24 answers

I Need Help Fast ,Death of a Family Pet,what to Tell the Child

ok , is it a good idea for a 5 year old to witness the pet being buried in the back yard in the ground or say what? this was an accident she was very close to her poodle and was an inside one too , and died outside , i think i can explain the accident brifly not giving any goory detail but what then no body,what will the child think if about her dog buried in the dirt seeing daily? or would it be in the best intrest to this child to be told the vet came and try to help and took him to where all dogs go to heaven, this might sound corny as im at a lose and dont want to lie or traumatize her even more and only have a couple hours to figure this out before picking her up from school

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im not sure i live in the country i believe if a car had hit him there would have been more damage, its possible he got kicked by one of the horses,bit by a snake, another animal im riddled with guilt he was an inside dog

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Humans handle grief and loss in different ways - there is no right or wrong. I think a 5-yr old will understand the circle of life; time to break out Lion King.

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I'm a big believer in honesty. I don't think you need to include the brutal details of the dog's death, but I do think it's good to be honest and explain that the family's pet has died, their spirit has gone one place, and the body needs to be put in another place.

5 year olds are pretty smart and know a lot more than we think we do.

We have 2 family pets, and if I were in the situation, I'd be honest that the pet had unexpectedly died. I'd even likely give my kids the option of choosing if they'd like to make a memorial in the backyard (though I don't think our neighborhood HOA would allow it) or if they'd like the vet to do it for you.

Good luck! We'll be there with you one day soon, and I hope I can follow my own advice.

2 moms found this helpful

Im so sorry for your loss :( I probably wouldn't let her watch the poodle be buried, she is to young to understand....It may make things worse or frighten her.....I would be honest about the dog going to heaven, and I believe there are some good books about doggie heaven for kids. Have you thought about cremating the dog? You could keep the ashes then when she is a little bit older maybe go to a favorite place of the dogs and spread the ashes with her? Again im very sorry.

2 moms found this helpful

gentle honesty..Your future credibility is on the line here.You need to let the child know that no matter how bad it gets, you will always be honest.

1 mom found this helpful

tell her what happened - leave out gory details - the dog died of old age, or it was ill or whatever, dont let her witness the burial, just put a little cross on the grave and say a prayer - thats what we did when our dog died on the 1st january, my son is fine with it.

1 mom found this helpful

I'd suggest keeping things very simple and somber. Tell the child that there was an accident and that the dog died - and went to heaven. Lots of times there is not 'body' to see when a loved one dies. Have a little memorial ceremony with the family, perhaps each one saying something they remember about the dog, have a picture of the dog put in a nice frame, say a little prayer, put the picture on the mantle or in the child's room (as the child wishes).
You can expect the child (and you too, maybe) to have "waves" of grief that may seem to flow over the child's heart (and body - sometimes it feels physical also). Encourage the child to say so when he/she feels sad and acknowledge it. Things should heal with time.

Definately explain what you think happened. Let your child see the pet and see it being buried. I grew up in the country and witnessed quite a few animals that died or were killed etc. From the family dog-to cats, to baby calves and even baby goats that just didn't make it. We even buried goldfish. I'm extremely tender-hearted and a major animal-lover and I am thankful for those experiences because it taught me how to accept death but also that it was a natural occurance no matter how the creature met it's demise. My mother often struggled with her grief in front of us-sometimes we sobbed together (as in the instance of the family dog or the baby bird I raised that my cat then later caught after it'd been turned loose)-but I always knew I could count on getting the truth. Then I was able to verify the pet was gone-see it for myself to accept it and have the closure of seeing it buried. By the time I had to attend a funeral of a family member I was well prepared for what to expect and able to handle the grief. Now as a mother of two little girls-ages 4 and 7, I never try to gloss over such difficult experiences. It's way rough to let our children hurt but it is a HUGE teaching tool at the same time. I am SO glad I have allowed my children to deal with the few pets we have lost now. We had a Giant Flemish Rabbit that was the absolute sweetest thing and we all adored him. He was enormous and we had a matching gigantic hutch for him. During the summer I would douse him with cool water and set him up with every cooling trick I knew of but the heat killed him anyway much to my extreme horror. When I broke the difficult new to our children (who were both a year younger than they are now) they began to cry softly but both immediately asked to see him. My husband thought that was a very bad idea but I remembered my own childhood experiences. Our rabbit was not gory at least and I do no recall having seen anything that WAS and that's the difference in wether or not you allow your child to see. So, against my husband's wishes, I let the girls go out with me to see our poor, dear and very dead rabbit. They were very quiet but also very curious. I was ok until they both gently petted him and told him they were sorry and good bye. I began to weep then too.

Living where we do-burying is not an option and it's very hard for me to simply place the beloved pet in a box-seal it and put it in our waste bin for trash pick-up but that is what we do. Without being able to say good bye or see the body I don't think it would be real enough for my children- especially since there is no spot they could go to to "visit" their memories. Which is what I did as a child. Instead-I help them remember the good things about our pets and I honestly answer all their questions when they forget the end.

