Preparing Child for Loss of a Pet

Updated on October 30, 2009
L.J. asks from Richmond, VA
9 answers

My daughter is 2 1/2 years old and LOVES animals. We have 1 dog, a Siberian Husky, 1 cat, and a fish. We learned today that our cat, who is about 15 years old, has multiple tumors in his lungs and since an operation would not be able to remove all of them, our vet feels that it is best for him to be at home with as little stress as possible. My concern was if the cat was suffering, the vet says that he's not in pain, he just has a little trouble breathing and gets tire very easy. However, due to the amount of tumors, the vet believes that he could pass with 2 weeks. I know many people have had to explain this part of life to their kids, and I'm looking for some guidance.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for all the support and advise. So far our kitty has been getting somewhat better. He's eating more and seems to have more energy. However, it is still only a matter of time before the inevitable. We've been telling our daughter that the kitty hasn't been feeling well and that she needs to be gentle with him. She's never been rough with any of our pets, but we're trying to help her understand that when he is resting, she needs to leave him alone. The book ideas are wonderful since she loves books and for us to read to her. We will definately be hitting up the bookstore. Thanks again!!

More Answers


answers from Lynchburg on

Dear L. -

I am so very sorry to hear of you cat...I know it is hard...but try to look at this as a teachable moment for your child. Because 'we live'...we also die. And eventually, some person close to your child will is the natural order of things. Hard as it is to deal with the loss of a pet (we are animal lovers here) I was glad in a strange way that we had had our beloved cat die before my dad (their grandpa) died as the death of 'capulet' kinda opened the door to some understanding...

"The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" by leo bascallia is a really wonderful book for kids regarding death. There is another one...sorry I do not remember the author...called "The Waterbug Story". In essence it chronicles a water bug who's friends all float up to the surface of the water...and do not return. He is frightened by this...and promises his friends that he will not float up and disappear, and IF he does...he will come back and tell them. Eventually, he does float to the top...grows wings...and becomes a dragonfly! He does try to 'dive bomb' back to his waterbug friends...but his wings prevent him! Any way, he finally realizes that in time his friends will transform into dragonflies as well. He is sad he cannot tell them, but is quite excited to be a dragon fly...and is happy that his friends will be with him again when they are ready! (oops! Guess I told the ending!! LOL)

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Our dog passed last September, and the book I used to bring up the topic and prepare my daughter a bit was Cynthia Rylant's "Dog Heaven". Absolutely wonderful book for kids and adults, I *highly* recommend it.

She has also written "Cat Heaven", so I would try that one, in your situation.

Good luck!



answers from Richmond on

I remember this happening with our family cat. I have a daughter is just turned 5 and is autistic, so you can imagine my dilemma. I'm sorry you have to go through this. I don't know of a right way to do it either. It worked out for us that my husband was staying with his parents because we were in the process of moving between cities. He was already working in the city we were moving to and I had the kids with me during the week to pack up the house. We were given the same diagnosis for our cat. I despised the fact that I may have to put the cat down. What I did however really helped our kids. (I also have a son who just turned 2 at the time.) We were going to see daddy, grandma, and grandpa on the weekend and we decided to take the cat with us. When we left to go back home at the end of the weekend, we left the cat with daddy and said our "goodbyes". The kids never brought up the fact that the cat was gone when they went back the following weekend. I'm glad we did it that way, but this idea is not always available. For us it worked out best. I pray your daughter will have a peace about saying goodbye to your kitty.



