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Are you concerned about how to talk to your child when your cat has died? Read our guide on what to do next.

 

Pet loss might be your child’s first experience of losing a loved one. It is likely to be upsetting and confusing for them, but if handled sensitively, a child’s experience of pet loss can help them to build positive strategies for coping with loss in later life.

Whether you’re worried about telling your child their cat has died, or want to talk to them about grief, our advice should make the process easier.

For many year it was believed that children don’t grieve at all, or don’t grieve with the same intensity as adults. This isn’t true. Children may show their grief differently than most adults but it shouldn’t be assumed that children have resilience to loss.

The way that children view death often depends on their age, but as children mature as individual rates this should be seen only as a guide.

Children up to the age of two

  • They may not have any, or much concept of death
  • They might notice the absence of the pet and may notice the way that other family members are affected by the loss
  • They may appear clingy or in need of attention

 

Toddlers

  • They may openly show their confusion, sadness and fear
  • They may ask lots of questions
  • They may have difficulty understanding that death is permanent

 

Children between the ages of five to eight years old

  •  They may appear curious about the world around them
  • They may become fascinated with dead animals
  • They might exaggerate details as they discuss the death of their cat with friends
  • They might even fantasise that death is something that can be prevented
  •  They may blame themselves or others for not preventing the death
  • Euthanasia may be a difficult concept to understand

 

Children between the ages of nine and 12 years old

  • May begin to understand that death happens to everyone and is permanent
  • May begin to develop a wider anxiety about losing other members of the family
  • May feel grief deeply and intensely
  • Will need honest and direct answers to their questions

Children between the ages of 11-16 years old

  • Are already going through a time of great emotional development and confusion
  • They can often feel close to their pets at a time when they may not feel able to talk to adults in their lives
  • They may feel their pet was the only one who understood them, or accepted them for who they are
  • Losing a pet can be devastating and boys especially may feel embarrassed at their grief

How to tell your child that your pet has died

Most parents having been through the loss of a pet have reported that honesty was the best policy for them with their children. ‘White lies’ may seem a good idea but often cause confusion and parents who have made white lies in an effort to protect the child from pain have often expressed their regret at doing so and had wished they had been more honest – even though it might have been more difficult at the time.

For children of all ages, grief may be delayed and might surface days or weeks after the loss has occurred. This can be the result of busy schedules, peer pressure or emotional inhibitions. It is common for children (and many adults) to worry about the dead pet being lonely or cold in their grave. This is a normal reaction and it may be useful to offer reassurance that when someone has died they are not able to feel lonely, cold, wet, hungry, thirsty or frightened.

Talking to your child about Euthanasia


It is essential that a child never feels they are totally responsible for making their decision to have their pet euthanased (even if the pet was ‘theirs.’) An adult ultimately must have the personal responsibility for the death of the pet by euthanasia, never a child. However, if they want to be involved in the decision, this can be helpful, as can being involved in the end of life care of the pet.

Talk about euthanasia in advance if possible. Providing a careful explanation of what happens in the euthanasia process may be helpful. Give honest but sensitive answers to their questions.

Setting up a memorial for your pet

Setting up a memorial can be useful for anyone losing a pet, but for children it can have a lasting impact upon their experience of loss and grief as they grow into adults. There are lots of ways to memorialise a pet including:

  • Making a memory box
  • Writing a poem
  • Holding a ceremony to say goodbye
  • Having a painting commissioned of the pet
  • Adding a memory to our online memory wall
  • Involving your child in how to memorialise a deceased pet can be helpful.

Need to talk to someone?

If you're experiencing the loss of a pet or want to talk about telling your child about your pet's death, you can talk to us.

Our volunteer listeners can provide you with emotional support and practical information at this difficult time.

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