How Do I Explain the Death of a Family Pet to My 4 Yr Old?

Updated on July 15, 2008
W.D. asks from Beaver Crossing, NE
12 answers

Today we had to say "goodbye" to our cat Tucker. Due to health reasons he was put to sleep. I told my daughter that he's "with the angels" now..but she is asking may specific questions. Does anybody know of a book to read to her or the right words to say to her? I think its harder on her because I"m extremely upset myself at the loss of my "furbaby".

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the good advice everybody! I bought a few of the books reccomended and one that i found myself called "Cat Heaven". Its been a great help. We still have a long ways to go, but things are getting better and less emotional everytime we talk about it and read the story.

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answers from Milwaukee on

"Freddy the Leaf" is out of print now, I look for it at used book stores and I buy them up, or try on line. It is a wonderful story of the life cycle of a tree, a leaf and great wisdom of the oldest leaf on the tree. As the season comes and goes, so does life. M. in Wauwatosa, WI

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answers from Duluth on

Hi W.,

When I read your post, I immediately thought of the story below. I've received it a few times via email and it chokes me up every time. I checked it out at and it is a true story. The book the child receives in this story, is the one recommended in another post, by Mr. Rogers, "When a Pet Dies".

Status: True.

Some of you may know that our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month (8/23). The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her.

She dictated and I wrote:
Dear God,

Will you please take special care of our dog, Abbey? She died yesterday and is heaven. We miss her very much. We are happy that you let us have her as our dog even though she got sick. I hope that you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and swim before she got sick. I am sending some pictures of her so that when you see her in heaven you will know she is our special dog. But I really do miss her.

Meredith Claire

P.S.: Mommy wrote the words after Mer told them to her
We put that in an envelope with 2 pictures of Abbey, and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Mer stuck some stamps on the front (because, as she said, it may take lots of stamps to get a letter all the way to heaven) and that afternoon I let her drop it into the letter box at the post office.

For a few days, she would ask if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had. Yesterday, for Labor Day, we took the kids to Austin to a natural history museum. When we got back, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch. Curious, I went to look at it. It had a gold star card on the front and said "To: Mer" in an unfamiliar hand.

Meredith took it in and opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers, When a Pet Dies. Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God, in its opened envelope (which was marked 'Return to Sender: Insufficient address'). On the opposite page, one of the pictures of Abbey was taped under the words "For Meredith." We turned to the back cover, and there was the other picture of Abbey, and this handwritten note on pink paper:
Dear Mer,

I know that you will be happy to know that Abbey arrived safely and soundly in Heaven! Having the pictures you sent to me was such a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

You know, Meredith, she isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me — just like she stays in your heart — young and running and playing. Abbey loved being your dog, you know. Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets! — so I can't keep your beautiful letter. I am sending it to you with the pictures so that you will have this book to keep and remember Abbey.

One of my angels is taking care of this for me. I hope the little book helps.

Thank you for the beautiful letter. Thank your mother for sending it. What a wonderful mother you have! I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I am in heaven and wherever there is love.

God, and the special angel who wrote this after God told her the words.

As a parent and a pet lover, this is one of the kindest things that I've ever experienced. I have no way to know who sent it, but there is some very kind soul working in the dead letter office. Just wanted to share this act of compassion :) dear friend — hope you enjoy it as much as I did

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answers from Minneapolis on

I am sorry for your loss. We are pet lovers too and our dog of 14 1/2 years passed away in Dec. Pets are a special part of our families. There are a lot of good books listed on some with workbooks for kids(The Day Scooter Died"; "Remebering my Pet".... One thing we did was make a scrapbook(I bought a blank journal) of photos our pet so our daughters could look at those pictures and we would talk about the fun times we had with the pet. That seemed to help the most and it is nice for me to look back on,too. We have two dogs and two cats with a our oldest daughters cat living with us temporarily. Our daughters are teen to young adults and all love their pets!


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answers from Minneapolis on

"When a Pet Dies" is phenomenal. Your library should have it. It deals with a lot of "practical" issues about death, like what happens to the body, and the book allows you, the parent, to interject with your own beliefs on the afterlife at a specific spot in the book.

Also, do you plan on having your pet cremated? You could have a little funeral for the cat. (You could even have a "rememberance" ceremony, even without remains.) Have your daughter talk about what she liked about the cat, have her draw pictures. She could decorate a plain wooden photo frame, and then you could put a photo of the cat in it.

I'm sorry for your loss. That is so hard to put a pet to sleep.

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answers from Minneapolis on

I'm so sorry for your loss - losing a pet is always so hard.

My kids have experienced the loss of a cat, and the loss of two of grandma's dogs. We have just explained it to them matter-of-factly, and they seemed to be ok with that. Mickey (our cat) had been sick for a while so my then-2.5 year old had seen him being ill. I explained that his body was old and not everything worked as well as it used to, and he was sick and soon his body would stop and he'd stop breathing and his heart would stop beating and he would be dead. He was a little sad from time to time, but he understood.

