Neighborhood Kids family fun in bellingham & whatcom county


Coping with the Loss of a Family Pet

Dog and girl with a ball. Saying goodbye to furry members of your family is difficult for kids of all ages.

Like many parents, our first “babies” were our cats and dogs. Now that our family has grown and our children are growing up, we’re suffering the loss of those pets as they age. Last Halloween, after a long illness, we said goodbye to our quirky 21-year-old black cat, Buddy; last week, our loveable thirteen-year-old dog Kharma passed away unexpectedly.

Thankfully, our six-year-old twins handled the losses fairly well. To help your family through this transition, here are a few things that worked for us, both before and after the loss of our beloved friends.

Read and Discuss

When Buddy turned 20 and began to lose weight, we talked gingerly but frankly with the boys about the fact that, someday, our pets would die. Then I went to the public library. I searched the subject keywords pet(s) and death and found more than ten picture books about losing a pet. Here are a few stand-bys to look for at your local library:

  • When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
  • The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan Berenstain
  • Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
  • Goodbye, Mousie by Robie Harris

Say Goodbye

There are many appropriate ways to say goodbye. Use your best judgment about what is fitting for your child’s age, maturity, and attachment. Should the child see your pet after it has passed? Will you have a funeral or memorial?

Release a balloon in their honor. Have the kids draw pictures and dictate farewell statements to their pet and hang or scrapbook them with photos. Make a donation to your local humane society in your pet’s name. Select, as a family, a photo of your pet to hang in your home. Whatever you do to honor the passing, be sure to include the kids on each step of the way.

Remember the Stages of Grief

Losing a pet might be a child’s first experience with death. Some kids go through the stages of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance) more quickly (or slowly), or skip certain steps altogether. Others experience these stages in ways so subtle that their astute parents don’t even realize how the children are coping.

Accept whatever state your child falls at any given moment, and be a sympathetic ear to hear their feelings. Be honest, and let them see how you handle grief in a healthy manner. Muster some extra patience for any temporary behavior changes your child might experience.

If you’re not sure what to expect, check out’s Developmental Grief Stages. Adolf Moser’s book for kids, Don’t Despair on Thursdays! The Children’s Grief-Management Book, might come in handy during this tough time as well.

Resist Getting a New Pet for a While

Predictably, many children will wonder when you will get a “replacement.” Although a new pet might provide a temporary distraction, The Humane Society of the United States recommends first giving your family time to grieve and to consider carefully the responsibilities of pet ownership (“Coping with the Death of Your Pet”).

A new pet will never fill the hole left by the previous one, but with patience and thoughtfulness, your family will be able to move on in a healthy way.

leave a comment!

Post a Comment

This is your chance to speak up and be heard!