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.
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.
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”.
“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 you involve them in the decision. Knowing how your pet’s condition may develop and how it will affect your pet and even what the outcome will be, can help. This may help make it easier for them to understand why this you made this sad decision for your pet’s sake.
How to talk to a kid about putting a pet to sleep? We often use the euphemism “put to sleep”, but try not to use this expression. 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 prepares them. It gives 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.
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 Vet to come to your home is a peaceful experience for you, your family and your pet. Moreover, this removes the potential moment of stress and distress of the “final journey” to the vet’s clinic. It also 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, they may want to write a goodbye card or drawing. Such simple actions can help them with the grieving process.
Clipping a small amount of fur as a keepsake or choosing a favourite photo of your pet will help too. Moreover they will 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. However, you may need to answer some difficult questions about what happens to the pet when they have passed away. This may be your child’s first experience of mortality, so they may keep asking where the pet is. This could mean that 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!