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how to explain death to 2.5 year toddler? pet dying...

Green with Envy

Jun 25, 2007
One of our beloved cats has cancer and the vet said he has maybe 2-6 months to live. Our 2.5 year old toddler knows the cat has been "sick." he has seen the big stitches from when they cut open his abdomen to get biopsies of his intestines. Now we do not want our son to think that anytime someone gets sick... they die. We are not even sure he will be able to understand what it means to die. We are not religious, but have no problem explaining that our cat will go to heaven. Any advice? books to suggest? what would you say?

Thanks. Sad. :cry:


Jun 18, 2010
I'm so sorry :(

Not quite the same thing, but we just gave away one of our cats this past weekend. She was just terrified of our toddler and would spend all day hiding, and she's the kind of cat who needs and wants attention all the time. He's asked a few time where Zoe went, and I just say she went bye-bye. He seems to be okay with that, but he just turned 2.5 might be more difficult.


Dec 12, 2008
That's tough, I'm sorry. I can't remember exactly what we told the kids when our dog died and when we had to put our cat to sleep. It's hard to know what to tell them that they won't turn around in their little minds, you know? Sleeping, being sick, being old-all those things happen to us too, so it's just hard.

We put it to the kids that Sadie and Bella were "old" in dog/cat lives, that pets don't live as long as people, their bodies aren't made like ours, they need to have a different kind of sleep than we do at night. It's been about six years now since Sadie passed away. When we had to put Bella to sleep, it was "easier" b/c the kids by then were a couple years older, so we were more up front with them-Bella was sick and it wasn't a sick the vet could make better, she was hurting, so mommy was going to take her and sit with her while she went to sleep and didn't hurt anymore. Trapper was...three, I think? So London would've been about 6. We talked about remembering and how they stay in your heart and mind forever.

We buried Sadie and Bella in the backyard, and the kids were there both times. Trapper doesn't really remember Sadie, he was too little, but he remembers Bella. We handled it differently than my mom, when our first cat died. My brother and I didn't understand death, had never been exposed to it-all we saw was a box, and mom crying. We didn't understand how Smokei could be in there. JD and I let the kids see Sadie and Bella. The kids remember cutting peonies from the front plant to put in with Bella, that mommy knew peonies were Bella's favorite flower. The peonies would help Bella remember us, and we remember Bella when our peonies bloom.


Nov 8, 2014
We experienced this recently with our dog. Our kids who were 3 and 5 at the time asked one or two questions and then moved on with their day. We just explained that he (the dog) went to heaven and he wasn't in pain anymore. We are religious, so we told them that one day we would see him again. It ended up not being a big deal to them (they're so easily distracted at that age!).

Loves Vintage

Nov 19, 2007
My daughter was 3 when one of our cats passed away. She was very sick, so I took the cat to the vet to say good-bye. We told our daughter that she had crossed the rainbow bridge and wouldn't be coming home. She had questions at the time, I don't recall. She still asks about her. It has been 8 months. She will tell me that she wants her to come home, that she misses her. :(( She is an extremely empathetic, yet strong, child. She asks about her infrequently and randomly, less frequently now, I think. I think this yet another situation where all kids react differently.

My vet did recommend two books. I will post those here when I find them.
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