Talking to My Daughter About Death

Two weeks ago we found out that our 9-year-old dog had advanced bone cancer in her front leg and did not have long to live.  After getting the news from the Vet we decided not to make any decision at that time.  So we took her home with lots of pain killers. Our family needed more time to come to terms with the fact that our dog that we have had since she was 6 weeks old was dying.  We also needed to explain to our 3 1/2-year-old daughter what was going on with our dog and why she would not be with us much longer.

Not in a million years did I ever think that I would be having this conversation with my 3 1/2-year-old daughter about death and cancer.  I really didn’t know where to start, but she understood that the dog was sick because she went with us to the Vet.  The conversation went like this:

Daughter:” Mommy where are we?”

Me: “At the Vet. This is CayLa’s (the dog) doctor.”

Daughter: “Mommy is CayLa sick?”

Me: “Yes, CayLa is sick.”

Daughter:”Is she going to get better?

Me:” No Babe, CayLa is very sick!”

So we went back home and for  about a week she would ask me what is wrong with CayLa and I would say she is very sick and she has cancer.  She would ask again if CayLa would get better and I would say No.  Then after about 3 days of this I sat her down and told her that CayLa very sick and she has Cancer and very soon she would die (go to sleep) to be with God.  She was confused a little, but I could see that her little mind was processing.  Then for a few moments she was quite and then she said, “I don’t want her to die because I will miss her.”  To which my only response was, “Me to Babe, me too!”


My daughter seems to be handling the loss of our dog well. She will still occasionally ask me where CayLa is, and I still tell her she died and is with God. A few times when she was upset she would say she wants and misses CayLa, but she understand that she is no longer with us.

The toughest part of having this conversation with my daughter was keeping myself from busting into tears, and trying to figure out how the get her to understand that not everyone dies from cancer.  I think at 3 1/2 it is to complicated to explain/understand and will address it when she is a bit older and can comprehend a lot more.

Overall my goal was to include her in something that was happening to our family and making sure she is informed and understood what was going on in terms she could understand at 3 1/2.

Has anyone had a similar experience? How did your family deal with the loss of a pet and explaining it to your children?


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