For many of us, pets are more than loyal companions—they are vital members of our families. And when a beloved pet passes, your child will look to you for answers. The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death; as a parent, it is your first opportunity to help your child work through the grieving process and learn how to cope with the pain that comes with the loss of a loved one.
Explaining Pet Loss to Your Child
Many parents wish to protect their children from the pain of pet loss by avoiding the topic altogether, or softening the truth. Although it may seem kinder to say that the family pet “ran away” or “went to sleep,” these explanations can often confuse or frighten children further. Depending on the cause of your pet’s passing and your child’s age and maturity level, you may want to share the painful news in different ways.
If your pet suffers from a chronic, debilitating illness, or is very old, you may want to tell your child that your pet will pass peacefully without experiencing pain or fear, and that letting the pet go is the most loving way to take away his or her pain. If your pet’s death was sudden or unexpected, briefly explain what happened, and allow your child’s questions and concerns about pet loss determine how much information you share.
After you explain the loss of a pet, your child may still feel frightened or confused. It is important that you reassure your child that he or she was not responsible for the pet’s death, and that it is healthy and natural to grieve.
Sharing the Grief
As a parent, you may feel obligated to be strong for your child and conceal your feelings. While it can be important to be your child’s “rock,” showing how you feel and talking about your emotions is a good way to teach your child how to cope with the grief that accompanies pet loss. Be open—share stories and fond memories of your pet, and remind your child that it’s perfectly natural to feel sad when you lose a loved one.
Remembering Your Pet
One of the best ways to help your child cope with pet loss is to allow him or her to create a memorial of the pet. A special photograph, a plaster cast of your pet’s paw print, or a scrapbook are wonderful ways to help your child celebrate the joyful life of your pet. If you choose to have a burial or memorial service, allow your child the opportunity to express his or her feelings openly and be a part of the ceremony.
Paws, Whiskers & Wags: Your Pet Crematory
The staff of Paws, Whiskers & Wags strives to give grieving families the reassurance that the last choice they make for their pet is the right one. Our facility is available 24 hours a day by phone at (404) 609-1072, and we offer counseling services to help bereaved pet owners cope with pet loss.