Unfortunately, the joys of having a pet go hand-in-hand with the heartbreak of eventually losing them.
Losing a pet can feel like losing a member of the family. They have given you all love and laughter over the years and it’s hard to say goodbye.
It can especially be difficult for children, as it may be their first experience with death.
As a parent, breaking the upsetting news to your young ones can be terribly tough. You want to protect them from the pain that losing a beloved pet brings, but it is important to address the matter properly.
Breaking the bad news to your children
Be upfront & don’t use euphemisms
In an attempt to soften the blow, parents often explain the death of a pet with the use of vague language. Using euphemisms such as “they’ve gone to sleep” is not advised as this will merely cause more pain further down the line.
Explaining a pet’s death to children in a clear and truthful manner can be harrowing at first, but will help make the journey of grief less distressful. The less your child understands what really happened, the more anxiety will arise.
You should additionally avoid phrases like “they ran away” or “they’ve gone on holiday.” These concepts are not finite so your child will be expecting the pet to return, prolonging their pain and confusion.
Although it is advised to be as truthful as possible, of course there may be traumatic details that you should not include.
Explaining euthanasia to your child
If your pet has sadly had to be put down, this can be a very difficult thing to explain to a young child. Just make sure it is stressed to your child that sometimes for pets, euthanasia is a kind thing to do when they are in pain.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings
Remind your child that it is okay to be sad or angry about death, and that it’s important to express these feelings instead of suppress them.
If your child finds it difficult to talk about their feelings, they might find it helpful to write a letter to your pet to express how he or she feels. If the child is too young to write a letter, they could draw a picture instead. Perhaps you could put the letter or drawing somewhere special, such as where the pet liked to sleep.
Comfort and reassure your child
Make sure your child knows you are there for them for any comfort they may need. Let your child know that the pet loved them and had a very happy life, and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent the death – it was nobody’s fault.
Share your grief
Don’t feel obliged to be ‘strong’ for your child and hide your own sadness. Being open with how you feel sets an example for kids. You show that it’s normal to feel sad when you lose a loved one, and that it’s good to talk about your feelings.
It’s also comforting for your child to know that they aren’t alone in feeling sad and that you are going through it together.
While it’s impossible to protect your kids from the loss of a pet, you can help them cope with it. As your pet’s death might be your child’s first time losing a loved one, the grieving process can help them learn how to cope with other losses throughout life.
How to help your child cope with the grief
Maintain your normal routine
Your child may ask to miss school or their friend’s birthday because they’re feeling too sad and not themselves. However, carrying on with their normal routine and being around others can help make the grieving process easier. Allowing them to skip any plans may be more harmful for your child in the long run, and may prevent them from building resilience later on in life.
Don’t rush into getting a new pet
It’s important to allow the time to properly grieve. Jumping too quickly into getting another pet can hinder this. When you think the time is right, make sure it’s a family decision.
If your child is eager to get a new pet but you think it might be too soon, allow them to simply start thinking about what breed they might want and possible names.
Memorialise your pet
Set aside a special place in your home or garden to remember your pet. Plant a tree in your garden in honour of them, or keep a framed photo on your mantelpiece. You could light a candle next to the picture to help keep the memory of your pet alive. You can create a free online memorial to your pet on our website where you can leave your thoughts and messages.
Buy unique and personalised pet photo frames here.
At Petributes our aim is to help celebrate the life of your pets. We have a variety of pet urns including pet figurines which make perfect memorials for your beloved pet. Visit our site to browse our products here.
You can find more help and advice on pet bereavement on our website.