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How to Explain the Death of a Pet to a Child

No one wants to think about the loss of a pet, but it's an unfortunate reality that all pet owners face. Additionally, if you have children, there comes a time where you may find yourself having to explain euthanasia or why it's sometimes necessary to put an animal down. If you find yourself in the position of having to explain the death of a pet to a child and aren’t sure what to say when a pet dies, here are some tips to navigate that conversation.

How to talk to your child about pet loss

Figuring out how to explain a pet's death to a 3-year-old is a different job from figuring out how to explain the death of a pet to a teenager. The language you use and the level of detail you go into should be appropriate for their age.

With very young children, it's often best to keep things simple, clear, direct, and honest. Try to avoid using language that's overly metaphorical or doesn't clearly explain what happened. (For example, you may feel moved to say "went to sleep" instead of "died", but this can end up causing confusion in young children.) You don't need to go into a lot of detail about what happened or how the pet died. Some other examples of explaining the loss of a pet to a younger child may look like:

  • "Spot lived a long life, and it was time for him to go. He was very tired and was ready for the next adventure."
  • "Spot was very sick and wasn't feeling good anymore. Sometimes when pets are sick or dying, we want to end their pain, since we love and care for them."
  • "Spot passed away this morning. You know he was very old. Even though we love our pets and want them to be with us forever, they pass away just like humans do, but much sooner."

Take some time to practice the way you'd like to explain the loss of a pet to your child. Older children and teenagers will likely have more questions and want more information. They may also be more emotional about the loss of the pet. Depending on your child, you may want to share more information with them about what happened and how the pet died. You can also expect them to have more questions, so be prepared to answer them as best you can.

Explaining euthanasia of a pet to a child

If the pet was put down or euthanized, there may be added space to explain in further detail why euthanasia is sometimes recommended. You can explain that when a pet is very sick or in pain, and there's no hope for recovery, sometimes the kindest thing to do is to put them down and end their pain.

This decision is never easy, but it's often the most humane thing we can do for our pets. If your child has questions about euthanasia, answer them as best you can. You may want to consider talking to your veterinarian about the process and what to expect, so your child can have a better understanding of what happened.

It's also important to remember that each child will react differently to the loss of a pet. Some may be very emotional and need extra support, while others may seem relatively unaffected. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, so try to be understanding and supportive of whatever reaction your child has.

Ideas for helping a child cope with the loss of a pet

  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings and any questions they have
  • Reassure them that it's okay to feel sad, angry, or confused
  • Let them know that you understand how they feel
  • Give them space to grieve in their own way and at their own pace

If you're looking for activities to commemorate the life of your pet, involving your child in these memorialization activities can help them process the loss. Consider having your child participate in an activity that feels right for you and your family such as:

  • Plant a tree or flowers in your pet's memory
  • Make a photo album or collage of your pet
  • Write a story or poem about your pet
  • Draw pictures of your favorite memories with your pet
  • Light a candle in honor of your pet
  • Create a memorial website for your pet

Create a pet memorial

No matter how you choose to help your child through the loss of a pet, be patient and understanding. This is a difficult time for everyone involved, so give yourselves grace and space to grieve.

Additional support resources

If you've noticed your child is grieving the loss of a pet and you want to help, there are additional resources available to you. First, consider talking to your child directly about the loss. Talking through the loss with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult can help a child process their emotions and start to work through the grief.

Once you’ve spoken with your child, there are many books available that can help children better understand and deal with the loss of a pet. These may be helpful in addition to talking about the loss directly and can give you additional language to use when describing the death of a pet to a child:

When looking for children's books, it may be useful to find a book that specifically helps you explain the death of the type of pet your child (and your family) lost. For example, families that have lost a family dog may be interested in a children's book about a dog dying rather than a children's book about a fish dying. It also may be worth checking out multiple books that deal with grief and loss so you can bolster your vocabulary around explaining death to a child.

Hopefully after reading this article you feel more confident in how to tell a child about putting a dog down (or about discussing pet loss with them in general). If you've recently lost a pet and would like to memorialize them online, Ever Loved offers free pet memorial websites that are easy to use and share.

Create a pet memorial

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Last updated July 13, 2022
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