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How will my child react to the death of a pet?

by Maxine
Posted December 22 2010 05:39pm
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For many children, the death of a pet is their first experience with death and grieving. Some children are particularly close to their pets, and may feel the loss intensely. For those who have already lost a loved one, a pet's death may reawaken the feelings of anxiety, loss and pain they felt before.

Children need to know that you understand and accept how anxious, sad, angry and confused they are feeling - and that their feelings will change with time. If they begin to worry that you, or even they, may die too, you should reassure them that they are safe and that you expect to live a long, long time and will be there to care for them.

Help your child express their feelings. The most helpful process for anyone experiencing grief and loss is to be able to talk about their feelings and to have them accepted by loved ones around them.  Avoid saying things like, “Your dog died last month, you should stop being sad by now”. Whether they are sad, or angry, or lonely, or scared, let your child know that it is okay to feel that way.  Give them a hug, tell them you love them and that you miss the pet as well. Talk about the pet and what you remember.  

Depending on their age, children can react to a pet's death in a lot of different ways. It's not unusual for children to have nightmares, start wetting the bed, get stomach aches or headaches, start acting out aggressively, become withdrawn and want to be alone or not want to go to school.

Children under five in general do not understand that death is forever.  They may mention that their dog has died one minute and the next ask you to buy some dog treats when you are at the store.  

It is not unusual for children to feel strongly and intensely sad about the death of a pet for a period of six to eight weeks. However, if it lasts longer than this, consult your child's physician or a counsellor.  It may also be helpful to consult your child's daycare provider or school teacher, principal, or guidance counsellor to see if this behaviour is happening at school, too.


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