SeeSaw doesn’t provide support for children and young people when a pet dies but we do recognise the impact it can have when a much-loved pet dies. For many of us pets are companions, friends, we may tell them secrets, snuggle together, cry to (or even on) them, play with them. For children and young people, the death of a pet may be the first death they experience and is often a way to help them to understand about the life cycle, not just of pets but all living things. We may know the pet is ill and going to die and it is a chance to prepare children and young people for the death; what will happen and how to say goodbye. Younger children may respond in very matter of fact, or practical ways to the death and there are some lovely resources to support younger children when a pet dies. These are a couple we like:
However, we also recognise that the death of a pet can remind us of other deaths, and in experiencing the grief of this death we can reexperience previous grief. It can be safer to express grief for a pet than for a person, especially if our relationship with that person was difficult or complicated, or too hard to think about. That’s why sometimes parents can be surprised by how strong their child’s response to their pet’s death is. A pet is an animal but sometimes this can mean more to a child than the death of another relative. This Marie Curie article expresses this idea well “As sad as it is when a pet dies, it can help prepare a young person” (mariecurie.org.uk)
As children get older their understanding of death becomes more mature and, by adolescence, they are starting to have a more adult understanding of death and what it means for them. Older children may feel a pet’s death more strongly because of this, or for those who may have mental health issues or special educational needs, their pet may represent a lot more to them.
Part of our role, when we advise and support when a parent or sibling is dying or has died, is to reassure those around a child that everyone grieves in their own way: according to their temperament, their age and stage of development, their relationship, and what the death means to them. The same advice applies to pets. It is better to acknowledge the grief rather than dismiss it, help children to say goodbye, and don’t treat their friend as immediately replaceable. Our booklet, ‘Supporting children and young people when someone important has died’, gives useful advice and information that can all be applied to the death of a much-loved pet too.
This article by the Blue Cross may also be useful reading Pet loss support for children – missing my friend | Blue Cross
The Blue Cross also offers Pet Bereavement Support if you would like to talk to someone about the death of a pet Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service | Pet Loss