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Children In Grief Over Loss of Pets

January 9th, 2018 by Laurie Brush

children grieving over loss of pet illustrated by girl with dogHeaven at Home’s Dr. Laura Tay compiled the following tips to help children deal with grief over the loss of their pets after participating in a seminar by Kathryn Jennings, Executive Director of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC).

We at Heaven at Home thought this might be helpful for your family as you work through this difficult time.


Helping children cope

  • Be straightforward and honest in all instances.
  • Don’t hide your pet’s condition from children.
  • Include them in caregiving.
  • Discuss all treatment and end of life options together.
  • Avoid decisions made in haste.

Preparing kids for euthanasia

  • Create an environment where it’s safe to ask questions.
  • Emphasize that euthanasia is a loving act of courage.
  • Explain that natural death can be painful and cause suffering
  • Help them understand the “need” for euthanasia when there are no other options.
  • Educate them about the process—before, during, and after.
  • Avoid the phrase “put to sleep” or “put down”.
  • Younger children require a clearer explanation in order to understand the finality.
  • Explain that the pet will die peacefully without feeling hurt or scared.

Should children be present or not?

  • You, as the parent, know your child best.
  • Recommended age is 10 and older.
  • Whether they are present or not, allow them to view the body afterwards.
  • Final goodbye can help kids to accept the reality.

How can I support my child through his or her grief?

  • Grief cannot be fixed or analyzed, it must be felt to be healed. Children need someone to be present with them while they are experiencing the pain of grief as they mourn.
  • Provide an environment that allows your child to feel and talk about the grief.
  • Communication should be open, honest, and ongoing.
  • Experience it together.
  • Assure them they are not responsible for the pet’s death.
  • The realization that death is permanent does not happen until around the age of 8.
  • Encourage the expression of feelings verbally and/or through art.
  • Know that children have a natural ability to “dose” themselves with grief and are able to take a break from it when needed. (They can do this much better than adults.)

How to discuss aftercare

  • Avoid talking about burning or fire with respect to cremation.
  • Cremation can be described as “returning to ashes”.
  • Make it clear the pet is not hurt in the process.
  • With respect to burial, describe how the pet will be placed in a box and laid to rest in the ground where he will be safe.

Honoring a pet’s life

  • Rituals can help in acknowledging and accepting the loss, which is the path to healing.
  • Make a tribute table
  • Design a gravestone
  • Assemble a scrapbook or collage
  • Write a poem or story
  • Plant a tree
  • Make a donation in the pet’s name
  • Volunteer at the animal shelter or Humane Society
  • Just share stories and memories!

When/if to adopt again

  • Involve the whole family; everyone needs to be in agreement.
  • Adopting too quickly may delay mourning.
  • Children may take longer to move through grief.