Explaining the Death of a Pet to Your Children

For many children, losing a pet is their first experience with death. While this loss is a devastating time for all members of the family, it can be particularly hard for young children to comprehend why their beloved friend is no longer there, and processing their feelings can be difficult. 

We’re here to help your family navigate this tough adjustment period. Below, we’ve put together some tips to help you explain the death of a pet to your children and how to help them cope with the loss. 

Be Honest With Them

As parents, we always want to shield our children from pain, so you might be tempted to sugarcoat what’s happening, as a way to “protect” your kids. But, children are often more perceptive than we realize and it’s better to take an honest approach. 

For example, instead of telling your kids that their pet is off “visiting a friend,” explain to them that their furry friend was in pain and that the kindest thing to do was to stop the pain and let him die peacefully. 

Along those same lines, avoid using euphemisms like “put to sleep,” which can cause more confusion for kids. Instead, make it clear that their pet’s body no longer works and they won’t come back. But, emphasize that the pet is not suffering and feels no pain. 

Answer Any Questions They Have

This is an understandably confusing time for your children. If they feel comfortable asking you questions about death or what happened to their pet, sit down with them and answer them honestly. 

You can provide details based on the specific questions they ask. For instance, if they ask about what happens to the pet’s body after they die, you can explain more about the cremation process and get their feedback about how they might want to honor the pet or what they’d like to do with the ashes. 

Prepare Them if Your Pet Is Sick

We’re not always able to predict when a pet is going to pass, but if you have a senior or very ill pet, it’s a good idea to help prepare your children for what might happen. If your pet has a serious illness, you can also point back to this as you’re explaining the death to your child. 

For example, if your pet was having trouble breathing before it died, after the death, you can remind your child of how your pet was struggling and that they are now at peace. 

Encourage Them to Express Their Feelings

Death is a confusing time for children and they might not know how to process what they’re feeling. Remind your child that it’s completely normal to feel sad or confused as they process their grief. 

You can explain to them that you are also sad and remind them that crying is also a normal grief response. For kids that are a bit older, you might encourage them to write down their thoughts, even if they don’t want to share those thoughts out loud. 

You can also buy age-appropriate books about pet death to read together to help them better understand what they’re feeling. 

Include Your Child in the Memorial Process

When thinking about how to memorialize your beloved pet, make sure to get your kids involved. They can help you scatter ashes in your dog’s favorite spot in the yard, for instance. Or, they can help pick out an urn to hold your pet’s remains. 

Letting them feel involved can go a long way in helping them process their grief and express their feelings. 

We’re Here to Help You Navigate This Difficult Time

No two kids will process the death of a pet the same way, but we hope these tips help you navigate this difficult time with a bit more ease. If you haven’t already, we recommend creating a Pet Tale to share more about your furry friend, and get your children to help share their favorite memories and pictures. 

We’re here for you as you process this loss.