When a pet dies, it can be a difficult, painful time for the whole family, in particular for a child. Whether it’s the lop-eared rabbit your child cared for single-handedly or the family dog that had been by its side since birth, the death of a family pet needs to be handled with sensitivity.
To help you broach this difficult yet inevitable subject, we’ve outlined some things to consider when breaking the news of the death of a pet to a child.
Consider the context
You might need to consider handling the death differently depending on how the pet died. Whether it passed away from old age, died suddenly, or was put down, it could affect the way your child can grieve. Here’s our advice for negotiating these difficult situations…
If a pet dies of old age, you will likely have had the chance to prepare your child for the possibility it might die. Explaining that the pet had a long fulfilling life can help ease the sense of loss.
If the pet dies suddenly, whether it’s due to an accident or from health complications, it could be a shock and needs to be handled carefully. Replacing a pet without telling a child can lead to feelings of betrayal if this is discovered down the line. Be honest and answer their questions with sensitivity, but there’s no need to give too much detail.
Put to sleep
If a pet needs to be put to sleep then you can sit down with your child and explain that the reason is to end the pet’s suffering and explain that this is sometimes kinder than letting it live in pain. For a child under five, it’s not recommended to let them be present at the euthanasia, but with children over the age of seven, it could help them grieve if they are part of the decision-making process.
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to grief. Consider the individual characteristics of your child to determine how best to discuss with them.
Strategies for dealing with grief
Remember that everyone grieves differently and that the grieving process is one that happens over time. It's important to include the child in the grief process. Rituals can help ease the pain of dealing with the death of a pet, and a ‘funeral’ or thanksgiving ceremony for a pet can be a good way to say goodbye.
Equally, you could buy and plant a new tree or flowerbed to help commemorate the loss – something that the child can tend in the future.
Creating a legacy for your pet, perhaps in the form of a scrapbook, can also help with the healing process and act as a space for fond memories. Make this easily accessible for the child but also encourage them to look at it for a few minutes and then move onto happier activities.
Buying another pet
When a pet dies, it’s worth considering whether or not you should replace your pet. Don’t rush out and buy a new pet straight away, but leave time for the family to heal. In some cases, letting a child help pick a new pet and welcome it into the home after they’ve had time to process could be an effective strategy for managing their grief. If you're thinking of getting a new dog, for example, buy from a KC-registered breeder who should be able to tell you about generic health problems before your purchase.
The illness or death of a pet is a difficult time for the whole family, throwing up a range of emotions, which can only be made harder by financial complications. Pet insurance can often help soften the financial blow of losing a pet to illness. Get a pet insurance quote from Computerquote today.