How Do You Help Kids When a Pet Dies?

Updated on January 14, 2013
S.S. asks from Saint Petersburg, FL
11 answers

Our beloved cat has cancer and she is wasting away. The vet tells me it's time. My seven year old son is very sad. My three year old daughter doesn't understand but will be asking where is the cat. What is the best way to help them with the loss of their pet? I have the book For Every Cat An Angel but I'd like some more ideas. We are certainly not ready for another pet right now. Maybe down the road. I know lots of pet loving Moms have been here before. Thanks.

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So What Happened?

Wow! Thank you so much. Everyone had such great advice and my heart felt thanks to each and every one of you. You have made me feel much better and now I have lots of ideas for how to handle this. Your responses are a blessing.

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answers from Miami on

Take pictures of them together. Let them say goodbye to the cat. Don't explain that the vet is putting the cat to "sleep". Do tell him that the cat is dying and needs help from the doctor because she's in pain. Don't use the word "sleep" in place of "dead". Children take things literally and will think that she might come back if you euphamize this. Don't take them to the vet with you. Have a loved family member or favorite babysitter stay with them while you are at the vet. I would not bury your pet in front of them or tell them that you have brought the cat's body home with you.

It's okay to cry about it in front of your children. If they ask if kitty is going to heaven, it's okay to say she is going to kitty heaven. Expect difficult behavior for a while. Be kind and loving, but still firm. You can say "I know you're having a hard time right now. We all are. But we still have to do "x"." That acknowledges your child's feelings and will help him figure out why he is upset when he might not even realize why.

When my kids wanted to pray for our dog, I let them and prayed along with them. That might help. (Let your child take the lead in that.)

I will tell you that my dog died about 6 months before my sons' great-grandma did. In a way, losing a pet beforehand helped my older child cope with the loss of his great-grandma. It kind of got him prepared.

So sorry about your cat - I know how much it hurts to put a beloved pet to sleep.


7 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

We recently lost our Ferret, I know big difference from a cat, but we were very attached. The kids could not remember life before the ferret, so as far as they were concerned we "always had it". We could tell that the ferret was near the "end". So we started explaining to the kids that the ferret was getting old and not feeling very well. That likely she would die and go to heaven soon. That once that happened we would not see her anymore. We had a few months to get used to the idea, but that did not prevent sadness when the time came. When the time arrived, we explained that the it was time for the ferret to go to heaven and that she went. (daddy took her to the vet one day while the rest of us were running errands) We explained how she had, had a great ferret life but that she could not live forever. We asked the kids if they had any questions and we answered as simply and honestly as possible. We all shed a few tears together, letting the kids know that it was okay to be sad that our pet was gone. It went as easy as could be expected, there were tears for a few days, but not consistently. The kids knew that we were honest about the process, so they were satisfied with the answers. Loosing a pet is never easy, just be as honest as you can, with out sharing details that the kids don't need to know about.
Good Luck

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I really like some of Dawn's suggestions. Our cat Gus was going downhill for a while in November, and so I did take a few pics of Kiddo with kitty. He's recovered for the time being, but we know his time may be soon (chronic kidney failure) and so Kiddo knows that he's fragile.

There's a great book by Bryan Mellonie called "Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children". We have used this book in our family, when one of my son's preschool classmates had a baby sibling that died unexpectedly. The book is very comforting and matter of fact --'There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living.' This book gently explains how natural this cycle is, it simply explains causes of death and why death happens without anything graphic or truly sad.

Cynthia Rylant also has her "Dog Heaven" and "Cat Heaven" books. She is an author I have a lot of respect for, and she really can get on a kid's level and understands how they think. (She writes the Henry and Mudge books, as well as Mr Putter and Tabby.)

Do have a place in the house where the kids can 'remember' your pet. It could be a corner with a candle, where the kids can leave letters or pictures or treats for kitty. I think the most important thing is to remember that the kids may have a different way of processing all of this, so it's important to give them the facts ("Kitty isn't alive any more") without squashing what they need to do to make themselves feel better.

My heart goes out to you-- I am so sorry for your loss. Our cats are some of our best buddies. They are their own characters and most certainly part of the family. I wish you a calm and peaceful time in the midst of all of this.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Great book:

