Helping Your Child Grieve the Loss of a Dog

Whether you've made the difficult decision to put your dog to sleep or if the dog dies at home, or even simply runs away, you and your family will likely grieve the loss. As adults, we understand that death is a part of life, and we have experienced the death of loved ones and friends at some point. However, for children the loss of the dog may be their first experience with grief. What can you do to ease the pain?

Sad boy missing his dog

Everyone grieves differently

There is no one "right" way to grieve, and it is very likely that you and your child will grieve differently. However, the fact remains that you will both go through a period of mourning after the loss of a dog. In fact, it is necessary to experience mourning in order to move on with your life.

Grieving can be described as an active process of coping with loss. Although it helps us to release the pain, it also creates chaos as it forces us to change and adapt to a new reality. Grieving requires time, effort, persistence, preparation, and patience.

The intensity of grief is tied to many factors including the strength of the relationship each person had with the deceased dog, the way in which the dog was lost, the personality of the mourner, and other stresses which may be going on at the same time.

Cycle of grief

You may be familiar with the stages of grief described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her landmark 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Regardless of whether you are mourning the loss of a two-legged child or a four-legged child, you will likely go through all five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.

What most people find is that the stages don't necessarily run in an organized fashion, straight from denial through to acceptance. Rather, the stages appear to be circular, repetitive, concurrent, and overlapping. Grieving never totally ends, but it does lose its intensity over time.

Unresolved grief

If your child is not permitted time and space to properly grieve the dog's loss, he or she may develop actual physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and even heart arrhythmias. The sadness over loss may turn into anger, causing your child to lash out at others.

Grief can only be resolved by allowing the child time and space to accomplish four tasks:

  • Accept the reality of the loss, both intellectually and emotionally
  • Acknowledge the grief and work through it
  • Adjust to the new environment without the dog (Even though a new dog may be brought into the family, the new animal is never a true replacement for the old.)
  • Move on to a new place of peace where the sadness is no longer incapacitating and the animal can be remembered in a positive light.

Helping Your Child Cope

The biggest thing you can do for your child is to let him or her know that it's okay to feel what he or she is feeling. Help the child to identify the feelings being experienced, whether they are going through sadness, depression, anger, or a combination.

Let your child know it's okay to come to you whenever these feelings surface, as they will again and again. Sometimes, sad feelings pop up when we least expect them. And sometimes, happy feelings will pop up in the midst of the sadness, when the child remembers the way the dog licked his or her face or the way the animal would dance on his hind feet at mealtime.

Children can be embarrassed about laughing at their memories of the dog when everyone around them is saddened by the loss. Let your child know that it's okay to remember the good times, even through the sadness. If the child cannot think of any of the good times, find ways to give him or her little reminders of happier times. Hang a photo of your dog in the child's room or give him or her a small reminder of the dog to carry around in a pocket.

Encourage your child to say goodbye to the dog, if not just before the dog leaves, at least soon after the loss. If the dog dies while the child is at school or away at camp, ask the child to write a letter to the dog to say goodbye. This closure can be very important in working through grief and mourning.

Help your child make a memorial to the lost dog. Whether you buy a professionally made headstone or simply place a small memorial in your back yard, give your child someplace to go to remember the dog. Even painting the dog's name and birth / death dates on a rock can provide a memorial.

Don't be afraid to celebrate the dog's birthday and even the anniversary of his or her death. Recognize that both you and your child have lost an important member of your family, and that celebrating the dog's life keeps the happy memories alive, even though the animal is no longer physically present.

Remain aware of your child's moods so you can make sure the child eventually comes to terms with the loss. If your child is still struggling after what you consider to be an adequate length of time, consider getting professional help. Check with your employer's insurance plan to see if mental health care is available and if there is a counselor specializing in grief in your area.

You might also check with a local hospice or hospital or even your veterinarian to see if they know of any grief support groups for children.

PetLoss.com lists available grief hotlines and offers an online support forum where you and your child can chat with others who are going through similar pain. Make sure you are resolving your own grief, or you will never be able to help your child resolve his or hers.

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brezyj2000@gmail.com
i already know im going to be sad when i lose my dog i had her since i was a baby i still got her im hoping i dont get angry or hard to be around because im always nice to be around plus i have a big family and i know if i get angry at them they might not want to be around me im also an animal lover when i grow up im going to be a vet everbody knows how i get when i lose something like one time i went to a carnival with my dadsister cousin and nana i won a goldfish they thought it was going to die in the car but it didnt but when i woke up the next morning my mom told me it passed lastnight i was soo sad i dont even think i named it yet i cryed all day but my dogs i had them for years now ive even lost a hampster after a couple months i got him for my birthday i cried even before i knew he was gone because i havent been seeing him in the cage bjm
Catty
I was very young (3/4) when I lost my dog, but he didn't die he was just taken away and I never got to see him again but I don't remember much. At this moment I have another dog and though she is such a brat she is also a sweetheart and I couldn't imagine life without her, & I'm gonna have to someday. My cat died last summer from feline leukemia, and I went through this grieving process too. After he turned 1, he was never the same again and was always hiding... Turns out he had been suffering from the leukemia since he was born and we would have put him out of his misery sooner if we would have known, and for that reason I accept this loss. He was 5 years old :(
elizbearz97@yahoo.com
i really cant help kids that have lost their dog because either i help them loook for it or just ask people if they have seen the dog of a lil boy but thats all i can do
sophie
i was very sad that my dog died
 
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