The loss of a pet is very difficult and may be even harder for children who don’t have a full understanding of death and may never have experienced it before. As a parent, you must be the judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet. Speak to them in an age-appropriate manner but be honest and answer any questions they may have.
Some things to remember when talking to your child about pet loss:
- Explain that death means that the body stops working and make it clear that the pet will not be coming back.
- If the animal has been put to sleep, explain that this is not the same as going to sleep at night, so that your child doesn’t develop a fear of sleep.
- If a pet is sick or dying, it can be helpful to give your child an opportunity to say goodbye.
- Be available when your child wants to speak about his/her feelings regarding the loss.
- Let your child know that you are also saddened and grieving for your pet.
- Don’t blame the vet for putting the animal down. Your child will then develop negative feelings towards veterinarians.
- Don’t immediately buy a new pet. This conveys the impression that the previous pet was replaceable. Instead, wait until your child expresses interest in a new pet.
- There are some excellent children’s books about pet loss which can provide comfort.
- Bury your pet or make a ceremony in its memory. Allow your children to plan how to say goodbye to their pet.
- Be on alert for the possibility that the death of a pet will cause the child to remember other traumatic events in his/her life. If your child is unable to function due to grief, a child psychologist should be consulted.
- Younger children may express their grief through artwork so pay attention to what your children are drawing.
- Explain to children that pets naturally live shorter lives than humans so that they don’t begin to worry about their friends and family members dying.
When you help your children cope with the death of a pet you are teaching him or her to cope with other sad events in his/her life.
Your religious beliefs can guide you about how to deal with the loss of a pet as well.