answers from Washington DC on

L., the best way to prepare a child that young for the death of a family pet is to talk to her about pet heaven. It is best illustrated at the website Here is the direct link to the poem: Also take come pictures of her with the cat and then go and shop for a frame together to put the picture in. Also when you put him to sleep, ask the vet/hospital if they do pawprints. Some local vet/hospitals provide a kit that once you've said your final goodbyes they will press the animal's pay into some substance (don't know if it's clay or what) and then write the animals name on it. You can then take that momento and either put it in a shadow box with the cat's collar and some photos of good times with the cat. Don't forget to put a rainbow sticker on the frame or what ever you decide to do with it to remind her that the cat is waiting at Rainbow Bridge for you. If she were older I would say to allow her to be in the room when they put hime to sleep but in this case I think she is too young and it would be inappropriate. But then again I don't know you all personally so I can only make the suggestions that I have. There are local support groups for people who have lost their beloved pets so I would check into that if she withdraws after he's gone. I hope this has been of some assistance. Feel free to contact me if you feel the need. I volunteer for two rescues and have personally had to put down one foster cat due to distemper. It was devistating to see her in so much pain, but I felt like I gave her a loving and healthy environment for the short time she was with me. I chose to hold her when they administered the shot and I will continue to do that with ANY animal that comes into my life. It gives you a since of relief that they are no longer in pain, and living happily at the bridge until I come to be with them. There will be a zoo awaiting for me when I get there but I don't care. I pray that you find the answer you are looking for and are able to assist your daughter through this difficult time. God Bless you and your family.



answers from Washington DC on

We just went through this with one of our cats and it was horrible. I am so sorry that you are going through this. It happened so fast. My sister in law's dog and my parents' dog had also recently passed away. My 3 yr old didn't seem to notice or ask questions, but my 5 yr old did. I wish I could tell you I told her the truth. When my sister in law's dog died I didn't want to deal with the details and told her she had to go to a special doggie old age home in the sky where they could give her the care we couldn't and she would be so happy up there. Then when my cat died, I tried to explain death and heaven and she got really upset and then said, "no mommy, I think we are going to send Goldie to the old age home with Molly (my sister in law's dog). Molly needs a friend." I think that she is beginning to understand the concept of death and it scares her and this was her way of saying that she didn't want or need the information from me on death yet. When my parents dog died she said that Molly and Goldie would have a really good friend up there. Good luck with whatever you decide. I don't think a 2 1/2 yr old really needs a lot of details though.



answers from Los Angeles on

"The Ten Good Things About Barney" is a great book to help start the conversation. So sorry for your impending loss.



answers from Washington DC on

How sad for you! It is SO difficult.

There is a book called "the ten good things about Barney" about a child mourning the loss of his cat. I found it very helpful to read with my then-3yo daughter when my cat passed away.



answers from Washington DC on

Two books I highly recommend:

Lifetimes... explains death and dying in a more "clinical" way. Some excerpts: "Everything has a beginning and an ending and in between is living. It is the way with plants, with people, with animals, even with the tiniest insect." "...that is the way that it is with rabbits. That is their lifetime." It doesn't contemplate the afterlife, it just explains how different creatures live and die and ends each section with "that is how it is with _______. That is their lifetime".

The other book I highly recommend is "Gentle Willow". This is one we are using to help our daughter to understand her Grandmother's terminal illness, and can easily be translated to the terminal illness of your cat. This story deals with a willow tree who is sick and her friend the squirrel notices that she does not feel well. She calls upon two wise owls to help Gentle Willow get better, but they are not able to cure her. Squirrel stays with Gentle Willow as she gradually weakens and dies. At the end of the book there is a beautiful sunlit place where Gentle Willow once stood that Squirrel can look at to remember her. Again, this book does not contemplate the afterlife, so it allows you to make some of your own inferences according to your faith.

Good luck.



answers from Washington DC on

So sorry about this, what a painful experience. I don't know the right way to do this, but I would be very careful about how you use the word "sick." You don't want your daighter to think that anyone who gets sick will die or diappear from her life. I might focus on being upfront about dying and end of life and time for going to heaven (if tha tis your belief). You don't want to make her be afraid of being sick.

I also don't think you want the prospect of this hanging over her head for weeks. You miht want to tel her he doesn't feel well and tha tshe needs to be super kind to him. I would carve out some special time for the two of them - let her make a picture for him, take their picture together, let her give hima special meal of his favorite food. Give a way to say goodbye and have some special fond memories with him without necessarily telling her that he is going to die.

Sorry I can't be more helpful.

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