20 answers

How Do We Explain Putting Our Dog to Sleep?

We have an elderly dog that we know within the next few months will likely have to put to sleep. How do we hande this situation with our 2 1/2 year old son? We also have a 14 month old who I don't think will notice one way or the other, but our 2 1/2 year old is definitely old enough now to realize when his doggy is gone. Do we tell him doggy went to live on the farm? Explain death to him (can he really comprehend that)? Or, even go so far as to involve him in it by bringing him along and having him there when we put our dog down? It is very emotional for my hubsand and I to begin with, and I do not want to upset our son, but I do wanty to be honest. What is he capable of handling at this age?

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Thanks for all the words of encouragement. We have begun talking about how our doggy is very old and not feeling well, so hopefully that will ease into the death talk when the time is near. I believe that only humans have immortal souls, so will not be going the "doggy heaven" route, but this experience will actually help me begin to explain that to my son. We will not be getting a replacement puppy as we have decided to be pet free for several years until the kids are old enough to help care for a dog. I think the biggest thing I realized from all your responses is that he will peobably bounce back very quickly and not take it nearly as hard as I will.

Featured Answers

M., My granddaughter just went through this with a puppy that had gotten run over, (puppy only 10 weeks.) She has a three year old who loved the puppy so beings that his Granny passed away recently we told him that Granny was lonely and Rusty wanted to go keep her company and to go outside that night and pick out a star for Granny and Rusty, as Rusty was sitting on Granny's lap and she wasn't lonely anymore, He accepted this and will tell you "Rusty died, but its okey cause he is with Granny and sitting on her lap". Hope this helps.

Hi M.~
My husband's grandmother passed away when my son was almost two (23mo) and everytime he asked for her we would just tell him she was resting in heaven. he is now 2.5 yr and he still asks for her but now he knows the answer... she is resting happily in heaven!!! over this past weekend I took him to her gravesite for the first time and I could tell he was really confused... so much to the point that he was getting upset, so we left... I think is too early for him to understand all the ins and outs of death, but he can grasp some of it!!!
hope this helps!!!

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Hi M., my son is 5 now but when he was 3 we had to put our dog down, we just told him that she was old and it was time for her to go back to God. He was a little sad but he seemed to handle it well. Just recently we had to put our cat down and we told him the same thing, he was fine, then his pet hamster died and he was heart broken, but we told him the same thing and we burried it together and said a little prayer. He cried and then about an hour later he asked if he could get a new one. We told him he had to wait awhile. Anyway, I guess what I am suggesting is to tell your son that your dog is old and has to go see God. Burry him together and say a little prayer. DO NOT have him witness the putting down part. My husband said that was the hardest thing he has ever had to do. Good Luck. N.

Maybe I'm a bad parent for not being truthful but at 2 1/2 I don't think I'd put my little one thru the trauma of trying to explain death. They are just beginning to understand the concepts of pretend play at age 2 let alone trying to understand something like death. Shoot, most adults have a hard enough time comprehending the concept of death. He will have a lifetime to understand the difficult things that face us. If it were me, I'd tell him something along the lines you were thinking-the doggie went to live in a very special place for puppies where he can rest and play with his other puppy friends. Doesn't matter what you tell him at this age he won't remember it a year from now so why put him thru anything too upsetting?

First of all, I'm so sorry, puttin an animal down is never easy.

I am a 29 year old who has had a total of 6 cats, 10 dogs, and 2 fish through my entire life. I've been that kid and I've been where you are. This advice is just from my experience.

1) Never lie to the child.
2) If at all possible let them say goodbye. Sometimes emergencies happen and but if the animal is sick over a long period of time then it's usually a decision and there is time for goodbyes
3) Do not let a small child see the death. As as adult I insisted on being there but I think it would be too much for a child. Especially one so young who won't understand death and might think the animal is sleeping, especially since that is what we call it, putting them to sleep.
4) Do explain things in an age appropriate manner. At 2 1/2 they will understand hurting. Tell them the animal is hurting a lot and the Dr. fix it. Then explain that the animal will go away forever. I agree with Monica that if your religious or world view includes an afterlife to use that to help explain where the animal is now.

The first animal I had that died was a cat and he had been sick for a while. I was probably 7ish and when my dad sat me down to explain I was surprised at myself because i was releaved that the cat wasn't suffereing anymore. Try to explain that aspect to th children. They won't understand what "dead" is but they will certainyl undersand "gone" and "hurt".

Good Luck.

I would not even TRY to explain the concept of 'putting to sleep' at this age. I tried to explain it to my 8 year old a few months ago and all he could say is 'You mean they KILL them?'

I think your best bet is to have someone watch the kids, you and your husband take the dog to the vet and when the kids get home explain that the dog died and is in heaven now.

Do NOT take him with you. You may very well make him fear vets/doctors from then on.

It might be helpful if you get another pet before you put the dog down. I do not believe in telling the child an untruth, but at 2 1/2 having a dog put to sleep would be a hard thing to explain. Having another pet would take the focus away from the dog being put down. I would not take the child to see the dog put down. Your Vet may have some information on how to tell a child I would check with him.

My advice is not to tell your child(ren) the 'whole' truth and to just say that your dog died of old age. I don't believe in 'lying' but I do believe in protecting our children from tramatic experiences that could stay with them and affect them for the rest of their lives. They are very young to understand the reasoning behind what you know what you and your husband have to do. If they were told about the procedure, they might think that if they just get a shot, or if they get sick, they will die too. I have been through this with a dog and cat, and it is tramatic enough for me as an adult. My friend just had to put her lab to sleep 3 days ago and I took her kids so they wouldn't know; her kids are 11, 9, and 7. I feel very strongly about this. It is too much for a child to handle.
I feel for you and what you are going through. These animals are part of our family. But its easier for a child to understand that everyone and everything dies sometime, and to think that your dog has had a long, happy life but it is his time to go, would be easier than understanding a decision that you made to have this happen.
I hope this helps. My thoughts are with you.
J. S

We lost our dog that we had since we got married when out son was nearly 2. It was very sudden and unexpected, she had a stroke. He hardly noticed she was gone. Although she was an important part of our lives at that age he seemed to go with the flow of things. We also had another dog so maybe he was distracted.

We recently had to remove a dog from our home, our son is over 3 now. We had brought her in as a rescue and she was nipper and finally bit our son and that was it. he did not even as about her for like 3 days. So I think at this age if you don't make a big deal about it they tend to just accept what is happening.

One suggestion might be if you plan on getting another dog do it before your old dog has to be put down. It will help you and your family transition. I ma so sorry you are having to go through this. I know how important to our family all of our dogs have been, we always had 3 running around, and when each one has gotten old and passed it was devestating. Take care of yourself and your family.

T.

M., My granddaughter just went through this with a puppy that had gotten run over, (puppy only 10 weeks.) She has a three year old who loved the puppy so beings that his Granny passed away recently we told him that Granny was lonely and Rusty wanted to go keep her company and to go outside that night and pick out a star for Granny and Rusty, as Rusty was sitting on Granny's lap and she wasn't lonely anymore, He accepted this and will tell you "Rusty died, but its okey cause he is with Granny and sitting on her lap". Hope this helps.

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