Dogs live on the average about 13 years, depending on the size and the breed. Cats can live for 20 years if kept indoors. Rabbits average around 10 years and other animals live shorter life spans. Chances are, and you hope, that your child will outlive your pet.
The death of a pet is not something that people who have never had pets can understand. They will often suggest just “getting another dog” in an effort to make you feel better and may not be able to understand your grief about losing what they feel is “just an animal.”
During the time that your pet spends in your life, everyone in the family grows attached to the animal. There is a bond between pet owners and their pets that is broken only upon the death of the pet. It is heartbreaking for most adults to have to put their pets to sleep or to find them dead. It is even worse for children. For many children, this may be their first experience with death.
Never underestimate your child’s grief. Allow them to grieve for the animal that they lost and do not suggest to replace the animal right away. Give them some time to heal. Eventually, they may want to get another pet, but assure them that they are not “replacing” their deceased pet, but that this is a compliment to their deceased pet as the dog or cat or rabbit had been such a good pet that they wanted to have this experience again.
Your children will not be the only ones who are distraught when the pet dies. Expect yourself to go through a gamut of emotions as well, particularly if you have never before experienced the death of a pet. This loss will affect the entire family, even if it is expected. In many cases, you will have to be the one who will take the dog or the cat to the vet to put it to sleep. It is not advisable to bring young children to witness this. You can simply tell them that the dog or cat went to heaven and is in a better place.
The lesson of death is just one lesson that having pets can teach your children. Most people will say that they get pets for their children to teach them responsibility. But pets teach our children so much more than that. They teach compassion and patience. They also put us into a routine, whether we like it or not, and give us a reason to get out for a walk, in the case of a dog. They teach us unconditional love and demand very little, just a bit of food, water, and shelter.
Children who grow up in homes with pets tend to be more compassionate and well rounded than those who grow up without pets. Whether you get a goldfish or a dog, make sure that your child has a pet. Caring for creatures that are smaller and more helpless than them will teach your children how to be more compassionate and caring people.
And we can use more compassionate and caring people in the world.