Your pet became part of the family the day you brought her home. Your dog, cat, or other pet may even be older than your children. When you think about it from this perspective, it means your kids have never known life without the family pet. Now that your furry friend is aging, you know in your heart that she does not have a lot of time left with your family. Depending on their ages, your children may not understand this at all. They will rely on you to let them know the family pet may die soon and what to expect when that happens.
Choose the Right Time and Setting to Break the News
Telling your children about the pet’s death or upcoming death may shock them and cause them to act in unpredictable ways. It shows respect for your children’s feelings to tell them privately in a quiet setting. You should allow plenty of time to deliver the news and for your children to absorb it. Be sure to let extended family members know how they can be supportive to your kids when they are likely to be feeling extra emotional and sensitive.
Consider Your Child’s Age When Talking About Pet Death
Research published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology indicates that preschool aged children view death as something temporary. If your family’s pet has already died, your three to five-year-old child might believe that performing a magic trick can bring him back to life. When the family pet is ill or aging and euthanasia is unavoidable, your preschooler will likely have a lot of questions about what will happen.
Death is slightly more understandable to kids in the early elementary grades. However, even they may not understand the finality of it. When speaking to children under the age of eight, the best thing you can do is provide direct and age-appropriate information and answers to their questions. For example, use the words “die” or “died” rather than terms like “went to sleep” since such expressions can confuse young children.
Young kids need to understand that their dog or cat will not wake up again and cannot eat, run, or play anymore. The younger your child, the more likely it is you will need to repeat this information more than once.
Explaining Pet Death to Older Children
Starting at around age nine, children begin to understand the finality of death. Even so, the loss of your family’s beloved pet may be the first time they have experienced death up close. If you have chosen euthanasia for your pet, don’t be afraid to explain to older kids exactly what happens. A veterinarian gives the dog or cat a shot that first puts her into a deep sleep and then stops her heart from beating. Be sure to frame it as a kind thing to do for a pet that you all love very much but whose health will not get better. Older children may want to be present during the euthanasia procedure to say good-bye one last time.
Recovering from Pet Death as a Family
Everyone in the family, including parents and teenagers, should feel free to express their sadness over the loss of a cherished family member. Some kids will express their feelings in typical ways such as crying. Others may draw pictures or try to stay busy with other things. This is a time to understand that everyone processes loss differently and offer grace and patience with one another.
Midland Pet Center is here to support your family during this time of loss. Please contact us to learn more about our cremation and burial services.