How to Explain to Your Child That Your Pet is Near the End of Their Life

How to Explain to Your Children Your Pet is Approaching the End of Their Life


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Child with pet

This is such a difficult and sad time for everyone in the family. Each person has their own relationship and bond with their pet and will likely cope with the situation in different ways.

Children are very perceptive and it is important, to be honest with them and to explain what is happening with their pet in a sensitive manner and in a way they can understand.

How to explain putting a pet down to a child

Some children are very much in the “here and now” and are able to accept what is happening and can cope with it and even seem to move on very quickly. Other children find it harder to accept and may go through a more complex grieving process.

Child and mother with pet

How to tell your child about considering putting their pet down

Choosing a calm, quiet time is a good opportunity to sit down and start this difficult conversation, make sure it is not rushed. Start by saying “I just wanted to have a little chat to you about “Freddie”, as you know, he is getting quite old now (or as you know Freddie hasn’t been very well recently and sadly he is getting worse).

Be guided by your child at this point and wait to see if they want to add to the conversation. They might agree or say that they have noticed and ask what is going to happen, in which case you can expand on it a bit by saying “he will probably get worse and sometime soon we may have to say goodbye to him”.

If your child asks “why”? that is a good opportunity to go into more detail.

“He is in a lot of pain or he is very tired or he is finding it harder to get up or walk about”, the explanation will be appropriate for your situation. Pets do not have a concept of old age and they often have difficulty themselves understanding why they cannot run, jump and play like they used to be able to.

If they say “it is not fair”, agree with them and respond with “I know, I wish he could live forever but sadly he can’t”. You may also wish to say that it is not fair to see “Freddie” struggling with daily life, it is not fair to put our feelings before his well-being. Saying things like “we all love him so much and we will miss him a lot” lets your child know that everyone is going through it together and not just them alone.

Some older children might find it easier to accept if they are involved in the decision by knowing how your pet’s condition may develop and how it will affect your pet and even what the outcome will be, this may help make it easier for them to understand why this sad decision has to be made for your pet’s sake.

Children with pet

How to talk to a kid about putting a pet to sleep – We often use the euphemism “put to sleep” try not to use this expression as your child may be hopeful that their pet will wake up again. But clearly explaining that the process will be gentle and peaceful will comfort them and help them understand.

Explaining to your child when it will happen will prepare them and give them time to think about whether they want to be there or not when the time comes. It is normally best for them to be there, at-home pet euthanasia is a respectful and dignified way to say goodbye, your children can see the process is gentle and will not have to imagine what happened, which again is a comfort now and in the future, a bit easier than when a pet dies suddenly.

Children with pet

Should children say goodbye to their pet? Absolutely – Saying goodbye in the secure and familiar surroundings of your own home is an emotional but important thing to do. Arranging for the Veterinary Surgeon to come to your home is a very peaceful experience for you, your family and most of all for your beloved pet, this removes the potential moment of stress and distress of the “final journey” to the vet’s clinic and it allows you the privacy you deserve at this emotional time. Your children may wish to choose some music to play quietly in the background or write a goodbye card or drawing, such simple actions can help them with the grieving process.

Clipping a small amount of fur to have as a keepsake or choosing a favourite photo of your pet to have on the sideboard will help too so they still have something after your pet has gone.

Afterwards, you may wish to bury at home or arrange a cremation, you will know the decision that is right for your family, either way, be prepared to answer some difficult questions about what happens to the pet when they have passed away. This may be the first experience of mortality your child has experienced so you may find that they keep asking where the pet is, which means you may have to keep explaining it, do not underestimate the grieving process for your whole family. Losing a loyal companion after many years close contact is a significant event. Just being there to comfort them and answer their questions will be a great support and at the right time, the discussion regarding a new pet will almost certainly come up, be ready for that too!

Helpful books:
Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
Missing my pet by Alex Lambert

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Dog and Woman

by Cloud 9 Vets on July 22, 2019

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