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children
Bryan Mellonie

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

We put our cat Lola down 2 weeks before Christmas. She had been sick for a while, so I had been talking to my 3.5 year old about Lola having to go with God soon. When I knew we were going to have to let her go finally, I talked to my daughter some more, explained that it was best for Lola even if it wasn't what we wanted and gave her the chance to say one last goodbye before we took Lola to the vet. When we came home, it actually hit her that Lola was gone, even if she didn't want her to be, and my daughter broke down sobbing. I hugged her, reassured her that we all love and miss Lola but it was time to let her go with God and end her sickness, cried with her some and then I just had to let her be and grieve on her own. It broke my already broken heart to hear her sobbing for our cat and to know that I couldn't do anything to ease her pain, that I just had to let her get through it herself. After a few minutes, she came to me, hugged me and was better. She still talks about missing Lola, but she truly does understand that we made the right decision by letting her go.
I suggest you openly and honestly talk with both of your children about how sick your cat is, how she's not going to get better and how you're going to need to let her go soon and let her die so she's not in pain anymore. Use whatever your beliefs are, but I do not recommend using the term "put to sleep". You don't want your children to misunderstand and become afraid to go to sleep themselves. Besides, use the opportunity to help them understand death, your beliefs about after death and that death is inevitable and irreversible in all life. We believe God is everywhere, in all things, so my daughter takes comfort in the fact that Lola's spirit is now no longer sick or hurting and that her spirit is all around us. If you believe in heaven, you can talk to your children about how your cat will be waiting for you all at the end of the Rainbow Bridge. There are many stories about the Rainbow Bridge that have been written based on the original poem.
Just be honest with your children, don't try to gloss it over because you think they won't understand, give them the chance to actually understand what your family is going to be going through, so they aren't left confused.
My heart is with you and your family.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

All I know is, if you tell a child that the cat is dying because he/she is "sick"... then a young child MAY think, that anytime someone is "sick" that they will die, or get like how your cat is. Person or pet.

The reason I say this is: when my son was in Kindergarten and they were learning about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and about the Indians etc. and the history of it, he got scared and thought that anyone who gets sick, will die. I asked him why? And he said that its because many of the Indians died... when the Pilgrims came because they got the Indians sick, and they didn't have immunity to it etc. So then, he'd tell me "Mommy please don't get sick, you will die!"
Young kids, extrapolate... things. In their young minds.

Anyway, this is just my "tip" to keep in mind.

I know its hard.... all the best.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

We just lost our dog in September. We had to put her down. Our children are older than yours so they were able to say their goodbyes. If I were in your shoes, with them being so young, I would take her to the vet when they aren't around. Just make sure you carve out some special time in the hours before they leave so they each have a special memory of loving her right before she passed. I would then just tell them she passed when they left. My kids are 11 and 12 and it just about killed us saying goodbye before taking her in. Yours are too young for that. I am so sorry. It is REALLY hard...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

We went to the dollar store and bought them each a buch of balloons (not mylar). We then let them decorate the ballons with whatever they wanted to say or draw and release their message to heaven. For them the ceromony seemed to help.
We also made sure that when they were gone there were no random reminders left behind (toys, bowls, etc).
When my father passed the funeral home gave us ornaments for the kids to color for him and a copy of the Seseme Street episode "When families Grieve"That episode might be good if your daughter ends up taking the loss hard-but I would use it as a last resourse as they do talk about losing people.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

We've lost 2 cats in recent years. We had both of them before our kids so they had always been around.
The oldest had been getting sicker and sicker. We were trying treatments but they weren't working. They saw me giving him medicine each day, they were coming to all the vet appointments. We told them that his body was getting old and was starting to not work right. We told them that it wasn't going to be long before he was going to be in lots of pain because his body didn't work right any more. They understood. They were able to associate it with things like their shoes getting old and dying, or their toys not working and dying. When we lost our oldest cat we had added 3 new cats, totally unplanned, a few months before while he was sick. She showed up at our doorstep and turned out she came with 2 kittens that we ended up keeping too. We had been discussing if we were going to get another cat or not to keep the other older cat company, the choice got made for us LOL It did actually help that we had other cats to love on when we lost our oldest.
We lost our second oldest about a year and a half or so later. She had been getting slow. She never took to the newer 3 family members. We ended up with having to put the 3 in the library with the door closed at night so she'd come out. It was a weird relationship. You could see that she was getting skinnier. In the end she died of kidney failure and a very aggressive and fast growing oral cancer. Once again, we had no intentions of getting anymore cats when we lost her, we had 3 others. But there we were in Petco. As we walked to the door we saw the adoptions set up near the door. I am one to always go look just because they are there but do not take them home with me. But one made me stop. We ended up adopting him. We lost our second oldest a week later.
On both occasions we brought the kids with us to the vet when we put them down. This helped a whole lot. Our youngest child was only about 1 1/2 but it helped her.
We have their remains in beautiful boxes on my headboard and plaster molds of their paw print.
The best thing is to be open and honest. Don't use words like they're sleeping etc. Kids understand and accept a lot more than people are willing to give them credit for. Involve them. Keep it simple.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Houston on

We just lost our dog Saturday! So hard. My thoughts to you and your family. Since the kids are younger (mine are 20 and 24), I would not have them with you when you put your cat down. I would spend some time with Kitty and make her last day special. Keep her collar and answer all the questions. Just say Kitty was really sick and she went to kitty heaven. She can play and run and do all of the kitty things she could do before she got sick. Hugs to you!

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