How to Help Kids Grieve Their Beloved Pet and Grand Rapids Resources for Pet Bereavement

Goodbye, Fonz

I still remember getting that phone call from my mom. It was my freshman year in college and I was living in a dorm room the size of a closet with a complete stranger. They had to put our dog, Fonz, to sleep. He was a crazy old dog with dental problems, cataracts, and a lot of bizarre behaviors. He was old and kind of a pain in the butt. But I cried and cried when that dog died because he had been part of our family for so long.

The death of a pet can be a very difficult thing for everyone involved. Pets are often a major part of the family and when they die, it can feel like there is a big vacancy left behind. Sometimes this can be a child’s first encounter with death. Nobody likes to think about death, and it’s especially hard to think about having to help your child deal with such a sad and complicated thing, but death is a part of life and it’s important that you handle things appropriately with your kids.

If you have recently experienced the death of your pet, I am very sorry.  I hope this article offers you some suggestions to help with the process.

Be Honest About the Pet’s Death, But Keep it Simple

Make sure your child understands that death is permanent. Avoid phrases such as, “he just went to sleep,” or, “he just went up to heaven.” This can lead children to think that the pet may be coming back. Kids do not understand metaphor or symbolism.

If your cat got hit by a car, you should tell your kids that’s what happened. You can spare any of the gruesome details that can cause sleepless nights or even nightmares, as long as they know the basic cause and why of death.

If you had to put your pet to sleep because of health reasons, you could explain that the doctor gave Fido some special medicine to make his body stop working so he was not in pain anymore.

Create a Special Memorial for Your Cat or Dog

Oftentimes it is helpful to do or create something that helps all of you remember your pet. This could be a little memorial service, a scrapbook, or a memory box. Our friends created this after their beloved dog, Kozmo, died last year.

Avoid Replacing the Pet too Soon

It’s hard to see your kids sad, but it’s really not healthy to rush out and buy a new pet the week after yours dies. If you move on too quickly, you don’t allow everyone time to grieve. It also can send kids the message that everything is replaceable. There is no “magic” amount of time, but it’s important not to rush things.

Books can Help you Find the Right Words

I am a huge fan of using children’s books for dealing with difficult situations. There are lots of great books available through Kent District Library. If you have a KDL membership, you are able to request books from any of their locations! Here are a few recommendations; your local librarian can also help you find good titles:

  • “I Wish I Could Hold Your Hand: A Child’s Guide to Grief and Loss” by Pat Palmer, Dianne O’Quinn Burke
  • “Let’s talk about when your pet dies” by Marianne Johnston
  • “When Your Pet Dies” by Diane Pomerance
  • “Mr. Rogers’ First Experience: When a Pet Dies” by Fred Rogers
  • “Dog Heaven”/”Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant
  • “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by J. Viorst
  • “Zoe’s Good-bye” written and illustrated by Mary Schlangen, DVM, Grand Rapids, Mich
  • “I’ll Always Love You” by M. Montgomery, H. Montgomery
  • “A Special Place for Charlee: A Child’s Companion through Pet Loss” by D. Morehead


  • “Mister Rogers talks with parents about pets”– PBS video
  • “Losing your best friend. Recovering from the death of a pet”– Gravity Video Productions
  • “The Loss of Your Pet” by Ralston Purina available through the American Animal Hospital Association

Pet Cemeteries Around Grand Rapids

Local pet cemeteries are here to help families, too. In addition to crematory and burial services, they offer memorial and keepsake options.

Noah’s Pet Cemetery | Grand Rapids | (616) 949-1390

Sleepy Hollow Pet Cemetery |  (616) 538-6050

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