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.


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.

I think it would be very traumatic to take your little guy with you to have the dog put to sleep... you and your husband are likely to be very emotional and that could scare him. I think that explaining that the dog is sick or old and that he's going to go to be with God in heaven (or the supreme being of your choice), where all people and creatures go eventually might be a better, more age-appropriate truthful means of explaining death. This is a tough one, but death can be a very scary thing. I'd wait as long as possible to actually talk about the details of death. They get to be innocent and sheltered from these things for such a short time as it is, with the world of movies, media and "reality" shows.
Just my two cents,

Believe it or not both of your children are at an age where they will not remember much. My one daughter had open heart at age 3 and does not remember any details. We had a cat that we had a similar situatuion with and my oldest was 7 and the middle one was 3. The middle one is now 10 and she does not even remember owning a cat unless she sees pictures.
I do not think you should traumatize your son. If he asks you can just simply say that the doggy was tired and needed to go to a better place and then let it be. Death is traumatic and difficult for children to understand. As he grows and maybe periodically asks about the dog, instead of reminding him of the dogs passing you can redirect him to remembering all the good times he had with the dog. Negativity hinders growth, Positivity creates a better outlook on life and all it has to offer!

We had a lady that would watch our dog everytime we went out of town. We told our children that she was lonely and Nala(our minpin) went to live with her. It worked! They (my children) were sad for a bit and they still talk about Nala...but that's a good thing!!!

My children are very intune with my emotions...but positive...they will react however you do.

We told our two year old, "he died cause he was very sick". Plain and simple. He didn't ask anything else. I guess he just knew that explained it. But if your son asks for more info after that short explaination, you could just say, "Well, that means he's not coming back". Say it as a matter of fact, and tell the truth. "we buried him", instead of "he's in doggie heaven"(no such thing and dogs don't go to people Heaven). Don't say it with emotion and see what happens. That's how we did it and our son just went off and played. Our 3 yr old daughter had more questions so we answered them. But we didn't act like it was a sad thing, just simply a detail. Of coure if he does show emotion and sadness, comfort him and hug him. But chances are if you aren't upset and crying (to his knowledge, anyway), he won't either. Most if the time, kids take their que fom us.

It's suprising how much thast young of a kid can take. Right now, our cat that we've had for 7 years ihas been missing for 3 weeks. We've looked everywhere, but to no avail. Our kids all know that she isn't coming back (probably), and the only one who has cried about it is the 8 year old. I think our younger ones (3 and 5) are just very matter of fact about it because of their age. I've noticed that this is usually how younger kids deal with things. I also think it's because this is how me and my husband deal with it. We don't sit around and cry in front of them and we don't sound like we're distraught when we talk to the kids about it. Not because we aren't, but because we don't want the kids to be that way just because we are.
But if they are sad, (as in our 8 yr old) we comfort them and let them know that we understand and that it's okay to be sad.
I wouldn't take him to see it done because it will probably confuse him. He'll probably think the dig is asleep so he won't understnad why you can't just wake him up.

I'm sorry you have to face this.I hope this helps you.

I actually had to just deal with this. We had to put our 15 year old dog to sleep on Friday.

My situation is a little different as my daughter is 6. We had to put our cat to sleep about a year and a half ago and so my daughter has had to deal with losing her pets a couple of times. I also have another elderly dog, he is 16, and we are hoping that he stays with us for at least another couple of months.

Anyway, this is not an easy subject but this is what I have figured out from my own personal experience.

With my cat, he was put to sleep while my daughter was at preschool, I am not sure that this was the best way to do it since she did not get a chance to say good-bye but it is just how it happened. I explained to my daughter that he had been really sick and that he was really old and that he passed away at the doctor's office. I explained to her that he now lives in heaven and that even though we can not see or hear him that he can see and hear us and that she could talk to him anytime she wanted. She cried some and all in all seemed to have handled it pretty well. Every once in a while I will see her at the back door on her knees and she tells me that she is talking to fats (the cat).