Death is never easy. I was glad I responded in this way when their great-grandmother died. My girls were not scared or confused at her funeral. They were very quiet and respectful and they asked me a few deep questions whispered into my ear. I was so glad they knew they could come to me and that I would give them the answers they needed. I hope we never have another funeral to attend but that is something everyone has to deal with throughout their lifetime. Isn't it better to be prepared?

I am very sorry for your loss of your poodle. I still cry with every loss (except fish). I cry more over my children's tears with such losses as well.

We recently had a dog pass who had gotten pneumonia. Our six year old knew the dog was sick. We buried her in the backyard before she got home from school. She wanted to see the grave, asked very morbid questions (which is perfectly normal as they try to understand what is happening). Don't be surprised to hear questions like "Can you dig her up and I see her" or "Will I see her when I die". This is normal as they process. Don't lie, don't cover it up, building trust and honesty starts young. As much as we would wish to sugar coat things, animals and people will pass. You don't want her thinking that everytime a pet goes to the vet that it will die.

She will cry, be upset, and it will take a while. Do not get a new pet for her while she is grieving. Give it a few months if you need to get a new pet.

Good luck!

I agree about the honesty. But, is this the first time your daughter has any experience of death? If so, be prepared for questions about her own mortality. I had planned to talk to my son about it when he was about 5. But he saw a picture at 3 of a skull and in trying to explain what it was to him he suddenly realized that he would someday die. That totally caught me off guard.
So sorry for your loss.
V.

For me, straight honesty has always worked best. Children have a higher capacity than we often give them credit for. Sometimes we actually "protect" them from the truth just to protect ourselves from having to deal with it. Then when our kids start to figure out aor are confronted with the truth, we have to undo the fiction we first told our now confused children. My boys dealt wth their first pet death when the were 1 and 3 1/2 and we had tried to rescue a baby squirrel. I did not know it was a practice run for when our old dog died 2 weeks later. They buried the squirell but did not get to see the dog buried (he ded and was cremated while we were out of town) but I wish we had been able too see the dog. I think it helps the child to understand the permanence of death. And more importantly, if there are not obvious gruesome injuries I think it helps the child understand death is not necessairly a bloody, violent thing. My boys were 3 and almost 6 when my mom died 2 years ago, and they were actually in the room when she died. I had no idea my 6 year old thought death was always very violent and involved lots of blood - that scared him. Once he saw that Grandma was at peace and no longer struggled to breathe he was so much more comfortable with death. My boys (now 5 and 8) have dealt with 5 more deaths in the 2 years since their Grandma died - 3 great grandparents and two young children. They handle death amazinngly well. We talk about how they are sad to miss the person because they are gone, but how death was a good thing for that person becaue it ended some kind of a suffering and now they get to live an eternity without suffering any more, and one day we'll get to join them. And I have no backtracking to do or stories to remember I told them - we've always spoken the truth, and they know they can trust me to tell them the truth when they ask me questions. It is a challenge to figure out just how to deal with this, especially when you are dealing with your own emotions as well. Your child has an opportunity to learn from you now how they should cope with death and their emotions. Goo luck, and God bless you today as you struggle through this.

T.-
I'm so sorry for the loss of your family pet. Just be honest that the dog has died. Go ahead and tell her what made your dog special is her spirit and that has gone to puppy/dog heaven. When my dog of 20 years passed I had her cremated. She now lives in a pretty box that moves where I do. I eventually will sprinkle her ashes somewhere great. In my opinion, you're going to want to make sure you separate the idea of spirit/soul from the body. I'd hate to think of some precocious 5 year old trying to dig up the body or opening a jar/box of ashes. YIKES!
S.

I would ask your daughter where she wants the pet buried. If she wants the vet to bury the pup in a puppy yard with other animals or if she wants her pup close.

At age 35, I had a hard time when I lost my dog of 16 years and I wanted him where I knew where he was... he is buried behind my Daddy's house with an oak tree on top of his grave. So you might do that for her, plant a tree or flowers. It would be a small tribute to her friend.

Kids are smart and appreciate honesty and being able to take part in a decision that close to their heart.

Experiencing the death process with pets prepares a child for death in life---a reality we can't avoid. I found that allowing my girls to plan the funeral, burial, and all gave closure. Then we were usually on to a new pet. We cried and buried many cats, a dog, lots of bugs, crickets, and a lizard or two. When they found a dead bird, they demanded we have a funeral. When they were in elementary school, their grandfather died. They were prepared. They already knew what was going to happen and they were not adversely affected.

I'm of the "be honest" but don't go into any more gory details than necessary. Just be honest. She will understand. Of course, she will be sad but better to be honest imo. Try not to beat yourself up over your pet's death either. It's not your fault. It sounds like it may have been heart failure or a stroke if there's no sign of injuries. It's so sad to lose a family member.

Humans handle grief and loss in different ways - there is no right or wrong. I think a 5-yr old will understand the circle of life; time to break out Lion King.

