When and how should you tell your child that their pet has died?

Pet bereavement can be hard on the whole family and it can be hard to know how, if and when you should break the news to your children. Here's what the experts had to say on the subject.

Whether you’re a dog, cat, rabbit or reptile owner, your new pet very quickly becomes part of your family and you can’t imagine your life without them.

So it’s no surprise that when the day eventually comes where you have to say goodbye, it can be devastating for everyone.

As an adult you might be a little better equipped at dealing with the loss of your pet but it can be a difficult concept for children to understand and parents are often worried about how to approach the subject.

For instance, if the death of a pet it sudden, should you replace the animal and hope your child doesn’t notice or be honest with them from the start?

We spoke to some experts to see if there is ever a right time to tell your child the truth and how best to go about it.

Olivia Anderson-Nathan is a vet at the UKs largest vet charity, the PDSA, and said: ‘For many, pets can be one of our closest companions. They are there for us through the good and the bad, and the loss of our four-legged best friend can be earth-shattering.

‘The loss of a pet can be extremely tough on children, especially if they’ve grown up with them from a young age. Their age may influence their reactions… Older children may ask questions like ‘will my other pets be lonely?’, ‘what’s happened to them now?’ These questions might be hard for you when you’re upset but it’s important to answer them as openly and honestly as you can.’

pet bereavement

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Olivia says it’s important to avoid using terms like ‘gone to sleep’ or saying that the pet has been rehomed as your child might think there is a chance it will return.

When it comes to the best age to tell your child, there isn’t a one fits all rule and it’s best to use your parental judgement.

Consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron says it’s important to reassure your children that it’s normal to feel sad in this situation and to guide them through their grief. She stresses that no age is too young to be honest with them.

Read more: Helping your child to grieve

According to Emma, lying to your child may cause more distress and if the pet is going to be put down, involving the child in the process can be a good way for them to say goodbye.

You should prepare the child for the loss and encourage the sharing of happy memories rather than focussing on the loss.

Emma says: ‘It’s always good to be honest and give direct information to children of all ages in accordance with their age. If you believe in heaven you can talk about this and encourage the ashes to be buried if possible or wanted.

‘Discuss this [with the children] and discuss options for the mourning process. It’s important to include the child in the plans.’

If you’d like more tips on dealing with the loss of your pet, the PDSA have a guide on bereavement.

How did you tell your child their pet had passed away? Do you have any nice tips on how to help the kids remember their pet in a positive way? Head over to our Facebook page to join the conversation and share your advice and experiences…