Children and Pet Loss

Children and Pet Loss

After your pet has sadly passed away, it can be an incredibly difficult time for you to get through. Coming to terms with the loss is hard enough for yourself, but you may also have the worry of how to tell your children, and they how they may react. Children can often have a strong bond with their pet, potentially seeing them as a play mate, protector, confidante or best friend. This may be their first experience of death and may be tough for them to understand. However, this experience is inevitable with pets and it will help them learn how to process their emotions with bereavement in the future. They will need support and guidance, and communication will be key.

Age differences

Each child is different and may experience pet loss differently. It may be particularly painful for them if it is their first pet, or if they have experienced other losses such as grandparents or a break-up of their parents. Different ages will also manifest grief in varying ways and will require differing support.

Toddlers usually won’t fully understand the concept of death, but will often notice and sense your emotions, or tensions in the family. It is often best to tell them that their pet has died and let them know it won’t return. Giving them extra reassurance and maintaining your usual daily routines to retain stability will help. Four to six-year-olds will usually have some understanding of death but may struggle to grasp the permanence. You may also notice bed wetting or a change in behaviour; this is not unusual. Drawing pictures of their pet or writing stories about them may help them, as well as including them in some way in the funeral arrangements. Seven to nine-year-olds will tend to know that death is irreversible. Sometimes this age group become concerned about their parents also dying and may be very curious about death. Their grief may manifest in school, they may become more aggressive, withdraw or become clingier. Reassuring them that they had nothing to do with their pet’s death and being honest in your answers to their questions will benefit them. Ten to eleven-year-olds will normally understand that death is a natural and inevitable part of life. They will often model their parents’ behaviour during grief, but the experience can trigger memories of previous losses. Being open for discussion about this will help. Finally, adolescents will typically grieve similarly to that of most adults, however their emotions are prone to range from lack of concern to hyperemotional. They may want to be treated like an adult one minute, and be treated like a child the next. They also seek out peer approval, having supportive friends will benefit them. They may also be prone to conflict with parents based around how they express feelings, it is usually best to avoid this conflict.

How to tell your child

When you tell your child you will want to firstly ensure that you are one-to-one, in a comfortable place away from distractions. If your pet has died through euthanasia, it is usually best not to say ‘put to sleep’. This is because it can create confusion and fear around sleep, potentially causing issues at bedtime. After you have told them they will most likely ask questions such as ‘why did they die?’, ‘where have they gone?’, ‘is it my fault?’, ‘will we see them again?’ and ‘what is death?’. Perhaps the best way to answer these questions is to be honest without over complicating. For example, you may want to be honest about what your beliefs are after death, or if you don’t know, tell them that. If you do not stick to the truth, you may risk them feeling resentful and confused when they find out later on. Remember that this is a good opportunity for your child to learn for future bereavements. Explaining that animals have shorter lifespans than us because they age more quickly, may set them more at ease. It may even help to show your child a children’s book about pet loss as this may illustrate the concept better. Or if you feel a video would work better for your child the BBC have a great video to explain this.

Your child may feel sadness, loneliness, denial, disbelief or even anger or guilt. It is important to reassure children about their emotions and that how they feel is normal. Depending on their age, it may be a good idea to ask them to pick words from a list that describe how they are feeling, if they are finding it difficult to communicate this. They may feel comfort to hear you say that you are there if they want to talk about it. It’s important that you also do not hide your emotions as it can help children to understand how grieving is carried out in a healthy way. Make sure to inform other adults in your child’s life about the situation at home, such as school teachers or childminders, so that they can watch out for signs of grief.

Saying goodbye to your pet

Having some kind of pet funeral or pet memorial can help children heal and move on. Involving them in the arrangements, depending on their age, may be hugely beneficial to their grief. Older children such as teenagers may like to be included in choosing the more involved funeral items such as the pet coffin or pet ashes casket. Having a ceremony for your pet can help the whole family come to terms with what has happened. Including your children in sharing happy memories and stories of your pet can be a good way for them to work through their grief. You may also like to include a poem they have written, or show a picture they have drawn. Making the day about your family and the pet you have lost is the most important thing. Take a look at our previous blog post Pet Memorial Service Ideas for inspiration.

Remembering your pet

It is important to be able to talk about your pet openly with your children with love. Remembering happy times with them or laughing at a funny memory is healthy. You may even wish to have a keepsake of your pet such as a photo of them in a special personalised pet photo frame, or a candle to light in their memory.


Knowing how best to approach telling your children about losing a pet is challenging, and can be very upsetting for the parent too. Remember that their pain will heal leaving happy memories in its place, and that they have felt love for a pet which is a wonderful and healthy experience for any child. For more information on children and pet loss, visit the Blue Cross.