How to Manage a Kid When Their Pet Dies or is Sick

a pet graveyard

A pet is a valued part of your family. When a pet dies, the situation must be handled with care and sensitivity.

You must also understand that every child manages their big emotions in different ways. What matters most is being there for your child during a very difficult time.

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How to Talk to a Child When Their Pet Dies

a child hugging mom

Be honest with your child. Don’t makeup stories about sending the pet away to live elsewhere. Never say the pet simply fell asleep. A slow, deliberate, and earnest conversation is the best way to talk with a child at any age. Be prepared to answer questions even when the answer is “I don’t know.”

You know your child better than anyone. You don’t necessarily need a step-by-step guide on how to talk with them, but during times fraught with emotional distress, it can certainly help.

Take a deep breath, read the following steps, and decide which works best for you.

If You’re Family is Having Problems with Grieving the Loss of a Pet

It can be devastating to lose a family member. If you or your kids are having problems coping you should consider professional help.

Step 1: Deal With Your Own Grief

The pet is a part of your family. Your child’s loss is also yours. Take the time you need to come to grips with the passing of your pet.

You may not heal completely before you need to talk with your child, but you do need to have your own closure.

Once your child is aware of the death, your responsibility shifts from self-care to childcare. You won’t be able to fully help your child cope if you haven’t personally worked through the loss.

Step 2: Have an Honest Talk

There is never a good reason to lie to your child. That is especially true during dire situations.

Your child needs to know they can always trust you to be straightforward. That doesn’t mean you have to be blunt. It does mean that you should not make up stories about what happened to the pet.

Above all, do not ever tell your child that the pet fell asleep and didn’t wake up. Children may begin fearing sleep.

If you don’t know where to start, begin by telling your child that you need to talk about your pet. Tell them what happened in detail that can be understood.

“Our cat was very sick, and she died” is enough detail for a young child. Older kids may want and be owed a more thorough explanation.

Step 3: Be Prepared to Answer Questions

babysitter talking to upset child

In all likelihood, your child will have many questions about their pet’s death. Be ready for them. Welcome them. Let your child know they are free to ask as many questions as they need. Some common ones might be:

  • Where do pets go when they die?
  • Did it hurt when they died?
  • Why couldn’t the vet save them?
  • Is he coming back?

Answer in the most honest way you can. If you have a specific religious belief, it might be a good time to discuss what you believe happens after death.

If you don’t have beliefs about the afterlife, it’s okay to tell your child that you don’t know.

If You’re Family is Having Problems with Grieving the Loss of a Pet

It can be devastating to lose a family member. If you or your kids are having problems coping you should consider professional help.

Step 4: Be Prepared to Be Blamed

It’s sad but true. When bad things happen, people tend to look for someone in authority to blame.

Since you’re the authority figure in your home, the onus falls to you. Your child might question why you didn’t try harder to keep the pet alive. They might get angry with you for not saving the pet’s life.

These are natural responses. Stay calm, explain to your child what happened with the pet and tell them that you did all you could.

Step 5: Accept Different Reactions

a child that's sad

When our beloved cat died, my son was inconsolable. He cried so hard his whole body shook.

I understood that reaction because it was how I felt on the inside.

When I explained her death to my daughter, she said, “That’s sad. Can we have pizza?”

It’s not that one child is wrong and the other is right. People simply deal with death in different ways.

However your child reacts, don’t make them feel as if they are wrong. Love them, hug them, give them tissues, or order pizza. Just be there for them.

Step 6: Allow Your Child to Say Goodbye

We had to give our lovely dog a peaceful death. He was in great pain in his last days, which were spent moaning and writhing.

It was a horrible thing to see. We felt the kindest choice was to give him release.

My son was only nine at the time. My daughter was five. We let them say goodbye to their dog before taking him to the veterinarian.

Suddenly, as my husband was sadly leaving with his sweet dog in his arms, my son said he wanted to be with the dog until the end. We didn’t quibble. He felt he needed to be there, so we agreed that he could. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

Not all children are able to be with their pets when they pass, nor do they want to. They may still wish to have a ceremony to officially say goodbye.

It doesn’t have to be a funeral. It can be a special meal or a framed photo, hung in a place of honor.

When we lost our pets, we donated to our local animal shelter in their names. It made my children feel good to know they were helping other animals in a way that honored their beloved pets.

Death is Never Easy

Death is natural, but it’s never easy. If a pet is ill, be honest about what’s to come. If the end is sudden, be honest about that too.

All of your actions and reactions should be done with love. If you have anything to add, please share it in the comments.

If You’re Family is Having Problems with Grieving the Loss of a Pet

It can be devastating to lose a family member. If you or your kids are having problems coping you should consider professional help.

Have You Read These Yet?

Frequently Asked Questions

A young child can be allowed to see a dead pet as long as you’re there to answer any questions they might have about their beloved pet.

You simple and direct language to tell children the truth about the death of a pet. Avoid using euphemisms that may cause more confusion and harm than good.

You should consider getting a new pet after everyone (especially younger children) has had a chance to go through the grieving process. This could take a couple of weeks to many months just depending on a lot of factors.

It may take a little longer for your child to get over the loss of a pet. If you’re having a hard time navigating this then you might want to consider getting a professional therapist involved.