What To Say When A Pet Dies:
Explaining The Death Of A Pet To Children
Losing a pet sucks, and can be incredible difficult for children. Here is a guide on how to handle the death of a pet and what to say to your kids.
You may or may not know, but we recently had to say goodbye to our beloved pup Dixie. We got Dixie from a rescue group back in 2012. She was just a puppy at the time and our first big “married” thing that we did together. Dixie was an Australian Shepherd/Husky mix and just loved life. She was full of energy but relaxed at the same time. The babies loved her and she loved them just the same. Never meeting a stranger, Dixie would lick anyone to death that would let her.
Unfortunately she and our other dog, Boone, escaped our backyard. Another couple caught them but they weren’t able to secure them and by the time we saw their post on a local FB group the dogs were gone again. We went to bed that night, after driving around well past midnight, with worry in our hearts. The next morning we received a call from an animal hospital where someone had taken Boone. He had been hit by a car and the worst part of the story was that he was standing over Dixie because she had already been hit. Dixie did not make it. Boone is having some trouble walking but thanks to the hospital staff and Good Samaritan who brought him in he seems to be on the mend.
The only thing worse than losing a pet is having to tell your kids, especially when they are younger. Their little minds don’t quite grasp the concept of death so it can be a tricky situation to navigate. I’ve gathered my thoughts on it all and since it is such a fresh experience for us I wanted to detail what worked for us and some tips. If you ever find yourself in this situation, which I hope you don’t, these should help at least a tad.
1. Be Honest.
Regardless of the age of your children, honesty is really the best policy. We told our daughter that Dixie got a big boo-boo and unfortunately she died and had to go to Doggy Heaven. We didn’t want to say she was at the doctor and wouldn’t come home because it could cause even more anxiety for her over going to the doctor than she already had! We also didn’t want to tell her that she went to sleep and didn’t wake up because that could also cause some unnecessary sleep anxiety.
2. Read Books
We find such great joy in books that I knew we needed to find some books on the loss of a pet. One of my incredibly sweet coworkers brought me a book called Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. The book is incredibly perfect for explaining about the death of a pet to children. Another great book is The Rainbow Bridge; A Visit To Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside. I have linked to both below so you can grab a copy! (affiliate links)
One of my favorite pages out of Dog Heaven says “God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world, so He fills Dog Heaven with plenty of them. There are children on bikes and children on sleds. There are children throwing red rubber balls and children pulling kits through the clouds. The dogs are there, and the children love them dearly.”
3. Open Communication
Let your kids know it is okay to be sad. You are all going to miss your family pet, but don’t make them feel as if they need to brush it under the rug. Losing a pet brings along some BIG feelings. Since the pet was a part of your daily life, you and your kids are going to be reminded A LOT! Talk about the happy times and share fun memories. Let your kids draw pictures, write poems, etc to the pet when they feel sad and be sure to remind them of all the happy times they have had with the pet!
4. Have A Ceremony To Say Goodbye (*if appropriate*)
Because my kids are young, we did not have a goodbye ceremony. Rhory would not understand and Rhett REALLY wouldn’t understand. If your children are older you may want to plan some kind of “ceremony” where they get to say goodbye. It does not have to be the actual burial ceremony but maybe you plant a tree or say a few of your fun memories about the pet. Don’t be afraid to cry and be upset in front of your children. It shows them that sadness is normal and okay – let them see you process your feelings!
If you are reading this because you have lost a pet, I am extremely sorry! Feel free to share some of your favorite memories of your pet below. I would love to read them! Here are some of my favorite Dixie pictures!