children, their first real experience with loss occurs when
a pet dies. When a pet dies, children need consolation, love,
support, and affection more than they need complicated medical
or scientific explanations. Children's reactions to the death
of a pet will depend upon their age and developmental level.
Children 3 to 5 years of age see death as temporary and potentially
reversible. Between ages 6 and 8, children begin to develop
a more realistic understanding of the nature and consequences
of death. Generally, it is not until 9 years of age that children
fully understand that death is permanent and final. For this
reason, very young children should be told that when a pet
dies, it stops moving, doesn't see or hear anymore, and won't
wake up again. They may need to have this explanation repeated
to them several times.
are many ways parents can tell their children that a pet has
died. It is often helpful to make children as comfortable
as possible (use a soothing voice, hold their hand or put
an arm around them) and to tell them in a familiar setting.
It is also important to be honest when telling children that
a pet has died. Trying to protect children with vague or inaccurate
explanations can create anxiety, confusion, and mistrust.
often have questions after a pet dies, including: Why did
my pet die? Is it my fault? Where does my pet's body go? Will
I ever see my pet again? If I wish hard and am really good
can I make my pet come back? Does death last forever? It is
important to answer such questions simply, but honestly.
may experience sadness, anger, fear, denial, and guilt when
their pet dies. They may also be jealous of friends with pets.
pet is sick or dying, spend time talking with your child about
his/her feelings. If possible, it is helpful to have the child
say goodbye before the pet dies. Parents can serve as models
by sharing their feelings with their children. Let your child
know it is normal to miss pets after they die and encourage
the youngster to come to you with questions or for reassurance
is no best way for children to mourn their pets. They need
to be given time to remember their pets. It helps to talk
about the pet with friends and family. Mourning a pet has
to be done in a child's own way. After a pet has died, children
may want to bury the pet, make a memorial, or have a ceremony.
Other children may write poems and stories, or make drawings
of the pet. It is usually best not to immediately replace
the pet that has died.
of a pet may cause a child to remember other painful losses,
or upsetting events. A child who appears to be overwhelmed
by their grief and not able to function in their normal routine
may benefit from an evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist
or other qualified mental health professional.
information see Facts for Families:
#8 Children and Grief and
#75 Children and Pets, and
#4 The Depressed Child.
See also: Your Child (1998 Harper Collins)/Your
Adolescent (1999 Harper collins) and Good Grief (1996
# 78 Updated 09/00