be a source of comfort and a supportive, uncritical friend, always available to listen. Pets often give children a valuable sense of self-worth because they will not judge or make children feel inadequate. Children frequently describe their pets as a best friend or sibling.

Reactions to grief

How a child responds to losing a pet really depends on the intensity of their bond, as well as the child's maturity and circumstances surrounding the loss. Children tend to show grief in spurts and for longer periods than adults. Children often show their grief in less direct ways than adults. One day they will seem fine and the next day they may show that they are feeling pain. Children may try to get closeness, care, information, reassurance and support from adults.

Even the most sensitive adult may feel uncomfortable discussing death, loss and grief with children. Parents often want to protect children from pain by shielding them from painful experiences, particularly if the pet will be euthanized. Children are often excluded from the decision to spare them the guilt associated with such a difficult choice.

What you can do

  • Ensure that your child can express their feelings safely without judgment. Depending on your child's age and maturity, feelings can be expressed through play, water play, writing a letter, a story, a poem, painting or drawing.
  • Give clear and honest information to your child in a way that they can understand. Children need to know what is happening even if they don't ask.
  • Allow your child time to talk, ask questions and share their worries with a caring adult. They might be very confused and need to ask lots of questions. If you can't talk about it, find another adult who is close to your child who can. If children can't talk to you about the loss, they might feel that it is not safe to talk about it at all and so continue to have muddled and scary feelings. You may have to answer the same question over and over as your child learns to understand what has happened.
  • If the child is acting angrily or withdrawing, try to make times to talk, without pushing for answers. If it continues, talk to a health professional.
  • Be honest. If you don't tell them what has happened, you may prevent them from dealing with the loss and grieving. This can cause problems when they have other losses in their lives.
  • Consider letting your child's teacher or childcare worker know if you think they will be sensitive. Teachers and friends at school can help to support your child.
  • Although you may feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to share your sadness. It may help your child to see that their own feelings are normal. Learning to cope with the death of a pet may make it easier to deal with other losses, which are a natural part of life.
  • Allow times for extra closeness and comfort.

Shortly after the loss, the pain may outweigh the pleasurable memories of having a pet. Once the pain has diminished, you and your child may feel ready to become attached to a new pet. Your child may feel guilty about replacing the pet that has gone, perhaps worrying that they might forget about that pet. Grief is essentially about wanting to maintain a connection with someone who has died. There are many healthy ways to maintain this connection. Your child may feel better if they keep the pet's collar or put a framed photo on display.



You are welcome to reproduce this article on your pet or family related web site, as long as you reproduce the article in full, including this resource box and link to which features photo and video galleries of beautiful cats. You'll find cute kittens, different breeds and funny cat videos.

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