Losing a pet may be your child’s first experience with death.
Michael O’Donoghue, founder of grief support group Pets and People, says it’s common for children to blame themselves, their parents or their veterinarian for not saving their pet.
“It can be difficult for a child to understand death and they often look for someone to blame. They can also have feelings of depression, sadness and fear that people they love may be taken away from them.
“Trying to protect your child by saying their pet ran away can cause feelings of betrayal once they learn the truth. It also avoids the opportunity to help your child learn to deal with death.
“We find that expressing your own grief and allowing your child to grieve is a healthy way to approach the associated loss and sadness. It is helpful to talk about your pet and reminisce about all the happy times instead of avoiding the topic.
Michael says it’s also helpful to encourage your child to talk about your pet and find ways to celebrate their life.
“You can prepare a memorial for your pet and have your child write a letter or draw a picture for them… it can be a cathartic experience for both of you.
Many people ask the question of whether they should replace their pet immediately, however, Michael cautions against rushing into this decision.
“Quickly replacing a pet doesn’t allow your child or other family members to experience the loss and sadness which is part of life. You will know when the right time is to adopt a new pet after giving your family time to grieve.
Owning a pet provides many wonderful experiences for children including companionship, learning to care for another being and developing a love for animals. And while the inevitable loss of a pet can seem like a downside to the experience, Michael sees it differently.
“As children grow they have to learn many truths in life, one being the presence of death in society. Learning to grieve for a pet, if done in a caring and loving way, can be a rewarding introduction to death and the process of celebrating life after a loved one is gone.”