Coping with the Loss of a Dog

The loss of a dog is a painful part of pet ownership. Here are some suggestions to help children and adults cope after the death of a beloved pet.

How to Help Children

First, let your child know that it’s okay to feel sad about losing your dog. Ask him if he wants to draw pictures of the dog, write stories or poems about him, or talk about your loss. Also explain to your child that these sad feelings will pass with time.

Be prepared for mood changes while your child mourns the loss of your dog. Let your child’s teacher know that your family has recently lost a pet so any crying or unexplained anger can be handled appropriately.

Preschool children (5 and under) may not fully understand that your dog has died. Explain the loss as best you can, and be patient because you may need to explain things more than once.

Elementary-age children (5 to 12) have a somewhat clearer concept of death, so they may ask a lot of questions about how your dog died. Answer honestly and as completely as you can because information helps this group process their emotions better.

Young teens (13 to 15) may have great difficulty dealing with your dog’s death because they may have considered him “their” pet without assuming complete responsibility for his care. If possible, teens may benefit from visiting the veterinarian’s office with you and discussing the dog’s well-being.

Regardless of a child’s age, being honest about the loss of your dog is the best way to help all family members cope with the loss. Honest answers help children and make it less likely that they will create an answer on their own, which may be more fantastic or upsetting than the truth.

Grief Support Services

While helping children cope with the death of a pet, remember that it’s okay for you to feel sad, too. You may feel angry or guilty, or you may want to deny that your dog has died. All this is normal. Don’t diminish your feelings by saying “It’s only a dog.” Pets are important family members, and when we lose someone we love, we grieve.

If you or someone in your family need to discuss the loss of your dog, look for a grief support group or hotline under “counseling” in the yellow pages of your phone book. You can search online for virtual pet loss counseling sessions and pet memorial sites.

Adopting Another Dog

Although you may think you never want another dog because of the pain you’re feeling, don’t let the current grief prevent you from future dog ownership. While you can never replace the dog you just lost, you may find that you miss having a dog.

Some people quickly adopt a new dog, while others take a few weeks or months before finding a new pet. Maybe you want your new dog to be the same breed as the pet you recently lost, or maybe you’re interested in owning a different breed.

Discuss bringing home a new pet dog with your family. Locate breeders and breed rescue groups in your area and start the search for your new canine companion.