Margaret C. Saiki, D.V.M.,
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Pet Euthanasia: Pet Loss In Children

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            Pet Euthanasia: Pet loss in Children

Margaret Saiki

 

Introduction

Children form strong attachments to family pets talking to them, taking care of them, petting them and some look at family pets as siblings or playmates. So in many situations a loss of a loved pet is the first experience of loss for a child. They don’t need medical or scientific information, buy rather they need support, understanding, love, consolation and affection. Although children do grieve, they grieve differently from adults. Parents need to help their children navigate through the grieving process. It is therefore important that the parents understand the bereavement processes for themselves, for they are the model for their children.

 

How a child grieves, depends on their age, emotional development and the strength of the bond they had with the pet. Most children will adjust to the loss of a pet if the approach is honest simple and gentle.

Age related issues

Children at different ages or developmental stages grieve differently. One thing they have in common is that they need the support and help from their parents. Since the loss of a pet also emotionally effects parents it is important that parents fully understand the grieving process for themselves. Parents are the model for their children.

2-3 years of age

  • Children at this age do not have an understanding of death.
  • They should be reassured that they did not do or say anything to cause the death or the pet.
  • These should be told that when a pet dies, it stops moving, doesn’t see or hear, and won’t wake up again. These statements may need to be repeated several times.

3-5 years

  •   Children at this age have some concept of death, but may see death as temporary and possibly reversible.
  •   Manifestations of grief may include bowel or bladder disturbances as well as a change in playing, eating and sleeping habits.
  •   Drawing pictures and discussions about their feelings will help.
  •   They ask questions repeatedly. This is part of the grieving process.
  •   Children at this age can see death as contagious and then fear their own deaths
  •   Children at this age can sometimes associate the anger they had at the pet at one time be the reason for the pets death.

6-8 years of age

  • Children at this age start to develop a little more realistic view of and death.
  • They don't understand that animals run on a different biological clock, or that illness or injury may make pet euthanasia the best option.
  • At this age they may manifest their grief in many ways, such as school problems, anti-social behavior, somatic or physical concerns, aggression, and withdrawal or clinging behavior. As with young children, it is important that they be reassured that they did not do or say anything that caused the pets death.

 

9-11 years of age

  • Children at this age understand that death is natural, inevitable and happens to all living things. Understanding that death is irreversible.
  • At this age they may manifest their grief in many ways, such as school problems, anti-social behavior, somatic or physical concerns, aggression, and withdrawal or clinging behavior.

Adolescents

·         Adolescent react to loss similarly to adults. Although their feelings can range from one day to another from hyper emotional to lack of concern. One day they want to be treated and consoled as children, and then the next they want to be treated as adults. There tends to be more conflict with parents on how to express feelings and grief.

Young Adults

·         Loss of a family pet at this stage of life can present unique feelings and challenges and maybe particularly hard. These individuals may have grown up with their pets. Most have left home for college or are spending less time with their pets due to work, friends and school obligations. They have feelings of guilt for abandoning their pets. If the pet dies while they are away college they are unable to say goodbye or participate in family rituals associated with the loss.

 

Ideas on how children can memorialize their Pets

·         Drawing pictures of their pet. This can be helpful to encourage children to express their grief. They can share what the picture means to them.

·         Create a scrapbook of pictures and drawings. If funny pictures are included an association with happiness can be established.

  • If the pet has been cremated, find a special place in the home for the urn. Be careful that a shrine not be created it can affect bereavement and healing. If the ashes are scattered involve your children in the decisions.
  • If the pet is buried, wrap the body in a shroud or casket. Planting a tree, bush or flower bed can be a living memorial.
  • Memorializing helps in the acceptance that the pet is now a beloved memory.

What not to do

  • Don’t tell children to be “strong” or criticize their tears.
  • Don’t tell them how they should feel.
  • Don’t use the phrase “put to sleep”. It can create worries at bedtime.
  •   If using the phrase “God has taken” it can create confusion, anger and conflict at the higher power.

In General

  • Being open and not concealing your own sadness.
  • Don’t tell children how to feel.
  • Answering questions simply and honestly, and repeatedly if needed.
  • Avoiding euphemisms such as “put to sleep”.
  • Allow each child to grieve in his or her own way.
  • Memorializing can help with the grieving process and acceptance.

 Other Resources

  • ChildPetLoss.com- a website dedicated to providing children and teens with information about ways to deal with the loss of a pet.

Dr. Saiki has a page on her website Lovingathomepeteuthanasia.com specifically for online pet memorials. If you would like to place a memorial for your pet on this page please contact Dr. Saiki at 408-399-5353.Dr. Saiki is a member of the Amer. Ass. of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians and understands the unique bond which forms between children and their pets. At part of her mobile vet service she offers loving in home pet euthanasias.

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