When A Pet Dies: What To Say
Children can create strong bonds with pets. In fact, it is said that majority of young children consider theirs pet as their best friends. However, whether due to an illness, an accident or simply old age: our animal companions pass away. This natural process of life and death can introduce children to a very sad and complicated situation.
Adults naturally understand more about how to deal with the grief that comes with the death of an animal. For this reason, it is our responsibility, as adults, to communicate the death of an animal to our children in the best possible way. We have to make sure we approach such a situation in a calm manner, avoiding lies or hiding bad news. If you want to know how to talk to kids about the death of a pet, take a look at our AnimalWised article for some tips.
When a pet dies: prepare a child for a pet's death
When your dog or cat dies, it usually involves a severe process of mourning. After the death of a pet, it is normal to experience emotions of deep sadness and pain. If possible, we recommend pre-preparing for such a situation, especially if you have children. If your pet is suffering from a terminal illness and is showing signs indicating possible death, it is your responsibility to prepare your children for your animal’s death.
In the same way as adults do, children can better deal with the news of death if they expect it and are prepared. Here are some steps you can follow:
- Talk about the your pet’s health: what may seem obvious to many, not be as easy for your child to recognize. Tactfully and sensitively tell your child that their pet is ill and does not have much time to live. At first, it might be a shock, but it will allow them time to process what is happening and prepare for the future pain.
- Speak about the reality of death as a natural process: the cycle of life is a natural phenomenon, it can be sad and prove to be a difficult pill to swallow, but to deal with loss it is best to talk calmly about its unavoidable reality.
- Take advantage of your animal’s last days: Instead of spending your pet’s final moments in mourning, try and enjoy your last moments together. Make sure that your animal is receiving the love and care it needs in this difficult moment.
To prepare a child for the death of their dog, cat or other pet, it is important to know for sure that your pet is going to die. In order to check for symptoms, take a look at our article on: is my dog dying? or How to tell your cat is dying.
Either way, if you suspect that your pet is seriously ill, it is essential to consult your veterinarian and get your animal checked to analyze whether there are any possible solutions to their illness.
When a pet dies: how to tell child about death of pet
Although many parents prefer to hide the truth and sometimes invent an elaborate fable to explain the death of a pet to their children, we discourage this. Below, we offer you the most effective advice from psychologists on how to tell a child about the death of a pet:
1. Be sincere
It is very important not to lie to your children or kids, do not tell them, for example, that their pet has: ‘‘run away.’’
Despite the fact that death causes deep pain, it cannot be ignored as a reality. Unfortunately, it will be something that our children will have to deal with and understand sooner or later. When telling a child about the death of an animal, we recommend doing this in a safe and intimate space, at the right time. We also suggest being sincere and honest with a child, this sincerity will give them the opportunity to slowly accept this phase of the animal’s life.
2. Express your our feelings
A child may not express their feelings correctly because they do not know how to deal with such loss. If they cannot see that you, as their parent for example, is also in pain: they might assume that they to have to hide their feelings.
Crying or expressing feelings of grief and pain is not something negative or embarrassing, and a child should know that. Tell your child that you too feel sad, this way they will feel that they are not alone.
3. Answer their doubts
If a child has never experienced the death of a loved one before, they may have some doubts and questions. Allow for a healthy comforting conversation, where a child feels free to clear any possible doubts they may have.
5. Do not replace a pet with another
Many parents also choose to adopt a puppy, cat or any other animal: to supplant the loss caused by the death of their pet. This option is not only ineffective but also involves treating animals as interchangeable objects. If your pet has died, it is important to: go through the relevant grieving process, communicate the death of your dog or cat to the child and re-adopt only when the time is right.
When a pet dies: child psychology
It is possible that this will be the first time your/a child faces the concept of the death of an animal, or anything for that matter. The process of childhood grief is different to that of adults. Dr. Abigail Marks, a psychologist specializing in childhood grief, tells us that a child's pain is more oscillating: the sadness can last a while, they might cry for a few minutes, return to play and then start crying again.
A study conducted by Joshua Russell  in 2016 discovered that very young children describe the loss of their first pet as one of the most painful moments they remember. However, that same study revealed that boys and girls are able to rationalize the death of an animal in an effective way, through emotional intelligence.
While it is true that you should always be there for a child, especially when they are sad, it is also important to give them space to take time and comprehend what is happening. Children are all different and will therefore express their pain differently. If you notice that a child’s process of grief is lasting an extended period of time, they could be experiencing pathological grief. In this case, we recommend psychological therapy as an effective solution.
What to do when a pet dies?
The loss of an animal is a hard blow for the whole family.
Your responsibility as an adult, in this case, will be to communicate to the child about the death of your pet, explain that it is a way of life, remain sincere, and be there for them. If the child sees that, as a reference person, you accept the loss and move on, it is very likely that they will simulate that behavior. In addition, this experience will serve as a tool for overcoming future losses or similar experiences.
In short, the loss of an animal is a hard and very sad process for anyone to experience. However, if you learn how to explain to a child about the death of a pet, not only will you be teaching them about life, but they will also inevitable become stronger in such experiences.
If your pet dies, it is also very important that you call the registrar to inform them about the death. For more information, take a look at our article on; what to do if your dog dies.
If you want to read similar articles to When A Pet Dies: What To Say, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.
- Russell, J. (2017). 'Everything has to die one day:'children’s explorations of the meanings of death in human-animal-nature relationships. Environmental Education Research, 23(1), 75-90.