Four Paws Veterinary Hospital

4320 Southport Supply RD
Southport, NC 28461


Helping Children Grieve the Loss of a Pet

boy hugging dog

Everyone experiences loss in a different way, and that includes children – no matter their ages. Often, the loss of a pet is a child’s first experience with death. While a complete understanding of death can vary by child, kids are aware of the loss and grieve at their developmental level. Parents can help children feel safe and build positive coping strategies that will serve children as they grow and experience loss in the future.    


Children tend to grieve differently than adults; they may grieve in shorter bursts over a long period of time. Switching from grief to another task, such as play, can help children keep from becoming overwhelmed.  


When talking about death with children, it is helpful to be concrete. Use the words “died”, “dead”, or in the cause of euthanasia, “helped to die.” “When the body stops working” can be used as an explanation for death or chronic illness. Well-intentioned euphemisms such as “put to sleep” can be confusing and alarming to children and create fears around sleep and bedtime.  


Sharing your feelings of grief with your child, on their level, can help normalize the experience and let them know these feelings are okay. This promotes healthy experiences with grief and loss in the future. 


Memorializing your pet can help your child experience their grief and honor their beloved pet. Here are a few memorial ideas: 

  • Plant a tree or pot a plant in the pet’s memory. 
  • Create a photo album of photos of the pet. 
  • Make an art project together such as drawing a picture or painting a portrait, a scrapbook, a shadow box, or whatever else inspires your child.  
  • For children who can write, your family can have a memorial where everyone writes a poem, story, or song about the pet. Encourage, but don’t force, everyone to recite their work.
  • Together as a family, select a personalized memorial item such as a picture, jewelry, candle, wind chimes, garden stone, or similar items. Etsy has a lot of unique options!
  • If your family chooses to donate or pass on your pet’s items, explain how giving the items will help another pet and include your children in the process. If they wish to do so, allow your child to select a special toy or collar to keep in your pet’s memory.  

Everyone experiences loss in a different way, and that includes our children – no matter their ages. Whether your pet has been with your child their entire life or for a shorter span of time, a special bond has been created between them. So, when that pet is gone, it can be an emotional, confusing time. As you go through your own personal grief journey after the loss of your beloved pet, it’s important to also help guide your child through their own grief journey. 

Recommended Children’s Books on Pet Loss:  

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