Losing a family pet is never easy, even for us as adults, but how do we explain the situation to our children without creating fear and confusion?
How do we explain the reason why our beloved dog was here this afternoon but gone after a visit to the vet?
This article will delve into how you should prepare young children for pet euthanasia and explain dog death to a child in a practical and honest way.
Kids Take Things Literally - When Explaining Dog Euthanasia, Choose Your Words Carefully
We need to accept that kids take things literally and are also likely to blame themselves for the outcome of any given number of situations. So the words you use are very important.
Some people may suggest that you use nice words such as "we put our dog to sleep" or tell the child a lie such as "our dog ran away and we can't find him".
Let's look at two examples and explain why it's a bad idea to use them.
"We put our dog to sleep."
Think about this one for a second or two…You put your child to sleep every night. In the child's mind, they go to sleep and wake up. So there should be no reason why the dog won't wake up.
Your young child could think the following:
- Does that mean that when I go to sleep, I won't wake up?
- Will I be buried in the ground when I go to sleep?
- Will I ever wake up if I go to sleep when I'm sick?
"Our dog ran away, and we can't find him."
There's a good chance your child will start wondering the following:
- Why did the dog run away?
- Does the dog not like us?
- Did I do something bad to the dog that made him/her run away?
- Does he not love me? Is it my fault?
- How can I find him?
No parent wants to have these conversations with their kids, but it's a fact of life that eventually, everyone does die. Using this opportunity to bring that fact into the child's realm of consciousness is not such a bad thing.
It shouldn't be scary or cumbersome. Learning to grieve and accept loss is a skill worth learning. From our experience, we have come up with five practical tips to prepare your child before and after the process of animal euthanasia.
5 Tips To Help Your Child Through The Process When Euthanizing Your Dog
1. How to Prepare Your Kids for the Possibility of Dog Euthanasia
You may have decided that the time has come to assist your dog to pass away to the next world. To prepare your child for this. A good starting point could be, telling them your dog is very, very, old or very, very sick.
Emphasizing the word very means that if your child gets sick or you get sick, they won't automatically think you will die. They won't automatically believe that older relatives will die because they are ageing.
In future, when you or your child are ill, this will allow you to anchor back to: your only a little sick, not like our dog who was very, very ill.
2. Allow Your Child to Say Goodbye to Their Beloved Pet Dog
Informing your child that the vet may not be able to cure the dog and allowing them the chance to say goodbye is very important.
It offers them a chance for closure and pre-prepares the child for the news to come.
What if your child wants to pray in the hope that this will save the dog?
Allow them to do this, but explain that sometimes these things are out of our control. Suggest that they include a request in their prayer for a safe passage across the rainbow bridge and into dog heaven should the dog not survive.
Making that small inclusion is important. When the child learns the dog has died. There is every chance they will blame themselves for not praying hard enough. Including this small add on will give the child some comfort.
3. How to Explain The Final Trip to The Vet
Whether you take a trip to the vet or use a home euthanasia vet service, it's essential to prepare your child. As above, explain once again the dog is very sick, and you are taking them to the vet.
Explain that the veterinarian will do their best, but it may not be possible for them to save their beloved four-legged friend.
Should the child be at the actual dog euthanasia procedure?
This is a tricky one, and it will depend on the child's maturity level. They may form an association that will cause them to be fearful of vets and human doctors, which may cause issues if they have an illness that requires them to see the doctor.
But of course, the final decision is up to you as you and only you can know your child's maturity level. Some great vets out there will know how to make this procedure as peaceful as possible for all involved, so in essence, it will depend on how well you know the vet.
4. What To Tell Your Child When Your Dog Has Passed
If the dog has passed away from old age
This bit is always challenging, and depending on how much pre-warning the child has had, they could take the situation in different ways.
If you've chosen to euthanize your dog due to old age. You could explain that different animals have different life spans and that dogs only live for a short amount of time compared to humans.
So they get older faster. Attribute the death to their age rather than the euthanasia process. Explain that you took the dog to the vet, but the vet couldn't give them any treatment because they were very old.
If Euthanasia was required due to injuries sustained in an accident
Explain all the facts as they happened. Use the opportunity to teach the child about certain risks involved in the environment around them.
Do this positively and ensure you allow the child to ask questions and answer them truthfully. Again explain that the vet did everything they could, but the injury was too severe.
It is unlikely a child will understand why the dog was put down. You can't blame them. Most TV shows, and books show a sick or injured animal being cured by the vet.
Regardless of the cause assigning blame is not a good lesson for the child. It creates feelings of hate.
If euthanasia was done due to illness
Don't shy away from the fact. Explain in simple words how the illness was very severe. Explain that currently, there is no cure for this particular illness.
Reassure the child that animals and humans experience different diseases and therefore they won't get the same disease.
Although some of the above is not true, it's about reassuring the child that the same fate does not await them in the immediate future.
5. Allow the Child Time to Grieve
Children will deal with different situations in different ways. Your child will most likely benefit from participating in a ceremony to remember their beloved four-legged friend.
Whether you use a pet cremation service or bury the dog yourself. A ceremony is a great idea because:
Depending on how attached your child was to your pet dog will dictate how long they will greave.
When our beloved pet Freddy, a lovely German Shepherd Husky Mix, passed away from old age, our children wanted to take a bowl of food and place it on the grave. That was their way of saying goodbye.
One of our children even sat by the grave and told Freddy stories for about a week after we buried him. This was her way of grieving and saying goodbye.
The loss of a pet has a ripple effect, impacting not only you and your children but also the other dogs in your care. Pay attention to signs of grief in your dogs and be prepared to offer them the support they need during this challenging time.
Getting Through This Difficult Time Together
Having to euthanize your beloved dog can be difficult for you as well as your child. Understand they may react and behave differently. Young children do not yet know how to control their emotions.
Be mindful of that and give them a bit of slack, and most importantly, take the time to give them and yourself plenty of comfort and love.
In time with proper closure, you may consider introducing a new dog to your family. We hope this new addition will bring as much joy and love to you and your children as your precious four-legged friend did before.
Is a father and animal lover. With a range of expertise in animal health, he decided to start a website called Animal Heed. His passion is to share his knowledge to help animal owners worldwide.
When not in front of his computer, he's out with his kids, teaching them the importance of animal care.