I think that the more truthful we can be, the better. Let them mourn as they need to - it's ok to be sad when someone or something we love dies, and that's all part of the process.



answers from Minneapolis on

The library and book stores have some great books to read to your child.

There is a book for young children that Mr Rogers wrote called When a Pet Dies which is a good one for the loss of a beloved pet

***We also recieved a great little brochure/booklet by Mr Rogers called Talking With Children About Death from the funeral home after my Grandmother passed away.
In this booklet, Mr. Rogers eases fears about how to speak to young children about death. He provides meaningful answers to commonly asked questions and feelings.



answers from Appleton on

W., I'm so sorry for the loss of your cat. The concept of death is a hard one for a 4-year old, but not impossible. Our daughter was 3-1/2 when her newborn sister passed away, and the grief counselors told us to explain that the baby's heart didn't work right and that's why she died. We needed to be careful she understood that her own heart, and ours, work fine so she didn't worry about it happening to any of us. These concepts could be used to simply explain why your cat died too. It may just take a little while for your daughter to understand that Tucker won't be coming back.

Someone gave us a beautiful book called "All God's Creatures Go To Heaven" by Amy Nolfo-Wheeler that talks about the loss of pets as well as people. It's about the "children angels" who take care of the animals that come to heaven. It's perfect for a young child. Just don't expect to get through it with dry eyes--I can't even to this day!



answers from Detroit on

W. so sorry for your loss i understand the pain you have when you loose a loved pet, and have them put down, we had to do that to our pet as well, and when our kids were young, your right when you tell kids about death its hard to understand, and its especially hard when you lie to them , and tell them they are with the angels, in the childs minds, the angels are mean and should not take their pet away and this they dont understand, nor do they understand any lie you might tell them, of course many many questions will pop up and its hard to deal with on your own level let alone not have the answers that follow, i understand your dilema, but what we did , was tell our child the truth, the truth is our pet, died, it is gone, and it is in a very long sleep, it will not be here any more, animals die, that is how they are made, we love them dearly and we miss them, but everything we know and love eventually dies, this may sound harsh, but it is reality and kids accept it more so, than a lie, somehow kids know when something does not sound right, ive gone to the bible for my support in what is truth about death, after all it is a book from god, with all the needed instruction we need, he has many scriptures in there of comfort, and about death, unfortunately pets die, but when a human dies, the bible holds out a hope for them in the future, by reading the bible you find that that hope is a resurrection to life here on this earth in a paradise, in the future, this information can be found in any bible no matter your religion, and the book that can help you is entitled, "What the bible really teaches" it is published by the jehovah witnesses, and can be obtained by them, i love my book and have learned lots from it, any religion can be helped to understand the bible from this little aid, i learned alot from mine and love it, i love having my 3 kids, and they know that death is death, and although very hard for little ones, its just as hard on us, and any amount of greiving can be overcome by time, and some deep appreciation of gods word, take care and enjoy being a good parent, and keep on finding answers for you and your little ones, D. s



answers from Minneapolis on

I answered my 3.5 year old questions as best I could. She's pretty intelligent and I want her to know things as honestly as I can answer her questions. She lost her Grandpa last year and then shortly after our pet Guinea Pig died.

I explained that Papa died and from what. I explained that he went to heaven up to the stars and that we'll never see him again. I explained that he's with God and she's familiar with religion from bible study which I thought is helpful. We let balloons go to the stars and she liked that. She has had questions about why we can't see him and whenever we went to his home she'd ask about him and we say that he's not coming back because he's gone. He died.

The same goes for our pet. I explained how Niller died and that we can't see her. She had her questions and I answered the best I could. She asked if Niller was in heaven with Papa and I had to say I didn't think so and that I wasn't sure and that our religion doesn't believe that pets go to heaven. She was able to say bye to our pet and help bury her.

I don't know any books for children losing pets. I just have a series of several books that explains angels, heaven, God etc.

I'm sorry to hear about your loss and hope your daughter will be able to process everything.



answers from Duluth on

i think if you search someplace like you should be able to find books about hte death of a pet

dont ever use the 'falling asleep' bit or you might confuse her into thinking that if she falls asleep she might die too.

ive never been through this so its hard for me to answer but i really hope you can find a way to help her understand

dont overshare! only answer what she is asking. simple answers. dont give her more info than she asks for ... so she can process it her way you know?
good luck



answers from Minneapolis on

We have gone through this quite a few times actually, a dog, several (several) fish and most recently a puppy, and my grandmother is currently in hospice...

I have always told my son they went to live with God, (my dog died when he was 2, he is now 4) when he asks why, I say well, God needs them more than we do now, it is time for them to start the new life God needs them to live, then we turn it into a 'positive', I ask him questions about 'what do you think God wants them to do..." honestly I get some pretty interesting answers, including how it will benefit the Minnesota Wild....we went to visit my grandmother just this last Monday to say goodbye, and my son told her to say hi to God for him...



answers from Des Moines on

Do you have any relatives that passed away recently? If so you could say that your cat went up to heaven to join them.

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