Our Cat Died, Need Help Explaining to 3 Year Old

Updated on October 21, 2008
S.W. asks from Elmore, AL
17 answers

Our cat Shadow passed away unexpectadly of unknown cause. I have explained to my 6 year old that she has gone on to heaven and he understands, but my 3 year old son does not seem to understand this.

He was close to Shadow, and is going around the house calling her name and looking for her. He keeps coming to me and asking where is Shadow is she lost? I have told him that she is in heaven, but I don't think he understands.

Does anyone have any ideas how to explain this to him.

We have 2 week old puppies at the house, and I was hoping these would distract him, but they have not as of yet.

What can I do next?

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answers from Tuscaloosa on

My opinion is to tell the truth. Tell them that Shadow died, and he is not coming back. They will be very upset, but will get over it. Children are much more cognizant than people realize. Trying to cushion death will make it harder for them to accept when they're older. If they are told the truth about death now, it won't hit them as hard once they are older and a person they know dies.

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answers from Mobile on

I am very sorry for the unexpected loss of your cat.

Fortunately, our two cats and two dogs whom our 2 1/2 year old adores are still very much alive, but we did just recently go through the death of our fish. Although we'd had the fish for over a year, I didn't think our daughter would notice its absence, but of course she did, within a day. I told her Artie was gone from the house but he was still with us in way. I think heaven is too abstract an idea for a toddler, so I took her outside to the spot that I buried the fish (yes, I buried the fish. I am insanely sentimental). If you haven't buried Shadow you could pretend if it isn't too late or doing something like a memorial. I explained to my daughter that Artie had gotten sick and old and died and that I had buried him in the earth where he had come from. Now instead of being with us in a way where we could see him and feed him, he was in the earth and all around us. I let her plant a little flower on his grave so she could see how Artie would now help other things grow and live. It seemed to work well, although as I said this is just a fish and not one of the pets she interacts with all day, so it may be different for you and your son. Occasionally when my daughter is in her high chair she points to the grave spot out the window and says, "There's Artie and his flower, but he isn't with us anymore." She seems to get it and isn't emotional about it anymore.

Best of luck. And again, condolences on Shadow.

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answers from Fort Smith on

Ok, I know this is a little different but I lost my dad a year ago and my son was really close to his Papa George. I had to explain it to him and the easiest solution I came up with was this...We had recently watched the movie Lion King and in that movie Simbas dad appeared in the stars in the sky. So,I decided to explain to my son that his Papa George dies and turned into a star. He asked why and I said that when Papa was a little boy he wanted to grow up and be a star. This seemed towork until morning when he couldn't see the stars so I said that during the day Papa sat on the sun fishing all day! And Papa watches him all the time even when he can't see him. My son was allowed to go outside at night to look at the stars and tell Papa that he loved and missed him and good night. I don't know if it will work in your case but it's an idea.



answers from Auburn on

You should clearly explain that Shadow is gone. Possibly your three-year-old does not understand "Heaven." Also, vieit the library. The children's librarian can point you to good kids' books on this topic.



answers from Baton Rouge on

At 3, death is an almost impossible concept for a kid to wrap his mind around - it's too abstract, and the idea that something or someone they love could just disappear from their lives and never return is frightening. It's even harder when it's unexpected, because there's no time to prepare him for it.
All you can really do is keep telling him when he calls her that she isn't lost, that she has died and gone to kitty heaven, and that she won't be back. You might also reassure him that she's safe, and that she still loves him, even though she can't be with your family any longer.
I had to have a dog that my daughter dearly loved put down when she was about that age. My grandmother, whom my daughter had also dearly loved, had died shortly before that, and my daughter liked the idea that Charlie was playing fetch with great-maw-maw in the afterlife.



answers from Tulsa on


Living in the country our three kids have had to face the certainty of death many times but only three times with pets. In each case I was straighforward with them that the animal has died for whatever reason (old age, being run over by our own van, a mysterious disease). We all looked at the animal's body then buried it. In some cases we had a "funeral" and in others I simply buried the animal in the area of our property that was the pet cemetery.

I didn't have to answer very many questions but when I did get the inevitable WHY???, I mostly just said that animal's body was worn out and couldn't go on, just like Great-grandmother So-and-So. I didn't mention Heaven because that would have opened yet another can of worms and I don't really have any sound doctrine to back it up. I did not hesitate to let the children see me cry and also allowed them to grieve in their own way...even if they didn't.




answers from Oklahoma City on

You are going to have to be more specific. "Heaven" to your 3 yr old is obviously some place you visit and come back from. You need to let him know. Shadows body stopped working. Shadow died. You won't see Shadow again. It's okay to miss Shadow. etc...

