How to Help Your Children Deal with The Death of a Pet

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Dear MS,

Our Golden Retriever is almost 13 years old and her health isn’t the best.  We’re wondering if we should start preparing our children, ages 3 and 5 for the inevitable now?  Should we just wait until the dog dies?  How have you handled this with your children?


We have always owned animals, even when our children were infants.  Having a pet can teach your child invaluable lessons such as responsibility.  It also teaches children a difficult lesson; all living things eventually die.

Your children are very young and death is such a difficult concept for children at this age.  In fact, it’s hard for children to really understand the permanence of death until they are about 9 or 10 years old. 

However, it still is possible to prepare your children now for the inevitable death of your beloved pet.  You may want to search the databases of your local library for books about the subject that fit into your belief system.  Once you find several books that you feel are appropriate, read them aloud together with your children.  Let your children ask questions and answer in “kid-friendly” terms.

Some people suggest that families with young children get a puppy before the older dog dies to make the transition easier for the children.  I have mixed feelings about this.  When our dog got older, he was in a great deal of pain and we felt it would be unfair to him to make him deal with a young puppy in his advanced age.  People I have talked with though claim that a young puppy actually seems to “cheer up” the older dog.  Again, it’s important to make the choice that you feel is right for your family.

When the inevitable happens, it’s important to let your kids express whatever emotions they need to express and to help them work through their grief.  We always held funerals for our pets and invited the neighbors. For the funeral, we read a passage from the Bible and sang a hymn and then shared our favorite memories of our pet. We put flowers on the grave we had dug in the backyard and we make regular trips to “visit”.  This really seemed to help the children. 

I wish you and your family the best as you deal with this difficult and delicate subject.


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