Talking to Children About the Death of a Pet

Pets bring joy, happiness and love to children and adults alike, from fish to the family dog children learn valuable lessons about properly taking care of a pet to the responsibility of having a pet. However, the day sadly comes when the beloved family pet passes away. As tempting as it may be to replace the pet with another, children learn another valuable lesson from their pet passing away, how to deal with loss.

When talking to children about the death of a pet, choose the right time to have the talk. Discussing the death of a pet right before school or bedtime might not be the best time. Chose a time to talk to your child when you can be fully focused on the conversation and available to answer any questions that they may have.

It is important that you choose your language appropriately based on your audience. When talking to children about the death of a pet, try to avoid using the wording “fell asleep,” children may associate this with themselves their mother father etc. The thought that these people may also fall asleep and not wake up, it can be scary for them. Play the conversation through before having it, how will you word it, what questions may be asked, etc. A few common phrases to use when talking to children about the death of their pet “I’m sad to tell you that our cat/dog… died,” “His/Her heart stopped beating,” “His/Her lungs stopped breathing,” “His/Her body does not work anymore.” Be honest and matter-of-fact. Give brief and simple answers to their questions; only answer the questions asked when talking to your children about the death of a pet. It is generally an easier way for children to learn about death than losing a family member, friend, etc.

Read a book to your children about death. There are lots a book out there that are age-appropriate. Keep in mind that while you might understand the concept of death, children normally do not. They are grieving in their own way; children could experience some anxiety about the loss of their pet.

Children can memorialize their pet; this is very therapeutic and encourages the child to express their feelings. They can draw pictures, write in a journal, or scrapbook some of their favourite pictures. Another good way for children to memorialize their pet is to plant a special tree or shrub that will keep growing for years to come. If the family pet that passed is a smaller pet, the children could decorate a box for the pet to be buried in.

Talk about your previously deceased family pet often and with lots of love, share memories of the good times with your children this will help.

If you have any questions, give us a call at 613.542.7337.

Written by: Shannon Knox, Clinic Manager

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