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Death of a Pet: My child's feelings and reactions

For many children, the death of a pet is their first experience with death and grieving. Some children are particularly close to their pets, and may feel the loss intensely. For those who have already lost a loved one, a pet's death may reawaken the feelings of anxiety, loss and pain they felt before.

Children need to know that you understand and accept how anxious, sad, angry and confused they are feeling - and that their feelings will change with time. If they begin to worry that you, or even they, may die too, you should reassure them that they are safe and that you expect to live a long, long time and will be there to care for them.

Depending on their age, children can react to a pet's death in a lot of different ways. It's not unusual for children to have nightmares, start wetting the bed, get stomach aches or headaches, start acting out aggressively, become withdrawn and want to be alone or not want to go to school.

It is not atypical for children to feel strongly and intensely sad about the death of a pet for a period of six to eight weeks. However, if it lasts longer than this, consult your child's physician. It may also be helpful to consult your child's day care provider or school teacher, principal, or guidance counsellor to see if this behaviour is happening at school, too. If you are in Canada, and you wish to speak to a counsellor about this, contact Parent Help Line, 1-888-603-9100.

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