How do I explain the death of our pet to a child?

Helping Children and Companion Pets with the Loss of a Pet

How do I explain pet death and euthanasia to my child?

All children grieve differently, their way of healing after the loss of a pet is a complex process. For many children, the loss of a pet may be their first real experience with death.  This is an opportunity to open communication and shape the way they see and understand death. Properly explaining death can help to demystify the concept as well as alleviate possible guilt. Death is a natural and eventual process for all living things. Remember, how a child grieves depends on many different factors including their developmental stage.  Depending on developmental stage, you may also need to address a pet’s shorter lifespan than our own. “Many animals have shorter lives than we do. They don’t live as long as people.”

Having conversations about death and emotions surrounding pet loss can help normalize and validate their feelings. It is important to answer all the questions that come up as honestly and plainly as you can, even if they are silly, difficult, or complicated.  This is also a good time to find a children’s book that can answer some of the specific questions they may have about death.  It is also important to be honest when there are things you do not know or cannot be answered. Some points to consider when speaking with children about death: 

  • Be honest.
  • Use simple and clear words.
  • Avoid euphemisms such as “put to sleep” or moved on to a better place”.
  • Show your emotions.

Help young children understand why euthanasia is sometimes necessary, in words they can understand. 

Old age: “When animals get very old, their bodies wear out and stop working.” 

Terminal illness: “Our pet is very sick and there are no ways to stop the disease.  Her body has worn out and stopped working.” 

An accident: “A terrible thing happened. Our pet’s body was badly hurt and couldn’t be fixed. It stopped working.” 

Explain euthanasia in a developmentally appropriate way. Explain that the pet will be helped to die peacefully and without pain. 

View or Download the Developmental stages and grief chart

“When an animal is suffering, we can choose to help them die. It’s a very sad choice to make, but one that we want to think about because we love Fluffy so much.”

“We will have the veterinarian help Fluffy die so that she won’t be in pain anymore.  Dr. Smith will give Fluffy a shot filled with medicine that only works on animals. The shot will stop Fluffy’s heart. When his heart stops, he won’t be able to breathe on his own. He will not feel any pain.” 

Recommended Readings for Children and Teens:

  • Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet by Patrice Karst
  • Where Lily Isn’t by Julie Paschkis
  • Saying Goodbye to Your Pet: Children Can Learn to Cope with Pet Loss by Marge Eaton Heegaard
  • When You Have to Say Goodbye, Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet by Monica Mansfield, DVM
  • Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
  • Stay by Katie Klise
  • Deconstruction/Reconstruction: A Grief Journal for Teens created by The Dougy Center
  • Healing Your Grieving Heart ‘For Teens’: 100 Practical Ideas Dr. Alan Wolfelt

Explain what will happen to your pet’s remains. If you plan to have your pet cremated, explain that your pet will be taken to a pet crematory, a place where the pet’s body will be turned into ashes. Then your family will take those ashes and (scatter them, bury them in the backyard, keep them in an urn, etc.). Be careful using the words “fire” or “burn” as they can be scary to children. Be sure to explain that the pet cannot feel any pain. If you plan on burying your pet, explain that your pet will be sealed in a box or casket and put in the ground. 

“Fluffy’s body will be put in a room that gets very, very hot. This will turn his body to ashes, which looks a little bit like sand.”

“We wanted to cremate our pet so we could always have a way to remember him. We will keep his ashes in an urn, at our house. We can always take his ashes with us if we ever move.” 

“We are going to bury our pet in the ground.”

Afterwards, many parents find it helpful to include children in memorial activities. Here are a few ideas you may consider:

  • Conduct a Memorial Service
  • Have a Bubble Release Memorial Service
  • Plant a tree in your pet’s honor
  • Create a shadow box containing your pet’s tags, favorite toy, collar, etc.
  • Create a picture collage, scrapbook, story, or poem about your pet
  • Scatter ashes in a place that was special to your pet
  • Journal or draw pictures of your special memories with your pet or your pet’s story 

Should my other pets or children see my deceased pet? 

Children and pets can and do grieve the loss of their beloved companion animal.  It is often very valuable for a child to be present during the euthanasia process so that they have a better understanding of their loss and provides them with an opportunity to say goodbye and start the healing process. Children learn from their parents how to handle stress and grief. You know your child best and ultimately will make the decision you think is right for them.

