What to Say When a Pet Dies
Explaining the death of a pet to children
Our cat was just run over by a car. What should I tell my children?
When a pet dies, be honest, accurate, and brief, advises McNamee. Parents
tend to use euphemisms such as "passed away" or "went to sleep" to describe
death. For a young child, words like these may end up creating confusion or
even extreme fear about going to bed at night, McNamee says.
"Don't feel as though you have to give them a lot of information," says
McNamee. "Tell them what happened, then see what comes from them, such as their
feelings and ideas about how to handle the death."
Kimberly A. Cardeccia, MA, LPC, NCC, author of Healing Your Heart When
Your Animal Friend is Gone: A Children's Pet Bereavement Workbook, says it
is best to tell your children about the death right away. Then allow your
children to ask questions. "Recognize that if they ask for details, they're
asking for comfort," she says. "Spare them any details that would traumatize
them or create a horrible picture in their minds. Make it sound as peaceful as
When a pet dies, should children be present for euthanasia?
For a child under 5, McNamee advises not going into detail about euthanasia.
Instead, when your pet dies in this manner, tell your child the dog was so sick
or in so much pain that he died, or that the doctor needed to help him die.
If your child is older than 5, you can describe what euthanasia is and why
it is sometimes necessary. Be prepared for blunt questions such as "Isn't that
like killing someone?"
McNamee suggests asking a child 7 or older whether he or she wants to be
present for euthanasia. You can learn a lot, she says, by simply asking your
child. If this is a new experience, describe in advance what to expect.
Cardeccia suggests having the veterinarian explain to your child what the
pet's bodily reactions might be during euthanasia to dispel any concerns about
the pet being in pain. Another option, she says, is to bring your child into
the room right after the pet dies to say goodbye.