Pet Factsheets

Pet loss - explaining it to children

©VetFolio LLC and Vetstream Ltd. Created and peer-reviewed by VetFolio LLC and Vetstream Ltd.

Pets often become beloved members of the family, and when they die, the loss can be very traumatic. From rabbits, to cats, dogs, horses and everything in between, no matter what the animal, losing a beloved pet in never easy and it is only natural to grieve.

How do I approach this delicate subject?

Unfortunately, our pets don't live as long as we do, so a child will usually experience the loss of a pet before reaching adulthood. It is important to recognise the impact a pet can have on your child's life and preparing your child for the loss is important for helping your child cope with grief when the time comes.

When a beloved pet dies or is euthanased, it is important to recognise our feelings of bereavement and to express them. Families often have a pet for a number of years, so children grow up with the pet as part of the family.

What shall I do?

If your child is particularly attached to a family pet, the loss can be very traumatic. Honesty is the best policy! Your child will want to understand what has happened, so you should explain the death to your child, using language appropriate for your child's age; however, don't say that the pet was "put to sleep" as this may make your child afraid of going to sleep.

Your child will need time to grieve and may want to memorialise their pet by making a scrapbook, having a memorial service, sharing funny memories, or frame a special picture; these will help your child focus on happy memories!

Is there anyone who can help me?

Your vet will be able to help; it may even be helpful for your vet to talk to your child too. You should let your child's teachers at school know what has happened as they may start so show behavioural changes or signs of depression, in which case they may need to speak to a professional counsellor.

Lots of veterinary schools offer a pet-loss support hotline, you may have a local support groups or could find a group on social media that can help you. There are also some good sources of information on pet loss on the internet too.

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