Pets grieve the loss of their pet housemates, too. We have found allowing other pets to be present during euthanasia helps them to have an immediate sense and understanding that their friend has gone.

This minimizes searching the house and shortens the period of depression that some pets exhibit after a loss. Alternatively, some families choose to bring them in afterwards to say goodbye.  

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. This decision is a personal choice based on what feels right for you, your children, and your pet’s household companions.

Contributing writer:

Mandy Hendl, RVT
Practice Manager
Peaceful Passage At-Home Euthanasia Service

My pet died at home. What do I do now?

Your pet is your constant companion. Our pets occupy a huge part of our lives, they are interwoven into every daily routine and into the very fabric of our family and home.

Sometimes, we are able to plan for our pet’s passing with a solemn goodbye at our vet’s office and other times a sudden illness or accident takes them from us.

No matter how they leave us, losing your best friend is devastating. But when a pet dies in the care of their vet, we can usually rely on our vet to help us manage the difficult realities of what comes next.

But when your pet dies at home, it may be something you were not prepared for. If it happens at night or on a holiday or weekend, not only are you dealing with the sudden shock, disbelief and grief of their loss but you are also confronted with feelings of anxiety and panic because many of us aren’t taught about how to manage the process of taking care of our pet’s physical body when they die.

First of all, it’s OK to be confused as well as sad and scared. They are still your pet and nothing is going to change immediately. You do not have to panic. When your pet dies at home it is not an emergency. This is a good time for you to collect your thoughts, feelings, reach out to friends or family and make an aftercare plan.

It’s OK to take some time to say Goodbye

When your pet dies at home, you can use this time to memorialize your pet. You can take an hour or the rest of the day. Wrap them in a blanket. Write them a letter. Light some candles, take photos. This is your time with your pet and it’s perfectly normal to want a few extra hours.

Absolutely use this time to reach out to a pet cemetery, a friend to help you for a home burial, or to one or two local pet crematories to ask questions and make plans.

If you want a day, take a day. Research ways to keep your pet safe and cool at home during this time.

Take an ink or clay pawprint. Clip a small piece of fur or a whisker as a keepsake. Be sure you are ready for your next step.

Make a list of questions you might want to ask your aftercare provider.

Research your transportation options

Once you have decided where you would like to bring your pet, if you are not doing a home burial, you will usually have two options:

  • You can bundle your pet up in a blanket or in a box and transport them to their final resting place or crematory.
  • You can usually pay the cemetery or crematory to transport your pet from your home to their facility.
  • Do not allow someone to talk you into a decision you are not comfortable with. You always have a choice.
  • Ask questions. When you call your local pet cemetery or pet crematory, ask as many questions as you need to until you are comfortable. Be sure to ask if your pet can be accompanied by a favorite toy or blanket. Ask if they are a local facility. Ask about memorial products such as paw prints, fur keepsakes and more.
  • Some crematories allow the family to witness and participate in the cremation process. This is usually an additional fee and done by appointment only.

When your pet dies at home, you have options for their care. At Baltimore Humane Society, your pet will be treated like family and you will be supporting our nearly 100 year old life-saving mission.

Choosing Baltimore Humane Society makes your pet’s final goodbye a lasting, real tribute because it will help us save the lives of the thousands of pets who pass through our doors each year.

Why should I preplan my pet’s funeral or cremation services?

There are so many things in our lives that we cannot control or anticipate. When it comes to our pets, unexpected news can be more devastating since we are truly, completely emotionally and financially responsible for decisions about their health and care.

Although nobody wants to think about the day their pet is no longer with them, it can relieve a lot of stress and anxiety when we make certain plans ahead of time — especially when there are multiple family members who are as invested in your pets’ wellbeing and care as you are.

Having a conversation now about your feelings about end of life care can save everyone a good deal of heartache later. Considering discussing philosophies about euthanasia and aftercare choices such as cremation vs home burial vs choosing a dedicated pet cemetery for your pet’s final rest.

