You may have come to the point that you have begun to think about euthanizing your family's beloved pet. They may be quietly struggling with pain, anxiety, unhappiness, immobility, or an inability to do the things they once liked to do. In the face of making this very painful, yet very loving decision, clients have asked me, "How do I tell my young children?". If you have a scheduled appointment to euthanize your pet, or know that your pet could die without assistance any day, it may be time for a conversation with your kids. For children of any age, I recommend telling them the truth; that their pet is very sick, and sometimes pets cannot get better and they die. Because children under the age of 8-10 may not understand the permanence of death, you can explain that death means their bodies stop working and we cannot see them anymore. I recommend avoiding euphemisms such as the pet will be "put to sleep" or will be "going away" as these are things your child faces in their own lives every day, and we don't want them to be scared when they are put to sleep at night, or say goodbye to a family member who is going away on a trip. I would also avoid telling them that their pet will be going to the veterinarian to die, as this may instill a fear or distrust of veterinarians or doctors in general. You can tell the children that their pet could die any day and that it is time, for everyone who wants to, to spend some time with the pet telling him/her how much fun they had together, how much they love him/her, how much they will miss them when they are gone. You can suggest the kids do something special for their pet; draw a picture or write a letter that they could share with their pet, or give them a "party" with lots of love and special treats, for example. Of course you know your child best, so the above are only ideas to help prepare your child for coming home to the news their animal companion has died, and to begin their journey of grieving the loss. The goal of preparing your child (and yourself) to deal with the anticipatory grief, and the grief after the actual loss, is to eventually be able look back with memories of happy times spent with a beloved animal companion, as opposed to only being able to focus on the sadness of the death itself.
Please do not hesitate to call or email for more information on Gentle Goodbye's services and grief support for adults and children.
Kristin Carpenter, LCSW
Gentle Goodbye Grief Counselor
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.