Telling A Child About The Death Of A Pet


The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death. We can never underestimate the bond between a child and their pet. It's not just cats and dogs that become part of the family, smaller pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and reptiles can also leave a hole following their passing.

Not only will it be a devastating time for the whole family, but it may also spark other questions regarding mortality and what happens when we die. There are many ways you can prepare your child for the inevitable death of an ill or senior pet. An unexpected death can be incredibly difficult for everyone, particularly children.

Find support knowing you're not the only one dealing with this tough period of adjustment. We're here to support you and your family in the days and weeks following your loss. Take a look below to find out how to tell a child about the death of a pet, as well as handy grief fact sheets and other useful resources.

How to tell a child about the death of a pet

Be honest

Children are very receptive. Even the youngest of children are aware of insincerity. It may be tempting to tell a child that their companion has ‘run away’ or ‘visiting a friend’, but it’s important that they know what has really happened. Explain in simple language what has happened to their beloved pet. If their furry friend was unwell for a while, you can tell them that their pet is no longer suffering and is now at peace.

Don’t use euphemisms

In a similar vein to the above, you should avoid euphemisms when telling a child about the death of their precious pet. Phrases such as “passed away” or “put to sleep” can be confusing for children. Of course, you should be sensitive about your delivery of the bad news, but always use words that are true to what has happened.

If you’re still not sure of what to say, take a look at the below example.

“As you know, Fido has been sick for some time. Today, we took Fido to the clinic and the vet decided that he was in a lot of pain. Fido’s pain was getting much worse every day. The vet helped Fido die peacefully today. He felt nothing and he is now at peace.”

Let them be a part of the process

Don’t underestimate the feelings your child has at this time. They may benefit from playing a part in their cremation. Explain to them how the cremation works and what you are planning to do with the ashes. A child may even want to write a few words to read at the scattering to honour their loyal companion.

If you’re in need of some inspiration for a memorial, take a look at our eulogy and poems page.

    Suggest they write down their feelings

    Even if they don’t want to read anything at the scattering or burial, they may still benefit from writing down their thoughts. Research shows that journaling is a highly effective way of processing our inner thoughts and feeling.

    If a pet is sick or senior, let them know that death may occur soon

    We can’t always predict when a pet is going to die, particularly when it comes as a result of an accident or sudden illness. However, many pets suffer from illnesses for long periods before their death. If you expect to your furry friend has little time left, start to tell your child what to expect.

    Don’t get a new pet straight away

    Getting another pet might seem like a quick fix to cheer up your grieving child. However, every member of the family will need to take their own time to grieve the loss of their beloved pet. Take the time to remember your pet, celebrate their life and spend some time together as a family.

    For more tips on when to know whether it’s time to get another pet, take a look at our complete guide.

    Questions your child may ask

    There is an infinite number of questions your child may ask in the wake of a pet’s death. Below are some commonly asked questions along with advice for answering their queries in a simple and sensitive way without ambiguity.

    Common questions:

    • Where did Fido go?
    • Is he coming back? 
    • Is he alone?

    The subject of death is a difficult but inevitable one for any parent to tackle. This may be your child's first experience of death. As a result, they might not understand the gravity and permanence of mortality. Be sure to answer their question using simple language that they understand. You don’t need to go into visual detail with regards to their cause of death, it is sufficient for them to know that they were sick or involved in an accident.

    Common questions:

    • Are mummy and daddy going to die too?
    • Will I die?
    • What happens when you die?

    The loss of a pet may spark other questions regarding mortality, particularly surrounding a child’s loved ones. Reassure your child that although we all die, there is no reason to worry and their close family are happy and healthy.

    Common questions:

    • When will Fido come back from the vet?
    • Did the vet kill Fido?
    • Did Fido feel pain when he died?

    If your much-loved pet is euthanised at the vet, a child may struggle to come to terms with why their friend was there in the morning and not in the afternoon.Explain euthanasia to a child by explaining that their loyal companion was in a lot of pain and now they are at rest.


      Grief factsheets

      If you’re in need of some extra support in the days and weeks following your pet’s passing, take a look at these handy guides written by leading figure in grief and empathy education and author of "When Pets Die: It's Alright To Grieve,"  Doris Zagdanski. 


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