How To Talk To Children About Pet Loss And Grief

Guest Post by Jon Baily The Cambridge Pet Crematorium 


Coping With The Loss Of A Loved One

For many children, their first experience of death and bereavement is the passing of a family pet. This presents parents or guardians with the dilemma of how to explain what has happened. Any conversations are complicated by the grief they, the adults, are also experiencing.

Whilst many people believe conversations about death and grief are taboo, at Cambridge Pet Crematorium they believe that it is vital for all family members to have an appropriate understanding of what has happened.

The following article provides guidance on how to discuss death with children. The advice is suitable for those suffering the loss of a pet or human family member.



Helping Children through Bereavement

Parents are the best-placed people to help children through bereavement. The following information will shed light on how people of different ages understand and react to loss.

Knowing this should help understand your children’s reactions and may shed some light on how they are coping.




How do children of different ages react to loss?

6 months to 2 years

At this developmental stage, a baby can picture their mother or primary caregiver. A bereaved child of this age will express their loss by loud and angry crying.

It is quite common for them to become withdrawn and to lose interest in toys and food. Toddlers may actively look for the person or pet that they have lost.

Two years to five years

At this age and level of development, children do not understand that death is permanent. When a child is told of the death it is common for them to ask, “When will nanny be coming back?” or “why can’t I visit Sheba in heaven?” You should answer these questions honestly and consistently. It is probably a good idea to inform relatives and carers of how you would like them to answer any questions.

Later we will explore the importance of not using euphemisms. For now it is important to understand that children aged two to five find it hard to understand abstract concepts, such as how a person can be buried and in heaven at the same time.

Children at this stage may believe that they were in some way responsible for the death. Maybe they were angry and wished that the person or pet would go away. They may believe that their wish caused the death of a loved one.

Five to ten years

As with other developmental stages, honesty is key when discussing death with a child in this age group. Their understanding is more advanced; they will know that death is permanent. Children at this stage are aware that death is inevitable and that they themselves will one day die.

This level of understanding can lead to anxiety. They may worry that other family members or friends will die soon. This may lead to the child asking questions about the death, the funeral or cremation. They may ask difficult questions on what happens to the remains. It is important that you answer them honestly whilst keeping the language age-appropriate. As with other age groups, you should ensure other family and friends are aware of how you want any questions answered.

At this developmental stage, children may mirror the coping mechanisms that they see. This can lead to them hiding their emotions thinking that they are protecting other family members. It is a good idea to give children of this age permission to express their emotions and to talk to them about their feelings.



Tell the truth and do not use euphemisms

I am sure we have all heard stories of the family dog “retiring to a farm”, or that “he has gone to sleep”. It has been seen as a kindness to protect children from the truth, but making up stories can lead to confusion in your child.

Children may think it is possible to go and visit their loved one and may not understand why they can’t. If they have been told their loved one “has gone to sleep”, they may wonder when they will wake up. Your child may become scared of going to sleep in case they don’t wake up. To avoid confusion, tell children the truth.

Use language appropriate for your child’s age

You know your child better than anyone; what they understand and how developed their language skills are. When discussing the death of a loved one you should answer any questions factually and calmly.

Try to answer the question asked and do not elaborate. Your child will ask more questions if they want to know more. This could happen in a single conversation, or it may be many small conversations over a period of a few days, weeks or even months.



If you are having a pet euthanased try to use a neutral date

Deciding when to have a beloved pet euthanased is difficult. Especially if your pet is suffering from chronic condition accompanied by a declining quality of life. How do you decide when the time is right?

Our advice, try to use a neutral date. If possible, avoid birthdays, holidays or other dates important to you. You do not want a day spoilt because it is associated with the death if it can be avoided.

Respect children’s feelings

The death of a loved one can be a scary and confusing time for children. Let them know that it is ok to cry. It is also ok for them not to cry. Giving your children permission to grieve and permission to stop grieving will help them to cope with their emotions.

For more information on talking to children about bereavement visit,, or



Article by Jon Baily The Cambridge Pet Crematorium 


Author Bio

Jon Baily writes for The Cambridge Pet Crematorium on a range of pet-related subjects, including pet welfare, pet loss and coping with bereavement.



The Cambridge Pet Crematorium

Tel: +44(0)1763 207700




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