Helping children deal with the death of a pet


For many children, the loss of a pet is often the first time they experience death. It can bring with it a range of intense feelings as they try to cope with the loss of a companion who has brought happiness and joy to them, often for their whole lives.

Some children will feel anger and may blame themselves for the death, or blame an adult in the household. This is an entirely natural reaction as they try to process the death. Children may also project the death onto other relationships worrying about what might happen to other pets or even members of the family.

How parents deal with the death can have a significant effect on how children cope in the short- and medium-term. For example, shielding children from the death by pretending the animal ‘fell asleep’ can make the situation worse, particularly once they find out the truth and the sense of betrayal that brings.

Instead it is much better to be honest with children, allowing them to grieve in their own way and at their own pace, a philosophy which underlines our four guiding principles for helping children cope with the loss of a pet:

Show your emotions: if you are feeling sad and upset at the loss of a pet, do not hide your feelings from your children. Your emotions will demonstrate that it is normal and healthy for everyone to express how they’re feeling.

Reassure, reassure, reassure: children can often feel guilty for the death of a pet and you should reassure them they are not to blame. You should also reassure them that the death of a pet does not mean you are likely to die.

Involve children in the process: if you are going to choose euthanasia, make sure you involve the children in the decision. Explain to them the circumstances and why you feel this is the best decision for your pet. Allow them to spend extra time with the pet and say goodbye. If you are planning a funeral, then allow them to help with the planning.

Create a memory: encourage your child to remember the good times they had with the pet, rather than trying to forget them. It might be an idea to create a memento to preserve the memory – something like a photo of a particularly happy time or a painting of the pet.

Lastly, think hard before you get another pet. Some children may feel disloyal if another pet arrives too soon; others may not bond with the newcomer. It’s also possible that, inadvertently, you might signal that a death can be overcome by simple replacement.