Boy petting senior dog
One of the most difficult parts of owning a pet can be facing the decision to euthanize your beloved companion. If you also have children, explaining this choice to them can be especially wrenching. So what is the best way to talk with your kids about your pet’s death?

Grieving as a Family

The answer is simple: Be honest. Though it may seem tempting to modify or soften the truth, children — even very young children — understand and respond to these difficult situations. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for and know more than we think.

Start the discussion by telling your kids that when we really love a pet, we sometimes have to make hard decisions. Keep the medical details simple and age appropriate. Explain that the pet is ill and suffering, and that the veterinarian has the ability to end that suffering in a very humane and gentle way with a simple, painless injection.

Don’t be afraid to let your children see your own sadness about your pet’s death. It can be helpful for your kids to see you dealing with your sadness in a healthy and thoughtful manner. This is truly a case of being a role model: Your children are likely to mimic your behavior in their own responses, especially very young children.

It is also important to talk with your kids about how you came to this decision and to reassure them that you have chosen to end your pet’s life for all the right reasons. This is important, because your kids need to understand that while you may feel sad, no one in the family should feel guilty.

If possible, give your children an opportunity to say goodbye to their pet — but think twice about allowing them to be present for the actual procedure. Most veterinarians allow pet owners to be with their pets at the end, but this can be incredibly difficult for children to process, especially very young children. Help your kids to create a positive last memory of their pet by letting them pet or cuddle him before you take him to his appointment.

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