Explaining dog death to children

Jazz the Spaniel at home, sitting comfortably on the sofa next to members of his family

The death or loss of a dog is a difficult time for everyone in the family, but for a child it can be a particularly challenging. Losing a pet is often their first encounter with grief and can be confusing. It also means the loss of certain rituals; evening walks, a friendly greeting when coming home from school, and even a source of unconditional comfort and affection. How children cope may vary from child to child, but there are several things you can do to help your child cope during this difficult time.


Funerals and similar rituals have been important parts of human culture since records began. They help us acknowledge the loss of a loved one, process it, and move on. For pets, it is important that we recognise their passing, and allow our children to take part. Perhaps you can scatter the ashes together. Maybe your child can paint stones to leave on your pet’s grave. If your dog has become lost with little hope that they will return, perhaps you could bury something belonging to the dog, such as a collar, or a food bowl. This will allow your child to have closure.

Share your grief

Your child may act out in varying ways. Perhaps they are more impatient than usual. Perhaps they are particularly clingy at bedtime or at social occasions. These are normal occurrences. Talk with your child and acknowledge their feelings. Name them; sadness, anger, disbelief, confusion, fear. Explain that you too are feeling these feelings, and that you miss your dog as well. This will help make your child feel less isolated.

Acknowledge their role as a dog owner

Unfortunately, dogs do not live as long as humans. Explain this to your child, and stress that the important thing is for dog owners to ensure their dogs live happy lives. Ask your child if their dog was a happy dog. When they say yes, acknowledge their role in making them such a happy dog, and praise them for being such a good friend to their dog.

Embrace the good times

Share your favourite stories about your dog. Maybe you could both draw pictures of them and frame them. Maybe you could both write letters to your dog and post them off to the Rainbow Bridge.

The Invisible Leash” by Patrice Karst is a beautiful book for children about coping with the loss of a pet. 

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