Losing a cat is horrible and heartbreaking and it can be difficult when helping your child cope with the loss of a pet as well. You might be asking how do I tell my child that he’s no longer with us? Or, how do I help my child through this grieving process? You must first understand that the death of a loved one to a child is a different experience than what we experience as adults. But there are many things you can do to help your child process the death of your cat.
Dr. Michael Santiago, DVM, suggests “Honesty is important and parents/ guardian should tell the child the truth about the pet passing. Support and reassurance from loved ones helps with the grieving process. Allowing children to be active in the process, saying good bye and finding some activity for closure permits the child to move on in their own time.”
This brings out a good point in being honest about everything. Our first reaction as a parent is to shield our child from this awfulness, but you have to be honest. Lying, hiding, or candy coating anything is only going to backfire. Help your child grieve the loss by telling the truth.
Involve Your Child in the Death
It’s best to take your cat home to bury her out back so you can have a ceremony. This helps your child by allowing her to see your cat one more time. Children will often fantasize about a loved one still being alive. This can halt the grieving process. Being able to see the cat gone will get rid of any fantasies and allow the child to try to understand that death is part of life. Ask your child to take part in the ceremony by asking what your child would like to do. She might want to make a headstone, put your cat’s favorite toy with his body, write a letter saying goodbye, say a prayer, or help with the burial.
Keith Rode, DVM, advises, “I think it is important to prepare a child for the death (if possible, since some cats die suddenly) by openly talking about it, tailoring the message to the age of the child. For those parents who believe in or feel comfortable talking about heaven, it can be a comforting thought to a child that their cat’s spirit will continue to live on where there is no suffering. Children who are old enough and mature enough should be allowed to be present for a euthanasia if they want to be; otherwise, there might be resentment at the lack of being included.”
You might think leaving your child out during the euthanasia process will be best for them, but they will likely resent you. Allow your child to be present during it. Explain honestly what is going to happen and why. Let your child ask questions and answer them honestly.
Kelly Meister, author of Crazy Critter Lady, says, “Be sure to spend time talking with your child about their feelings, and what it means to lose someone they love.”
Allow your child to express her feelings about losing your cat. She’ll go through all of the emotions you will – denial, anger, sadness, and eventually, acceptance. Your child must be given plenty of opportunities to express her feelings to get through all of the stages of grief. Make some family time to talk about your late cat. Write letters, draw pictures, look at photos, and cry together.
Heather Loenser, veterinarian and parent, provides her story about the recent loss of their 17-year-old cat:
With my own 5 year old daughter, I worried about what would happen when her best friend, Thea, a grey tabby cat, passed away after a 3 year battle with kidney failure. Would she be devastated? Scared? Lonely? I wanted to involve her in the process as much as possible, since I hear stories from adults, recounting how their parents shielded them from the process when they were children, and how they wished they could have said good-bye.
I prepared her for months that Thea was fragile and that the outcome from many illness. She saw this since she received a fair amount of medications on a regular basis. We are a Christian family, so we talked a lot about life after death, imaging what heaven would be for a cat. I found a great book, “Cat Heaven” by Cynthia Ryland, which we had been reading for years.
When it was clear to me that Thea had only days to live, I asked my daughter how she would like to celebrate Thea’s life before she died. She wanted to throw a “We Love Our Cat” party. So… we did. We got dressed up, took pictures with her, decorated a basket for her to sleep in and drew pictures of her. Thea died not long afterwards.
I struggled initially with what to do with her body as Clara was near her when she died. Should I just whisk her away and then announce later that day that she is in heaven? Should she see her, lying there lifeless but peaceful? I opted to show her Thea’s body, as she lay curled up in her newly decorated basket. Then I followed Clara’s lead. She cried for a while and then I followed her lead. She wanted to draw more pictures and hang them up around the house. Then she wanted all of her friends to know. She wanted Thea’s passing to be known and have it have a lasting impact on our home. Finally, she wanted a burial. Surprisingly, she wanted to place the dirt over her little cardboard box coffin.
We talk about Thea every day. She wants to remember her, how she felt, what her purr sounded like, how she comforted Clara when she was sad. I don’t blame her. I do too.
In short, what Clara and Thea taught me is:
1) Children deserve an honest experience with death.
2) Ceremony is important to them, as it is for adults.
3) It is important to have that pet’s impact on the world be known through art, pictures and letters to loved ones.
4) Shielding our children from this natural part of life is taking part of the magic of life away from them.
Thank you for sharing your story with our readers, Heather.
I would like to offer my condolences to our readers here if you are either going to lose your cat or have already lost your cat. They aren’t just our pets; they’re a family member. I hope this information helps you and your child when your cat dies.