As much as we hate to think of it, every life eventually ends and there comes a time when every pet owner has to face the death of his or her pet. The average lifespan of a dog is 10 – 13 years. Even if you have one of the breeds that can live to around 17 years such as a Chihuahua, health issues or accidents can occur along the way that can mean your dog’s life is brought to an end earlier than that typical of the breed. This can be devastating to pet owners and can be particularly hard for children to deal with. As a parent, you want to help your child learn how to tackle what life brings whether happy or sad and helping them to cope with the death of a pet fits into this category. So, this somewhat sombre post considers how you can make things easier for your child during the saddest of times.
What to say to your child when a pet dies
Your child may see the family dog as not only a family member but also a best friend. The pet is often a source of comfort when your child is upset, so how can you help your child through this time when that source of comfort is now the source of their biggest grief? A lot of how you will approach this depends not only on the age of your child but also on the level of maturity.
If your pet died as a result of illness, don’t avoid talking with your child about this. Explain that the dog was very sick and that the veterinarians tried everything possible to help him. Telling your child that the dog dying was the kindest outcome, because if the dog lived he or she would be in too much pain can make it more bearable. Don’t confuse younger kids by using phrases such as “put to sleep,” as this can send mixed messages and children should view sleeping as a good thing, not something with scary consequences.
If your dog has died because of an accident, that can be more of a shock for everyone as it is an entirely unexpected event. Be truthful about what has happened, explaining events in a calm way, but keep it simple and don’t go into elaborate detail.
Although the death of a pet is difficult, it is a way for children to learn about how to cope with loss later in life. It is important for them to learn that they can work their way through grief.
Why is dealing with a dog’s death so intense?
When your dog dies, your entire daily routine is affected. It is not always as easy to have the grieving time normally afforded to those who lose a human family member. For many people, who view dogs as their children, it is the same feeling as losing a family member. Children sometimes view their dogs as they would a sibling, so it can be similar to losing a brother or sister for them.
As with any loss, the grieving process may mean going through a whole series of emotions at different times, ranging from sadness at the loss itself, guilt for not being a better pet owner, and anger that nothing could be done to save the pet. Let children know that it is perfectly OK to feel all these emotions and that they are not alone with that because other family members are feeling the same way too.
Having a small memorial ceremony to remember your pet can be helpful. Some families like to put together a memory book so that they can look through it together and remember the good times. Explain that you’ll always have happy memories of your pet and talk about some of those good times together.
If you have helped your child through this experience, please share what was helpful for you and your family during this time.
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