There are a number of reasons to pre-plan for your pet’s end of life care while they are still healthy. Such as:

  • Preplanning your pet’s funeral allows you to make smaller payments over time.
  • End of life veterinary care can be expensive. If you decide to that you want to lay your pet to rest in a dedicated pet cemetery, you might find this financially difficult when you are also facing extensive vet bills. If you have already paid a deposit and you have been making regular payments, you will find that by the time you are ready, your pet’s funeral costs have already been paid off or nearly so.
  • You want premium memorial options for your pet which you otherwise would not have been able to afford. At Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park, we offer a range of funeral options from basic, modest caskets to premium, fully-lined caskets. We offer a simple, elegantly affordable memorial stone but we also offer premium memorial stone upgrades to thick polished granite monuments, photo tiles and more.
    When you preplan your pet’s funeral, you give yourself more flexibility to choose and pay off premium casket and memorial stone options.
  • You have more time to choose your pet’s plot location. Visiting a cemetery after the sudden loss of a pet can be emotionally charged and overwhelming. You are worried about cost, memorial designing, casketing vs non-casketing/eco-friendly burials and finding the perfect plot for your pet. When you plan in advance you have time to make more than one trip out to the cemetery, if you wish, to stroll the grounds and view it at various times of the year. This can be very helpful when finding the absolutely perfect spot for you pet.
  • You can let your vet staff know that you have plans in place well in advance. We cannot always control how and when our pet crosses the rainbow bridge. But it can be helpful to let our vet staff know in advance that we do have end of life care plans for our pet. This can eliminate difficult questions and conversations at the end of our pet’s life and can open a conversation between your vet staff and your funeral director about transportation options for your pet to the cemetery, discussions about your pet’s personal items such as collars, blankets and toys that you wish to be kept with them and more.
  • You lock in current prices, and avoid future price increases. When you pre-pay for your pet’s funeral, you can assure you are not subject to any future increases to the prices for burials, caskets, monuments and other costs. Preplanning your pet’s cremation allows you to make smaller payments over time.
    End of life veterinary care can be expensive. As we discussed above, when your pet dies it can be emotionally and financially overwhelming. If you have reached out to a pet cremation provider in advance to pre-pay, you can eliminate the financial stress of paying for your pet’s aftercare.
  • You have time to put together a list of questions and interview cremation providers.
    When you call your local pet cemetery or pet crematory, ask as many questions as you need to until you are comfortable. Be sure to ask if your pet can be accompanied by a favorite toy or blanket. Ask about memorial products such as paw prints, urn selections, fur keepsakes and more. Some crematories allow the family to witness and participate in the cremation process. This is usually an additional fee and done by appointment only. Decide if this is something that is important to your family.
    Pre-planning allows you to have those conversations with your family and pet loss staff.

You will be avoiding any future price increases. One thing that is inevitable in life is that things become more expensive over time. However, if you pre-pay for your pet’s cremation services, memorial products and transportation, you can be assured that you are not going to be subject to any future increases in the fees.

Why should I choose Baltimore Humane Society to plan for my pet’s funeral or cremation services?

Since 1927, Baltimore Humane Society has been offering compassionate cemetery services in our serene historical pet memorial park. We are a privately funded, non-profit animal shelter
supported by donations, grants and our pet loss and cemetery services.

Your final gesture of love will help assure the life and love of many more pets waiting for their forever homes.

How to find additional pet loss support:

If you are struggling with the loss of your pet, ask for support and help. At Baltimore Humane Society we hold a free monthly pet loss support group for pet parents to share and get support.
If you are not local to Maryland, call your local vet office or animal shelter or try a web search for a local group. You can also find a list of national resources and hotlines on our website.

If you live in or around Baltimore, Maryland and you need cremation or burial services for your pet who has died, contact the Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park at 410-833-8848 ext.
219 or email us at [email protected]. Our historical cemetery is one of the area’s oldest cemeteries dedicated just to pets. Our cremation services are local, personalized and affordable. All pet loss services through Baltimore Humane Society support our life-saving shelter work.

BHS is a private, independent 501 c 3 nonprofit animal organization dedicate to improving the lives of animals in our community. we receive no funding from national animal welfare organizations; we rely solely on grants, fundraising and private donations to operate.

My pet died suddenly and I can’t afford to have them cremated. What should I do?

When your pet dies suddenly, you can be overwhelmed by shock, grief, anger, sadness, disbelief, anxiety…There are so many circumstances and challenges we have to meet when we live with and love a pet.

The hardest day of our lives will be when a pet dies unexpectedly due to an accident or an illness. If your pet had an accident or sudden illness, you also have the added anxiety of sudden (sometimes very high) medical bills. Emergency vet visits, especially, can be a nerve-wracking experience and can be incredibly expensive.

