Emma, at the Seattle Animal Shelter
Image via Wikipedia

We recently lost our beloved cat, Scamper. We still miss him terribly and it was very hard on the kids as they became so attached to him like a fellow family member.

As adults, we know that animals won’t live forever. Children often don’t understand this and it can come as a shock to them when a beloved pet passes away. Here are ways to help your child cope when a pet dies.

Most children consider pets to be members of the family. Perhaps you had your dog or cat before your child was born and your child was raised with it always being there. They have given your child unconditional love and they will be missed.

* Allow your child the opportunity to cry as much as needed. This may be your child’s first brush with death; giving them the freedom to grieve will help them process the death and deal with other deaths in the future.

* The death of a pet may bring up thoughts about people dying, including you and them. If your family has a particular belief system about life after death, you’ll want to use this time to explain your beliefs.

* Let your child ask questions and try to respond to them on their level. Be honest with them when answering questions. The important thing is to comfort and explain in a way they’ll understand.

* Keep explanations short. Pay attention to their body language and stop if they seem tired. Let them take a break and come back when they’re ready for you to answer more questions.

* Be honest about the pet’s death. Tell them what death means – that the heart stopped beating – and the pet won’t be coming back. Avoid saying you had the pet “put to sleep” because it may make your child afraid to go to sleep.

* If you have to euthanize a pet, involve the child in the decision. Tell them the vet will give them a shot which will stop their heart and they will peacefully die. It may be easier on your child if they aren’t present, but that decision is up to you and the vet.

* Be sure your child knows the death of the pet isn’t their fault. They need to understand their pet’s death wasn’t due to their being “bad” or because they didn’t take care of the pet better.

* Expect emotions like shock, disbelief, denial, insecurity, loneliness, anger, and guilt. These are universal feelings people share whether they’ve lost a person or a pet they’ve loved.

* Accept your child’s feelings and respond with compassion. Children need to express their feelings, and know they are safe doing so, if they are going to process their grief in a healthy way.

* Give your child a chance to say good-bye. If you can’t bury the pet at home, you can still make a place where your child can go to remember them.

* Don’t rush to replace the pet. Give your child a chance to grieve before buying another pet. When it is time, let them help find and choose a new pet. The local Humane Society or animal shelter would be a good place to start your search.

Help your child remember the pet with love and gratitude for the special bond they shared. Losing a pet can be a traumatic event, especially for younger children. By using some of these ways to help your child cope when a pet dies, it may make the journey to healing a little easier for both of you.

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