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Helping You and Your Child/Children Cope

Death of a Pet.
Pet Memorials

The death of a pet can be as traumatic and upsetting as the death of a human.

Grief over pet loss is a very natural thing. We become very attached to our pets and form a special relationship with them so the death of a pet can carry with it all of the same feelings of grief and bereavement that we feel when friends and family pass away.

I found these word the other day on the web and thought they might be helpful to further explore the grief that we feel at the death of a pet.

People love their pets and consider them members of their family. Caregivers celebrate their pets' birthdays, confide in their animals, and carry pictures of them in their wallets. So when your beloved pet dies, it's not unusual to feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your sorrow. Animals provide companionship, acceptance, emotional support, and unconditional love during the time they share with you. If you understand and accept this bond between humans and animals, you've already taken the first step toward coping with pet loss: knowing that it is okay to grieve when your pet dies.

Understanding how you grieve and finding ways to cope with your loss can bring you closer to the day when memories bring smiles instead of tears.

What Is the Grief Process?

The grief process is as individual as the person, lasting days for one person or years for another. The process typically begins with denial, which offers protection until individuals can realize their loss. Some caregivers may try bargaining with a higher power, themselves, or even their pet to restore life. Some feel anger, which may be directed at anyone involved with the pet, including family, friends, and veterinarians. Caregivers may also feel guilt about what they did or did not do, and may feel that it is inappropriate to be so upset. After these feelings subside, caregivers may experience true sadness or grief. They may become withdrawn or depressed. Acceptance occurs when they accept the reality of their loss and remember their animal companion with decreasing sadness. Remember, not everyone follows these classic stages of grief—some may skip or repeat a stage, or experience the stages in a different order.”

Grief over pet loss and the grieving process is exactly the same as that when we suffer the loss of a loved one (you can read more about the seven stages of grief here.


We should also consider the effect that the death of a pet can have on children.

A child’s first experience of death is usually the death of a pet and there are things that we can do to help our children understand that experience and cope with it.

Here are some tips on helping a child to cope with the death of a pet taken from Julia Brannan, third-year veterinary student and student director of the Companion Animal Related Emotions (C.A.R.E.)

“Talk about the death of a pet before the death occurs. Brannan suggests inviting your child to take part in the decision-making process. "Not including children in the process makes them feel completely powerless about what is going on with their pet." When deciding whether to facilitate the death of a terminally ill pet, talk honestly about options.

"Reading books about grief and pet loss to children opens the door for parents and children to talk about the possibility of losing their pet." Brannan's favorite children's books about pet loss and grief are the following: The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by J. Viorst; Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parents and Children by E. Grollman; About Dying: An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Togetr by S.B. Stein. Your local library or book store may have suggestions also.

 Making a difficult decision:

If the decision is made to euthanize a pet, veterinarians can explain the medical aspects of death: how euthanasia is done, and how the pet will look in death--that eyes do not close, that the body may be warm for a few hours, and that the body will become stiff later. Veterinarians also can explain why a pet did not make it through a traumatic accident. In addition to medical questions, veterinarians can help parents deal with the child's questions and grief. "Grief issues do not just happen in the clinic; they happen after the child leaves--months or sometimes years later," adds Brannan.

Parents often wonder if a child should be allowed to be with the pet during death and see the body after the pet is dead. Brannan suggests asking children what they want to do. If the parent or child does not feel the need to be present during the euthanasia, then an alternative is to go back into the room after the euthanasia proceedure and say goodbye. Seeing that the pet is actually dead often helps give children and parents a sense of closure.

During the grieving process, family members at various age levels will react differently. Children under two can sense stress in the house even though they do not know the cause. Brannan suggests comforting them and paying extra attention to them during the grieving period. "Children 2 to 5 typically believe they are invincible," explains Brannan. Death is a reversible feat that cartoons like the roadrunner and coyote enact. Although they may not understand that their pet is dead, explaining death concretely now will help them understand it better later.

Eight-year-olds might understand that death is irreversible; however, in their minds, the universe revolves around them. "So if they think bad thoughts like, 'I don't want to walk Fluffy today. I wish she would just die' and then a couple months later, Fluffy does die; a child this age might believe that their bad thoughts caused the death of the pet," says Brannan.

Children may react in ways that adults wouldn't. They may draw pictures of their pet underground, bury dolls, or ask shocking questions about what is happening to their pet's body underground. All of these responses are normal and healthy.

Showing your own grief in front of your child is healthy as well. Hiding grief might make children wonder why you don't miss the presence of the pet in the house. This could lead to them wondering if you would be sad if they died. Grieving and crying in front of a child validates to the child that these emotions are OK to express.

Families can be creative about memorializing their pet. Plant a tree. Put an engraved stone in your cat's favorite spot in the house. Write a letter to your dog. Encourage children to draw pictures. Each family member should be encouraged to memorialize their pet's death in a way meaningful to them.”







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