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Children and Pet Loss

Dr. Lianna Titcombe

For children, the loss of a pet may be their first experience with death. It’s important that we handle it with understanding and honesty. We have a saying: “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve”. Our pets are part of our family, intricately woven into our daily lives, and often share a very close bond with our children. They should be given the opportunity to say goodbye and to be present for the home euthanasia, if they wish. Ask your children if they would like to be there, most will have strong opinions, either way. If they decide they do not want to be present, you should respect this decision and not force the issue, but still give them the chance to say good bye before they leave.

Children under 3 years of age have little concept of death or its implications so it may not be essential for them to be present for the euthanasia. They should still be told the truth about the pet’s death and are most welcome to be at home during our visit but you may consider having a family member or close friend there to help out with the child so that you can devote your attention to your pet.

We believe children should be included early in discussions about the health of the family pet. This way they have a better understanding of what is happening and can feel part of the decision-making process. Assure them that they are, in no way, responsible for their pet’s death. It’s very important to use real language with children when talking about the death of their pet. Don’t use phrases like “put down” or “put to sleep” as this can be very confusing for children who are “put down” for a nap. It’s better to say “We are helping Fluffy to die peacefully at home”, to express that euthanasia is a loving act of kindness.

Our teams of veterinarians and assistants will do their utmost to ensure that the experience is calm and peaceful so that your children will never be confused or scared. We will explain things as we go and take time to answer their questions. If, at any time, they feel like it’s too much, they are in their own home and so can take a break and go to their rooms or another area of the house, but can also return to say a final good bye, if they wish.

We will leave behind several commemorative items that may play a role in a memorial ceremony afterwards. It can be very helpful for your children to pay tribute to their cherished pet, and mourn openly for this very special member of the family. If we include children in this loss and accompany them on their grief journey, we will set them up to handle future losses with maturity and strength.