The loss of a pet is difficult for parents and children alike, as Christian Lemon wrote about in his recent column for City Dads. So what’s the best way to deal with the death of a pet, be it furry, feathered, finned or what have you?
The internet is filled with many great resources on the subject. We’ve distilled the most common advice to help you and your children grieve, mourn and cope.
“It’s just an animal,” some will say upon learning of the death of a pet. “Don’t let it bother you. You can just get another, right?” Chances are these people have never owned a pet.
Pets become beloved family members and best friends to many. They pass no judgment on us, and offer constant companionship and even unconditional love. We confide in them. We seek comfort from them. Often, we pamper them as we physically and emotionally care for them. It’s no wonder that 85% of the 400 U.S. adults surveyed by Veterinarians.org in 2021, said the loss of a pet was harder than or as hard to deal with as the loss of a family member or friend.
Therefore, feeling sad, remorseful, and even anger are all natural grieving responses to the loss of a pet just as they would be to the death of a relative or friend. Talk about your feelings with a trusted person who will understand. Encourage your children to express their feelings, too.
Experts agree a direct and honest approach is the best way to talk to children about a family pet’s death:
Whether you should be present when a pet is euthanized is a personal choice. Some think being there to comfort their pet in its last moments is a final gift to their companion; others find the pain of witnessing their loss and death too great. One thing to consider is how you think you will feel after. Guilt and regret for not being present are common.
Children, just like their parents, should also be given a choice. While parents naturally want to shield their children from pain, their being present can also help them grieve and mourn later.
Consider the child’s age and temperament. Talk about the euthanasia process beforehand. Read an age-appropriate book about pet death with them, such as Goodbye, Mousie or The Tenth Good Thing About Barney(ages 3 to 8).
Burying your pet in the backyard or spreading its ashes at its favorite play spot is sometimes not enough to bring closure. Hold a small candlelit ceremony where each family member shares a brief favorite memory of their pet. Children can choose one of the pet’s toys to bury with it or have them decorate a stone for a grave marker. They can also help plant a tree in the pet’s honor.
Afterward, use creativity to help yourself or your children through grief together. Write a letter to or a poem/story about your deceased pet. Make a scrapbook or box of memories/mementos of your pet. Have your kids draw pictures of themselves and their pets times together.
While believe getting a new pet right away will help take away the pain, that’s not always the case. Make sure you can physically and emotionally handle those duties again. Practice self-care. Join a pet loss bereavement group or find a friend who has undergone a similar loss to talk to.