Children and Pet Loss


The death of a pet is often a child’s first experience with grief and loss. Children need to know that it is OK to feel sad and cry. They also need to be encouraged to share their feelings so that worries and anxieties can be brought out into the open.

Children perceive death differently at various ages. Toddlers believe that death is a temporary separation and the pet is gone a while but will be back. From ages three to five, children view death as reversible, meaning they can play dead for a time but pop back to life. Not until about age six (ages five to nine) do children sense the permanence of death, but they aren’t yet convinced that it comes to all living things.

Children around the age of ten have the emotional and mental capacity to understand the finality of death. All children handle honesty better than deception. Telling a child that the deceased dog is “asleep” may make the child afraid to go to sleep for fear that he, too, will die.

After losing a pet that they love, children may experience the same sorrow as adults but be unable to express it. Children need honesty from adults, reassurance that they are loved no matter how they feel and opportunities to express their feelings through creative outlets like drawing, stories or scrapbooks. They also need the opportunity to say good-bye and to know that they were in no way responsible for the death of the pet.

You can most help your grieving child by talking about how fortunate your family has been to have such a special pet. Nothing can take away the loving memories. They will be yours forever.

Replacing a pet too quickly sends a message to your child that losing something you love is of no great importance because you can always replace the one you have lost. If they see that a much-loved pet is easily replaced, they may worry that they are replaceable, too. When children have time to grieve the death of a pet, they learn that although losing something they love is painful, sorrow passes and joy becomes a part of their lives again.

Resource and Recommended Book:

From Vetstreet.com: How Should We Help Kids Cope with Pet Loss?


Go to next page, Blessing of the Animals

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