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Comforting Your Child After The Loss of a Pet

As last week marked ‘Rainbow Bridge Awareness Day’ in the UK, we decided to dedicate this blog to how to cope with the loss of a pet in the family, in particular how to approach the grieving process with a child.

Helping children through the death of a pet can feel like a hard task, but there are ways to help them in this tough time. In this article, we include some helpful information to make the process easier for you.

What is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day/Week?

Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day/Week was launched by Deborah Barnes as a way to remember, celebrate, and honour the pets that are no longer with us - from hamsters, snakes, rabbits, cats, and dogs - this day is for all.

Coping With Loss

For some children, your family cat, dog, hamster, or fish has been with them since day one. They've built their lives around caring for them and know them as part of the family.

Every child will act differently after the death of a pet. This can depend on their age and development. It also may take them a couple of hours or days to process the death and begin to show any signs of emotions. Sometimes this can take a while, so be patient and kind, sometimes their reaction isn’t always kind but treat them the same way you would ask them to treat anyone in the household, supporting and encouraging them to accept feelings as they have them.

Be Honest

Being honest with them will help them understand what is happening, telling them their pet has ‘gone to the farm’, ‘they are visiting friends’ or ‘they have been put to sleep’ can cause confusion and some things can lead to questions on why they weren’t good enough for the pet to stay or worries about going to sleep.

Telling them their pet has died and won’t be coming back may seem like the wrong thing to say but being honest is needed. Your child will likely have questions, let them express them and answer them the best you can.

Despite them saying goodbye, it can be hard for a child to process that when they wake up ‘Fluffy’, might not be there. Don’t get upset with them when they don't understand, try to explain the best you can.

Let Them Express Their Emotions

Letting them express how they are feeling will help significantly as they process the event. Aforementioned, they might not respond straight away, offer them time to realise what has happened, and let them know that you will be there when they need to talk or even just need a hug. Some might not show you that they are grieving however, it’s important to remind them they don’t need to face it alone.

Educate Them

If you think they are able to understand what euthanasia is, having a chat about this can allow them to feel included in the process and not excluded in how they feel. We would avoid using the phrases around ‘going to sleep’, it sounds like they are going to have a nap, which might cause more confusion.

There are also materials that you can get on different stories that talk about a loss of a pet (depending on the age range), which can help teach you the correct language to use.

Books such as:

  • Rainbow Bridge: A visit to pet paradise

  • The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet

Find Activities To Do Together

Finding joint activities together can also help them process both your and their emotions, for example, you could:

  • Find a photo of your pet and decorate the frame.

  • Get a plant to remember them by.

  • Draw pictures of your pet together.

  • Get them to write your pet a letter - this is also a great way for your child to say goodbye and can stay with your pet after they have passed.

  • Visit the pets’ favourite spot and talk about your favourite memories of them or a time they made you laugh.

  • Create a memory box.

  • My Pet Memory Book by S Wallace. Using the book will help the child as they grieve for their lost pet by helping them recall happy memories which they can record. The final section, Why My Pet Wouldn't Want Me To Be Sad will prompt the child to think about why they don't have to stay sad forever.

For younger children struggling with the loss of a pet, sometimes getting a cuddle teddy can help. You could place your pet's collar on, and when they feel sad they can cuddle their teddy and tell them all about your pet.

Comfort Them

Lastly, comfort them. Whilst educational talks and activities can help process emotions, it’s also ok for them to feel sad and simply want a cuddle - especially if they are missing this from their beloved furry friend.

Don’t Forget About You!

Don’t forget to grieve yourself, losing a family member is an upsetting time for anyone. Letting your child/ren see that you are upset and hurting will let them see that having a moment to remember your pet is a safe and healthy thing to do.

There is also bereavement support available for free 24/7 for both adults and children from the Bluecross, more details can be found here.

Do you have an old pet, nearing the end? If so, you may find our sister company, Roundwood Pet Hospice helpful. At Roundwood Pet Hospice, they support pets and their owners so they can live happily until their time comes. The pet hospice also offers home euthanasia so your pet can pass in peaceful surroundings when the time comes.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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