Little boy hugging and showing affection and love for his best friend, a cuddly golden retriever.

The Healing Journey: Helping Children Understand & Process Pet Loss

Reading Time: 6 MIN


Hey there, it’s Colleen Ellis from Two Hearts Pet Loss Center. I want to talk with you about dealing with losing a pet. You know, when you’re trying to comfort kids who are feeling sad about losing their furry friend, or even helping out the other pets left behind. It’s tough, but we can get through it together. Sometimes, people try to avoid talking about the loss of a pet, maybe because it’s too painful or they just don’t know how to start the conversation. Some might even say the pet ran away to avoid the topic altogether. But you know what? It’s time to face it head-on. Let’s have those conversations, openly and honestly.

Young Child Girl Playing with Golden Retriever Dog Pet Outdoors Hugging and Kissing at home terrace

Grief & Empathy

So, let’s talk about how grief works. It’s that heavy feeling in your chest, the stuff that makes you feel all off and weird inside. Mourning is when that grief shows on the outside, like when you cry or feel angry. It’s okay to feel all of that stuff.

Empathy is super important, too. It means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding what they’re going through. So, if someone’s feeling down about losing their pet, it’s about being there for them, listening, and helping them through it.

Children & Pet Loss

When it comes to talking to kids about death, it’s important to be honest and use simple words they can understand. No need for fancy words or sugar-coating stuff. And when it comes to tough topics like euthanasia, we need to use clear language, so there’s no confusion.

First off, there are some great books out there that can help, especially if you’re preparing for the loss of a pet. Books like “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” or “Forever Friend” can be really helpful in starting those conversations with kids. And let’s not forget about Barney, there are some gems out there to guide us through these tough talks.

Lastly, let’s create opportunities for kids to say goodbye in their own way. Whether it’s drawing pictures, writing letters, or sharing memories, let’s give them the space to honor their pet’s life. And let’s do it together as a family, because that’s where the healing begins. So, let’s open up, talk about our feelings, and honor the life of our beloved pets together.

Boy hugging his dog

Give Children Options When it Comes to Grieving

When it comes to dealing with saying goodbye to a pet, I’m all about giving kids options. Don’t take away their choices. As a parent, you know your kid best. You know if they can handle the whole euthanasia thing or not. But what’s super important is giving them the chance to say goodbye. Imagine how confusing it would be for a kid if they didn’t get to see their pet before it was gone, you know? Let them have that moment.

I remember this one family I worked with. They had this dog, Oscar, and their little girl, Lily, was super attached to him. So, when it was time to say goodbye to Oscar, Mom had Lily come along. Sure, it was tough for Lily, but it was important. She got to kiss Oscar goodbye and leave little lipstick marks on him. Kids need closure too, you know?

After saying goodbye, Lily went outside for a bit to process her feelings. Then she came back in and wanted to see Oscar again. It was a whole process of crying, remembering, and then finding little moments of peace. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s how kids deal with grief. We’ve got to let them do their thing.

Another family I worked with had a pet that didn’t make it. Mom was like, “Just take her away.” But I told them, “Let the kids be part of it.” And you know what? Those kids created a whole memorial for their pet. Flowers, toys, you name it. It was their way of coping, and it was beautiful.

Remember Together As A Family

So, here’s the deal: create a space at home where you can remember your pet together. I call it a tribute table. Put all their favorite things on there and have a little service. Talk about the good times, maybe order some pizza, and just honor your pet’s memory as a family.

Now, let’s talk about our own feelings as adults. When it’s time to say goodbye to a beloved pet, we all have different relationships with them. Maybe you brought the cat into the family when you were an adult, but by the time your child came along, the cat was already elderly. It’s important to acknowledge and accept these differences in our relationships.

When it comes to getting a new pet after losing one, let’s take a moment to let our hearts heal. It’s easy to rush into replacing a pet, but it’s important to give ourselves and our families time to grieve. And let’s be honest with our kids about what’s happening and what’s about to happen. They might have questions or even feel guilty, and it’s our job to support them through it.

Little girl with their grandfather petting a cat together in beautiful back yard.

Other Pets in the Home & Pet Loss

Oh, and don’t forget about your other pets. They grieve too, you know? Let them sniff around and do their thing. It’s how they process. I had this cat, Albert, who laid next to our other pet when he passed away. Animals are pretty amazing like that. So, give your kids and your pets the chance to say goodbye in their own way. It’s all part of the healing process.

We all have different connections with people, right? Well, it’s the same with our pets. Some might act a certain way, others might not seem to care at all. And sure, in our heads, we might think it’s a waste of time because they don’t show any emotion. But trust me, it’s important for them to understand what’s going on, just like we do.

Imagine this: your furry friend sees another pet getting taken to the vet and doesn’t come back. They’re left feeling confused. We need to help them out. Pay attention to their behavior. If they lose their appetite or seem restless, it could be a sign of grief. And if they’re used to following a leader, they might need some time to figure out who’s in charge now.

Our pets have their own way of communicating, and it might change when they’re grieving. They could become more vocal or seek different kinds of attention. We need to be there for them, support them through it. And hey, sometimes they might not show any reaction at all, and that’s okay too. We just need to understand their unique bond with us.

This old cat does nothing but lay around all day and sleep.

Honor Their Life

Now, let’s talk about what we can do to honor their life. It could be anything you want, really. A memorial service, a walk in the park, or even just throwing sticks in the river like you used to do together. The important thing is to create rituals that feel right for you and your pet.

Maybe you want to involve others in the ritual, or maybe it’s just something intimate for you and your family. However you choose to do it, make sure it’s meaningful. And don’t forget about the little things, like bringing home a piece of their fur for your other pets to smell. It might seem small, but it can make a big difference for them.


So let’s embrace our emotions, talk to our pets, and create rituals that celebrate the life we shared with them. Whether it’s a simple gesture or a formal ceremony, let’s honor their memory in a way that feels true to who they were and the bond we shared.

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