Talking with the kids about a pet’s death

Almost two weeks ago, I had to put my 14-year-old cat to sleep. After having him since he was only two months old, this type of decision is never easy to make, and it was even more difficult as his illness was quite sudden. I had noticed my little guy not feeling well and slowing down for a few weeks before that, but on that Saturday night, I knew something wasn’t right when he kept looking at me and meowing softly.

After the kids fell asleep that night, I decided to take my sickly Ziggy to the pet emergency center. It was almost 10pm and I knew it would be a long night. After several hours of waiting, signing test consent forms, and waiting some more, I unfortunately found out that my cat probably had a large tumor rupture in his abdomen and would likely not recover. At almost 2 o’clock in the morning, I said my goodbyes as he lay in my arms while the vet pushed the medication in his catheter… It was a peaceful death, bringing a fast end to his pain.

I got home before 3am but couldn’t sleep for another couple of hours. Around 6:30am, the kids showed up in our bedroom. I wasn’t even awake for a minute that I heard my oldest ask, “Mama, is Ziggy OK?”. My first thought was, how the hell do you know what happened? That’s when my husband told me that as I opened the garage door to leave, the kids woke up and he decided to tell them I was taking Ziggy to the vet because he was sick. Gosh, I wanted to strangle him!!! (my husband, not my son) Sometimes, as a parent, there are things you just don’t say, or you keep them for a later explanation. That would have been one of them.

So, after crying my eyes out half the night and being woken up after only 2 hours of reastless sleep, I had to have “the losing a pet talk” with my kids. My youngest, who’s not even three, wasn’t very curious. He seemed to understand that Ziggy was old, went to the vet, and wouldn’t come back. For him, it was enough, and today that’s still how he talks about it.

For my four-year-old son, the questions were more numerous. Was Ziggy sick? To what my husband replied, yes, but he doesn’t hurt anymore. Gosh, what’s wrong with him??? Do I really want my kids to think that the next time they get sick, they may die? Argh… so I set the record straight with my son and told him that Ziggy was very, very old, and very, very tired, and that he died. That’s what happens to animals and people as they get old.
My son asked, am I going to die when I’m old?
Yes, I answered, we all die.
But why? he continued on.
Well, that’s how life is, I said, and that’s why we should enjoy every day as much as we can.
I liked Ziggy, my son said. He was cute.

The questions continued for a while, until my son came with the brilliant idea that we should all go to Petsmart and get a new kitten! Hmm, not until our other cat dies too, I said, alright? Of course, my son’s next question was, when is that going to be? Cute.

Now that Ziggy’s gone, we still mention him in some conversations. The other night, the kids were watching Vol 8 of the Charlie and Lola DVDs, and the last episode on the DVD was about Nibbles the mouse. Nibbles enjoys what seems to be a couple of happy years with Charlie and Lola until one sad morning when he doesn’t wake up. Charlie explains to Lola that Nibbles passed away and is not coming back to life. They eventually decide to bury him in the backyard and retell of their happy memories. Lola spends a good amount of time grieving after that, until one day the family decides to get another mouse. At the end of the episode, my oldest looked at me sadly and said, Nibbles died, just like Ziggy. Quite a sensible soul…

So now we’re a one-cat family and will remain so for several more years, hopefully. It will be interesting, though not easier, to see how the kids take our other cat’s death then, as they’ll be older and more mature.

If you’ve had to deal with losing a pet and talking to your kids about it, how did things go?

Rest in peace, my baby Ziggy, you were beautiful!

The beautiful Ziggy
The beautiful Ziggy

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4 responses to “Talking with the kids about a pet’s death

  1. So sorry for your family’s loss. Ziggy was a beautiful kitty. (Looks a lot like a cat we owned when i was younger). I can’t think of a better explanation for kids than what you told them and i particularly like the line where you told them they should enjoy each day etc.. May your beautiful Ziggy enjoy himself in kitty heaven. RIP. .

  2. I just found your blog and I’m very sorry for your loss. We have 2 cats and my husband and I joke that they’re 50% human because they both have such huge personalities. Pets become members of the family and it breaks my heart to think of the day we’ll have to make the same tough decision you did. Rest in Peace, Ziggy.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I think the single fact that we share our home with our pets every single day of their life gives them a special place in the family. I’ve lost plenty of cats over the years, but it never gets easier…

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