College of Veterinary Medicine
Pet Memorial Program

Grief Within the Family

Boy and catPets are often considered members of the family. Each member of the family has their own special unique relationship with their pet.

When it is time to face a difficult decision or following the loss of pet family members may respond differently to the loss depending on their relationship with the pet as well as the way in which they experience grief. Sometimes this can lead to conflict and tension in the family. When your family has undergone the loss of a pet it is important to understand that everyone handles it differently. See Supporting People Through Grief. Everyone needs to respect each other during this difficult time. 

Child Grief
The death of a pet is difficult for every one in the family. It can be especially difficult on children. Children often form a very special bond with the family pet. The family pet is often a fun playmate, a source of comfort, and an uncritical friend for your child. All children, like adults, have different relationships with the pet. For many children the pet was his/her best friend and represented unconditional love. Many factors determine how a child will respond to the loss of a pet: their age, life experiences, attachment to the pet, circumstances surrounding the death, experience with death, and support available to the child. Be aware of what events have occurred recently in your family that may add to the grief for your child (recent divorce, additional death, troubles at school etc.). Some of these factors can compound the grief your child is feeling and may cause old issues to resurface.  
For many children this may be their first experience with death. Children may not understand what exactly death is. It is important to talk with your child. They may be confused about what they are feeling or how they should feel. They also may look to you in how to act with the loss. Pay attention to your child and the signs they display. It is normal for them to feel depressed, withdrawn, and or angry, just as adults do. See the Grief process.  
When talking with your child make sure you answer their questions. Listen to your child and reassure them that you are there to help them, love them, and are experiencing grief as well. Your child may need you to hear you repeat information and reassurances several times. Be patient. Provide comfort. Recognize and appreciate the special bond your child had with the pet and do not trivialize the child’s grief for the deceased pet. If your child knows the veterinarian talking with the vet may be beneficial.      
Remember everyone handles grieving differently. For your child it is important they feel you are supporting them in their grieving process. Being a supportive parent is the best thing you can do for your child during this difficult time. If you are at all concerned about your child’s behavior or are having difficulty helping your child a grief counselor that understands the importance of pet loss may be helpful for both you and your child.  
We at the Pet loss Hotline are here to help. If you wish to talk to one of our trained volunteers please do not hesitate to call or email. We would be more than happy to provide you with any assistance we can.  
See Helping Children Cope with Grief for some ideas for helping provide support and allow your child to express him/herself through the grief of the loss of a pet.