Ask your local librarian, I'll bet their are books about losing a pet that would help. You know how kids are, they need to hear it over and over to help them understand. Reading the same book for a couple weeks could help.



answers from Fayetteville on

Our cat, Chapps, was hit by a car, and our 2 1/2 year old son was looking for him every where. We told him that the kitty went on Vacation, and he accepted that, and now he has stopped asking, but is pretty attached to our new cat Claire.



answers from Pine Bluff on

Heaven is kind of abstract for children. Have you thought about saying that Shadow went bye-bye to Jesus' house? Maybe you could say that Shadow told you to make sure that he had new friends - aka, the puppies. (I wish I could send you one of my kittens to be a new friend, but I don't know if that would work either!) I don't know if any of that will help - I know even at 10 or 11 years of age, losing a pet is a very hard thing. I kept looking around thinking my dog Alice was going to magically reappear. I think it just takes time.



answers from Texarkana on

maybe the only was is to get him another cat let him pick it out cause there really no way to explain it better than you did good luck



answers from Oklahoma City on

there is an amazing book called "desser the best cat ever".my mom works at an elementary school and ordered it from scholastic. it's about a little girl who grew up with a cat, the cat gets old and dies in the book. it does a great job of explaining the ageing process and the sadness after death, but also how to celebrate and remember your pet. i will warn you taht in the end of the book the little girl gets another cat, so you might end up with him wanting to get another cat too. we used this book to help my four year old understand my grandmother's death, and it seemed to help.



answers from Lawton on

I am sorry for the loss of Shadow. We very recently lost my cat Chewy, who had been with us for 11 years. She lived indoors, but went out some and one night she went out and never came back. We searched the neighborhood for her for days and never saw another sign of her. It was really hard for my three year old little boy to understand because he had been feeding her every day and had been letting her in and out for us. I just explained to him that Chewy had run away and found another friend to be with and that she wasn't going to come back. It may be hard in your case to say this and was easier for us since we never saw her again. I didn't know if Ethan, my 3 YO, had gotten it until one day we were in the grocery store and he said we needed to by cat food as we went down that ailse. I said "No we don't. Why do we not need to buy cat food?" and he said "Because Chewy ran away. She found a friend." He has since stopped asking us to go look for her. I hate it so much that our innocent little children have to go through this, but I guess it is part of life. Good luck.



answers from Oklahoma City on

Hi. We recently had to put our little puppy (who was a birthday gift to our daughter) to sleep, and she was VERY attached! She kept going around the house calling our "Cowboy" all day long. We had just been telling her he was in Heaven with Jesus. So finally I said Savannah, we don't have a puppy named Cowboy anymore. We are just going to play with our cat, Goliath now. She said Okay and now plays with Goliath every day. That's what worked for us!



answers from Gadsden on

My step son was 4 when his father died so I can relate to the issue. We sat him down and told him that his daddy went to be with Jesus in Heaven and that he wouldn't be able to see him any more, but that it was okay because he is in a better place now. He's had some days where it's a little difficult because he misses him, but he understands that he's gone. And really it doesn't matter how you explain it, death is a HUGE concept that even as an adult still blows me away, the finality of it all. I guess I just think the best way is to just explain that the kitty is gone, and if you believe in God, to Heaven perhaps and that he's happier there, perhaps he was sick or something. It may help. Best of luck!



answers from Little Rock on

Sorry to hear about your cat. Our just died, too. I told our 2.5 yr-old that she had to go live with _____. (We used George, her brother who disappeared last year.) That she's really happy and we're sad that she's gone but glad that she's happy where she is. Not sure how this will fly with the 6-yr old around...you'd have to enlist the 6-yr-old's help I guess. Our pediatrician said at this age things are still out-of-sight, out-of-mind a bit, and "magical thinking" is very real to them. Hope it helps.



answers from Baton Rouge on

We had a death in the family when my brother and I were young and my mom read a book to us called "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" by Leo Buscaglia. It is amazing I still remember that, but I do. It helped my mom explain -in a way a child understands- how death is a part of the life cycle. I highly recommend this book! You can probably check it out at your local library or buy it online or in a bookstore. Hope this helps! Sorry to hear about your cat.....



answers from Baton Rouge on

Hey S.,

We are going through the same thing now at our home as we lost our dog bailey. And my little one continues to call for her. What we have done that has worked great is similar to what you have done. We just repeat to her mutliple times a day that bailey is in heaven with God. And sometimes we add to the story of bailey is getting her back scratched or eating lots of food. We also add that Bailey is not coming back and tell our little one to tell Bailey she loves her.

We also let her get a balloon to send up to heaven, for God to give to bailey. And we will do this every few weeks if she continues to ask. We also make pretend calls to God and to Bailey. It really has worked to let her talk it out. Sometimes she says Baiely is in heaven with God...as if she is answering her own thoughts without asking us.

As for the redirecting.... we have been doing that too!... new puppies will help... but i would suggest naming one..or redirecting to a pet's name that you have.... like in our house when we feed the dogs and our little one calls for Bailey... we remind her about bailey being with God and then we say "call for maggie." This works as she sees our other dog and is content again.

I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved pet. It really is hard to loose a pet, but i promise the constant asking by little ones makes the grief process go by faster and more thoroughly than you can imagine.
God bless,

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