Loss of a pet is hard on a child

Relationship to an animal can be as close as to a person.

IT’S not difficult to see why the loss of a pet can hit a child hard. They often tell their secrets to a pet. An animal is non-judgmental and doesn’t cut the child short.

“If the child’s eight or nine and has grown up with the pet and had unconditional love from it, there might be the same tie for the child as with a person, “ says psychologist Niamh Hannan of www.helpme2parent.ie.

“A child is free to express themselves fully with a pet. Children who have difficulties communicating well with an adult might find a way of communicating with a dog or cat,”

So how do you help your child cope if the pet’s old or ill and has to be euthanised? “Consider talking with your child beforehand, explaining that the pet is sick and in pain, that the animal doctor can’t do anything else for him and that he will be given an injection to take away the pain but this will mean he’ll die,” says Hannan, who urges parents to be careful about the language they choose.

“Kids won’t understand ‘put him down’. If you say ‘put him to sleep’, the child may fear they won’t wake up when they go to sleep or that you won’t. Nor do you want them to fear injections, so choose your words carefully.”

If the pet dies suddenly or in an accident, explain calmly to the child in a place they feel safe what has happened. Be brief and let your child’s questions guide how much information you give.

Let the child express their grief, recommends Hannan. “Encourage them to share their feelings. Tell stories together and share memories of the pet. When you feel enough time has passed, it might be good to compose a scrapbook.

“Address their fears and misconceptions about death. It might be a good time to engage them in imagining a doggy heaven, if that fits with your belief system. Bring in fun images – the dog wagging his tail, eating doggy biscuits and chasing cats. Make it a happy place.”

If handled properly, dealing with this experience of loss will stand to your child. “The grieving process can help them cope with other losses in their life,” says Hannan.


¦ Don’t lie. Saying, ‘Rusty ran off’ won’t stop the sadness. Your child discovering the truth will shake their trust.

¦ Help children understand it’s natural to have lots of feelings – loneliness, anger, frustration, even guilt about times they could have been kinder to the pet.

¦ Don’t hide your sadness — show child it’s ok to feel sad when you lose someone you love.

¦ Give your child space and time to grieve before considering getting a new pet.


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