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What to Say When a Pet Dies

Explaining the death of a pet to children

When a pet dies, what can I do to help my child? continued...

In response to requests from parents for a helpful resource, Cardeccia created a workbook to help children grieve. "I wanted to create something that would open lines of communication between the parent and child," she says. She also wanted it to be a place to create a memorial for the pet.

You might ask your children whether they want to have a funeral, and explain to younger children that this is one way to help someone move into death, says McNamee. If you have religious beliefs about death or life after death, you can share these with your child. Be careful with younger children, though, to make sure they're clear about the finality of physical death, McNamee says.

I'm sad, too . . . is it okay to let my child see me grieve?

Cardeccia says it's okay for your child to see you being sad. But remember that there is a difference between crying and sobbing, which can be scary to a child.

McNamee agrees that heavy grieving around a child is overwhelming. To know whether you've gone too far, she says, "Ask yourself, 'Am I focused on my child, or myself?'"

When a pet dies, what should I do if my child has trouble letting go?

Again, remember that your child's grieving process may not look the same as yours. Things may seem fine one day, then a book or television program may trigger an outburst of grief. It's not uncommon for a child to return repeatedly to their sense of loss and grief, says McNamee.

So how will you know if your child needs extra support to resolve his or her grief? Here are a few signs to look for when your child can't get over the loss of a pet:

  • Your child's sadness doesn't come and go but seems constant.
  • Sadness lasts longer than a month.
  • Your child has trouble in school, can't sleep or has other signs such as stomachaches - problems that didn't occur before the pet's death.

You can help by keeping the conversation as open as possible. Ask, "Are you feeling sad about Buddy's death? Would you like to talk with someone about it - either by yourself or with me?"

It may also help to recount your own childhood experiences with pet death or to allow your child to dramatize the death through play with stuffed animals.

When is it time to get another pet?

Respect the grieving process. Don't jump too quickly into getting another pet. And when you do, make it a family decision.

How quickly this occurs, or whether it occurs at all, is unique to each family. As a guideline, McNamee suggests waiting at least six months. For the child who is eager to get another pet right away, you can explain that your family needs to wait a while to allow time to say goodbye to your pet and to make sure everyone is ready to get a new one.

In the meantime, you can help your child anticipate the arrival of a new pet by starting the research process - thinking about the breed of dog you might want, the place to get it, and possible names. At the same time, your child can get more closure about her pet's death by helping to decide whether to keep the old pet's possessions or to buy new ones.

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Reviewed on April 01, 2007

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