Let’s talk about some of the heartbreaking circumstances we have to manage when a pet is hurt or sick.

My pet had to be rushed to the emergency vet and they died there.

We have all been through this nightmare scenario. It’s a weekend, it’s a holiday or it’s ten o’clock at night and our pet becomes seriously sick all of a sudden or they have an accident in the house or have a serious accident outside. Your heart is racing as you try to make phone calls, get dressed, and get your pet into your car for the trip to the ER. When you arrive you are confused, scared and you might even experience vet staff taking your beloved friend into another room where you cannot be with them or comfort them.

Sometimes, a pet dies suddenly and sometimes family is called upon by a medical professional to make the decision to euthanize a beloved pet. Sometimes this happens nearly as soon as the family walks in, sometimes this happens after expensive medical intervention such as radiographs, bloodwork, surgery and other medical procedures.

We can go our entire lives never experiencing this. But when you do, once the reality of the loss of your pet sets in, you are now faced with the decision of what to do with your pet’s physical body.
Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You don’t have to make a decision immediately. It can be easier to allow vet staff to use the crematory they are contracted with to care for your pet, but it can be more expensive or they might not offer the type of service that you want. It’s OK to ask them for a day or two before you make that decision.
  • Ask a friend or family member to call some aftercare providers, get recommendations and find someone to work with whose ethics and prices work for you.
  • Most cremation providers can transport your pet the next day from the vet for a fee; but you are also allowed to transport your pet yourself, or ask a friend of family member to do it or to even bring them home that night. If you are choosing an aftercare provider other than the one your ER uses, you have a lot of choices.
  • It’s OK to ask for payment options. We all know as pet loss professionals that sometimes a pet’s death happens at a hard time for us financially, in the year, the month or the week. We also understand that end of life, especially emergency care, can get very expensive very quickly. Do not be embarrassed to ask for payment options. At Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park, we use Afterpay which is a third-party payment system that allows the family to pay for their cremation services in four equal payments. This also allows you flexibility in selecting your cremation type (such as private cremation instead of a shared cremation service) and memorial products such as clay pawprint impressions which you otherwise might not have been able to afford.

My pet died suddenly at home. I don’t get paid until the end of the week. What do I do?

When your pet dies at home and you cannot afford their cremation service, you have options.

  • Reach out to friends and family. It’s OK to ask for financial help.
  • Do not panic. When your pet dies at home it is not an emergency. This is a good time for you to collect your thoughts, feelings, reach out to friends or family and make an aftercare plan.
  • Call multiple pet loss service providers. Ask friends and family to help if you don’t feel up to making calls. You can also do a web search since most cremation providers list their pricing right on their websites.
  • Know the difference between the different cremation types as they do have different pricing:
    a) Communal also called shared cremation or group cremation is the most affordable, however you will not receive an urn or ashes back. When you choose a group cremation for your pet, their ashes will not be separated from those of other pets. Different crematories have different ways of managing their communally cremated pets (ie interring/burying the ashes, scattering the ashes on private land, etc.). You can ask the aftercare providers you call what they do with their communally cremated pets and if the area is marked and open to visitors. You can purchase tangible memorial products such as ink pawprints or a clipping of your pet’s fur to take home.
    b) Individual cremation. Your pet is cremated by themselves and their ashes are returned to you in an urn.
    c) Witnessed cremation. Some families want to be present as their pet is placed into their cremation chamber. This is called a “witnessed cremation”. Cremation providers will usually have a comfortable family room with a viewing window that allows you to witness your pet being placed into the chamber. Witnessed cremations take a little planning and so must be scheduled with the facility. The cremation provider will also make available the time, space and privacy for the family for the duration of the cremation and so understandably, this option will have additional costs. Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park does offer witnessed cremations to families.
  • Ask your regular vet if they are open, or as soon as they are open, if they are willing to hold your pet for you for a few days free of charge while you sort out your thoughts, feelings and options. Many vets will provide this service for long-time, regular clients.
  • If you are working with Baltimore Humane Society Memorial Park, ask us to set up an Afterpay option for you so you can break your total cost into four equal installments.
  • If you have pet insurance, your aftercare services might be covered or reimbursed. Be sure to ask your insurance provider.

No matter what you choose, and how you pay for it, the most important thing is knowing that you gave your pet the best life and the most love possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for financial help when you need it and know that you always have a choice.