That is a hard one. Five is very young to learn of death. Our child was 8 when she saw her poodle get hit by a car and that was traumatic. She ran to me and wanted mom to save the day but the dog died before I could get her to the vet. We took her to the back and covered her up until her daddy got home and buried her in the far back yard. We had a little "service" and each day for a while she would go out and put flowers or a favorite doggy toy on the area. After that it was all over. We explained "doggie heaven" to her as well and she was running in heaven and still happy. A child is satisfied without a lot of detail or constant explanation. You might buy the book, "Freddie the Leaf" - - my daughter is now in her 40's so this might not help you at all. I'm sure there are newer and better ways to deal with it, but you have to do it quickly because it just happened.

Sandy

I agree with the honest approach, you said you live in the country so burying in the land is a reasonable option. Every action is a lesson no matter what age, everyone wants their feelings respected.
This story is FYI, when our elderly dog suddenly became teminal due to an undiagnosed kidney disease, we called our teenage kids to let them know the vet was coming to put her down in our home that afternoon (her vet was so kind to do this at my request, he had known her for years and we lived close to his office); one child came home from school over lunch to say goodbye and the other, who was at college out of state, spoke to her over the phone before the vet came.

Information from this website. I really like this book.
Preschool Education Library : Book Reviews > Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst....
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney not only helps your child identify his feelings and accept the inevitable-but explains the ritual of death through a ...
www.preschooleducation.com/br268.shtml - Cached - Similar

I have a 7and 8 year old and we had to put my cat of 13yrs to sleep and brought her home to be buried they were there. they were sad, but each of them put a stuffed animal of theirs with her and we put her in a blanket....They know she is home , but with the Angels..My point is I think is important for them too know....
I hope this helps

Definitely be honest. I have a very old cat and had been wondering how I would explain it to my daughter who is 3 1/2. Well, my dad died unexpectedly in October and I was glad I thought about it already. People and animals don't live forever. Your dog was involved in a bad accident and the vet could not do anything to keep the dog alive. Sometimes people and animals get sick and can get medicine or medical care that helps them get better and sometimes there is nothing that will help them and they die. We'll never see them again on this earth but we can remember the good times we had with them while they were alive. My daughter often out of the blue will ask me if I'm sad. When I ask her why, she'll say she is sad because Papa died.

Best to you and your family.

personally i told my son that his dog (and the hamsters when they died) went to visit their friends/cousins

I had my dog put down due to her illness and age. My husband and I told the kids she passed away at the vet and they took her to doggie heaven. My kids are 6, 8, and 13. Of course my 13 yr old knew better but kept it at that. I hope that helps. Growing up my dad buried my dogs in the yard and it was upsetting to me but knew they were with me in my yard. Suggestion, at that age her pet went to heaven. No detail, she shouldn't know. All dogs go to heaven.

I know you have probably already handled the situation, but I was glad to see so many people respond that honesty would be the best. As a funeral director (stay-home-mommy now), I have seen many children affected by the mishandling of the sociology of grief. Honesty is the best, and unfortunately we all have to learn about death and hopefully have a healthy understanding of what it is. I've seen many kids who were afraid to go to sleep because there well-meaning parents told them that grandma "went to sleep" or "went to a better place." Kids don't have a grasp on that, and sometimes our protective measures do more damage than good. I've even seen kids struggle with the concept that someone "passed away" rather than explaining what it means to die. Some children need to actually see the deceased person or pet (as long as the body still recognizable as their loved one) in order to have closure, but other's prefer to remember them in their own way. I usually find that the best answer to that is to ask the child. Anyway, I'm very sorry for your loss and I hope that your family finds the closure that you need in order to deal with the grieving process.

Oh I am so sorry. We have 3 pets and the "baby" is a poodle. We live where a lot of wildlife lives and just today, right after I let them in, I had a bobcat at my back fence. I was SO glad that THIS TIME, I happened to stay out there watching them.

We have had 3 dear pets pass away, all from old age. The first when my daughter was 5. We were honest with her. She knew Maggie was very sick and had been. So when the time came, we told her that the vet did all he could to save Maggie but she went to doggy heaven. Yes, there is a book about Doggy Heaven.

Frankie was sick for a while as well and we did the same thing.

The bunny just died. She was playing with him 1 afternoon and the next morning he was dead. She did want to see Easter's body and I let her because she was 12 yrs old and understands death.

All 3 pets were cremated by Tooth Acres and all 3 are in a pretty cedar box in our home. Easter has a little "tribute" area in her room with his picture, etc.

Maggie and Frankie are still on the mantle with a picture of them together a long time ago.

I am so sorry you have to go through this.. It is very hard when you are somewhat expecting it with a sick or old pet. I can't imagine the shock due to an accident.

Bless you and be honest.

I think (i'm a vet tech) that with the age you're dealing with it's best to "talk" it through without the visual. The visual is what stays with kids. I personally don't think "they" need that. You can still include the kiddos in the death process, just in a peaceful way. Maybe let them "email God" to express the loss. I went thru a much more emotional loss of my "first love" dog than I ever expected. And I let my daughter see me cry. Not when I was out of control. But I wanted her to know that pain exist out of love and that's OK. I'm sorry for your loss.
Take care,
Jenny Dobbins

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