Helping children with the death of a pet

Published 7:49 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

A child’s first experience with death is often the loss of a pet. This can be a traumatic experience, but it’s also a time to learn to cope with the grief and pain that comes with losing someone who brought them love and happiness.

Some parents try to spare their child by not talking about the pet’s death or by not honestly dealing with what has happened. Pretending that the animal ran away, or “went to sleep” can make a child feel even more confused, frightened and betrayed when the truth is finally learned. It’s better to tell the truth and provide opportunities to grieve.

If the decision is euthanasia for the pet, explain the process and why it’s necessary. Help them understand that the pet is suffering and that this is a way to stop the pain. Explain that the process is quick and painless, and being done for the right reasons.

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And make sure your child understands that it’s okay to feel sad, but that there’s no reason to feel guilty, thinking it’s their fault that the pet has to be put to sleep.

If the decision is for euthanasia, give your child the opportunity to spend some personal time with the pet and say goodbye in their own special way.

After a pet’s death, children should be allowed to grieve. Let your children see that you, too, are sad over the pet’s death. If don’t feel the sense of loss as strongly as your children, respect their grief and allow them to express their feelings openly. Don’t make them feel guilty or ashamed about their sadness.

Grief doesn’t have a time limit. For children, as for adults, it’s a personal thing. However, some special activities can help soften the grieving process. Holding a funeral or a memorial service for the deceased pet can allow children to openly express feelings and help process the loss. You may also want to give the child a chance to create a memorial of the pet, such as a special photograph.

And don’t rush out and get a “replacement” pet. Doing so doesn’t allow a child to grieve the loss being felt, and can teach that even something like death can be overcome by buying a replacement.

Losing a beloved pet is always difficult. Allow and help your children to process that loss and learn to cope with this certainty of life.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at