Explaining the Death of a Pet

Updated on August 23, 2007
R.F. asks from Minneapolis, MN
7 answers

How do you explain to a two year old about a pet dying? Our cat died this morning and I don’t know how I am going to explain it to my son. He LOVES the cats (we have 2). He walks around the house looking for them so he can pet them and tell them he loves them. He is very attached, calls them by name, feeds them, helps brush them, the whole works. I feel like I need to prepare myself for what to say the next time he goes looking for her. Any advice would be appreciated.

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answers from Sheboygan on

When our cat was hit by a car, my dau was 3 or 4, but we had a friend who was a child psychologist living next door and here is the advice she gave me:
She said be honest and age appropriate. Don't say the cat is 'sleeping' or anything. In our case, I asked if she should be able to see the cat, as we had it in a box, and since only one side was messed up, and that was the side that was down, she looked pretty normal. Dead, definitely not sleeping, but normal. She said to ask dau if she even wanted to see it. She did.
I also asked if I should try not to cry too much lest my emotion make her feel like she should feel a certain way. She said it was fine to let children know that we are sad when someone we love dies, and that we'll miss them.
So, when she got up and went looking for the cat, I pulled her on my lap, and I told her that Pandora was hit by a car, and that she was dead, and I did shed some tears. I told her she could see the kitty if she wanted, to say goodbye, and that what was going to happen was that we were going to bury the kitty and if she had something special she wanted to put in the box, that was ok. She was very thoughtful: not really understanding death at that age I can't imagine what was going through her head. I told her if she had any questions to ask and I'd be glad to answer (which is how I dealt with the question of how much to tell her: not too much that would overwhelm or confuse, but not so little that she just made up in her head what she thought were the answers). I told her it was ok to cry or feel sad, that I was sad and that I was very glad Pandora had been our pet.
After a few moments of silence, she decided she did want to see her. She took catnip and a toy and put them in the box. She touched Pandora's fur. She didn't cry at all. After about a minute she said 'bye Pandora' and off she went to play.
Now, years later, she did cry. She asked for an angel-kitty pin she saw in the store that she wore for awhile too. She loved that kitty. But she dealt wit it in her own way, at her own speed. The cat she got after that has been with us for 11 years, and now that my dau is a teen, the loss of this pet will be far more dramatic, I'm sure. But as a child, she really was quite stoic.
Good luck to you.
K. Wildner



answers from Rochester on

We recently lost a pet as well, and though my son understood what had happened (he's 6 1/2) my 20 month old was very confused. She's also got a limited vocabulary, so we weren't quite sure what to do. My son was actually the one to tell her, and he simply said "Claire went to go live with Mommy's grandpa." (He passed away last November) This seemed to be all the explanation she needed.

My son (like yours) picks up on things quick, and it was hard explaining things to him when he was young, because he never seemed satisfied with a simple answer. I'd start out by simply saying your kitty died, and go from there. I'm not sure what your religious beliefs are, but you could bring that into the conversation as well if he's looking for a more in-depth answer. Just take your cues from him.

I hope that helps a bit, and I'm sorry to hear you lost your cat. :( My kids (and myself) are very attached to ours, too. :)



answers from Milwaukee on

We have had a bird, a cat, and numerous amounts of goldfish die. Cassie was a bit older but I explained to her that God needed to see our cat in heaven because she had lived a long life here on earth. When my father-in-law passed away last year I comforted her by telling her Grandpa is going to be taking care of all the pets and we will all be together again someday. You can explain that the kitty went bye bye and won't be coming back. But I know at that age the concept of loss is very hard for them to understand.



answers from St. Cloud on

Hi R.,

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your pet. I, too, lost my beloved cat just recently (she was almost 18) and had to explain to my son that she was very old and would die soon when he wanted to pet her (etc.) in her final days. She had never adjusted to having a baby or little boy in the house since she was alone for nearly 15 years so he always caused her a lot of anxiety. Because of this, he wasn't particularly close to her, but it did make him sad that she was going to die.

I explained that when a person or animal dies, it means that they stop breathing and their heart stops beating and she'd go away and he might not see her again. I pretty much left it at that. I did NOT want to say "she's going bye-bye or to sleep" because I worried that he might connect going either with never coming back (that's why I said "might not see her again" in connection with going away). He said it made him sad and I told him that it was okay to be sad and I was very sad, too, but she was very old and she was ready to leave us. It probably would have been a very different conversation if he saw her once she was dead, but as it was, I found her in the morning before work and buried her that morning before he woke up. He hasn't ever asked where she is, but just seemed to accept that she had finally "gone away".

My son has had difficulty with understanding the concept of heaven and souls so I chose not to go that route (my dad died at Christmas last year and Alex didn't understand any of the sadness, comments about heaven, etc). He does understand "not seeing someone" and "missing them" and remembers pictures. At least you still have one cat that your son can shower his affection upon now that one is gone. I think it will be easier for him as long as you stay away from potential anxiety causing comments. Good luck and remember that his emotions are not fully developed yet so he might react differently than you'd expect. Take care...



answers from Milwaukee on

We went through this last year. Be honest, but sparce on details unless he asks. We said the cat died and is in heaven. She asked a lot of questions including why is the body here - the soul went to heaven. We buried it, cried, made pictures and talked about how we miss the cat. It was a great lesson in life and the questions were surprising to me.



answers from Saginaw on

Hi R.,

I'm sorry to hear that your cat died. It's so hard to lose a pet.

My son was about 2-1/2 when our cat died last winter. He was also very attached to her and it was quite difficult for me as she had been my cat since college. Miles knew that Sydney (the cat) went to the doctor and didn't come home, so we told him that she was very sick and the doctor tried to help her, but she was just too sick and too old. We simply told him that she died and although she isn't in our house anymore, she is always in our hearts and our memories. We have a lot of pictures of her around and he still talks about her a lot. I agree with the other responses here that the best thing is to be honest and explain it as simply as possible. Hope that helps!



answers from Sheboygan on

Hello... my two year old helped rescue some baby bunnies and raise them and when we awoke one morning the mother rabbit was dead in the road... My daughter was heartbroken so we simply explained that sometimes animals die and when they do they go to be with god in heaven. We explained to her that the rabbit had died and it was okay to be sad and she seemed to understand this. She will tell anyone who asks her about her bunnies that their momma died and she is now their momma. I guess trying the most basic truth helps. I personally am not a fan of avoiding the truth because they are too smart as you already know. Sorry you have to have the discussion with your son but hopefully this will go well.

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