The dog that we just lost this last Friday was a little different. He was also sick but I was really hoping for a more positive outcome and had taken my daughter to the vet's office with me (it was close to the end of the day and I was not positive how long I would be and so I had picked her up early from camp). My husband met us at the vet's office. My daughter was in the room when the doctor told us that there was really nothing that we could do and that it really was time to put him to sleep. My husband took my daughter outside and explained to her that the doctor was going to give Rocko a shot and help him go to sleep and that he would then go to live in heaven and that he would be a puppy again and that he would get to play with fats. I took Rocko outside to where my husband and my daughter were and let both of them tell Rocko good-bye. I then took Rocko back in and had my husband wait with my daughter outside.

That is my story and here is my advice. I would explain to your 2 1/2 year old that the dog is old and sick. Depending on your religious beliefs that the dog is going to heaven to live with god, or your own version, and that even though you can't see him that he can see you guys and your family and that he is young and healthy again. As far as letting your son actually be in the room when the dog is being put to sleep I would strongly advise against this. The reason that I say that is because sometimes the animals body will actually fight the drugs and it is not pretty. I also just feel that it is way to traumatic of a situation for a young child to watch their pet die no matter how "peaceful" it is. Let your son say good-bye but do not make him be a part of the actual situation. I would suggest maybe seeing if your children can stay with friends of family on the day that you have to make that very tough decision just strictly for the fact that they do not see you upset. I know that in my case I was extremely upset and that only upset my daughter more because she was worried about me.

Sorry this has been so long winded. I wish you the best and I am sure that you will make the best decision for you and your family. I am also very sorry for the impending loss of your beloved family pet. My thoughts are with your family.


Hi M., I am a dog lover and I know how hard this must be for you and your husband, but at 2 1/2 I don't think your son will understand a long explaination. If he should ask about doggy just make it simple, doggy went away.If when he gets older he remembers doggy and asks, tell him doggy was old and he went to a beautiful place to rest.I don't feel he should be there when the dog is put to sleep because I think it will be hard for you and he will pick up on that. My thoughts and prayers are with your family.

Hi M.,

I feel for you and went through something similar last year when my son was 2 1/2. Our cat, and my son's best buddy (she slept in his bed and was never more than 2 feet away from him) had kidney failure and we had to put her to sleep.

My son knew she was sick for a while and when we finally put her to sleep, we explained that she had gone to 'kitty heaven' and that she wasn't sick there anymore. And we buried her in the yard. He asked questions for a couple of weeks and I just kept reminding him that she had been sick and went to 'kitty heaven' where she finally feels better. He still will talk about her every now and then, but now he tells me that she's in 'kitty heaven'.

I'm sure his mind doesn't grasp the real meaning yet of what happened, but for him the explaination helped a little.

Good luck, and so sorry.


Hi, I just read yesterday there is a book called, When a Pet Dies, by Mr. Rogers.

You may want to find it somewhere. There is a story making rounds on the on internet which I received just yesterday about a little girl who lost her pet. It's supposed to be true and verified by google....called God Bless the postman. the link to the google page is: http://www.snopes.com/glurge/abbey.asp
You may find some wonderful ideas within this story to help you along. I do hope all works out well as losing a family pet is alwasy tough on everyone. I am sure too it would be a good opportunity for learning about nature. Peace to all. A.


As a child, I can remember many times losing a pet to an accident or to old age. I can remember also when my parents told me that an animal was in "doggie heaven" and then finding out later in life that there was no such thing. Internally, I felt lied to. As I grew older, we lost another pet and they simply told me that it was time for oreo to stop living. I handled that and remember that with much fonder memories.
I believe (having had 4 kids of my own and dealing with the loss of our own animals) that the very best way to go is to be very honest. Let's face it, dogs do not have a soul and they do not go to heaven. However, your 2 1/2 year old only needs to know the basics.
I would allow him a few days notice though.
Give him time to spend the last few days with his pet, so that he can prepare his heart for goodbye. Then, spend time with him talking about how much he loves his dog and will miss him. Pray with him and the dog that God will help him to remember his dog and that he will help him when he is sad.
Explain that in 3 days, he will have to go to the Doctor and they will help him die without any pain so that he will not be hurting anymore. I would take the next few days and take photos of them together and spend quality time together so that he will be able to have closure when the time comes.
When a family member or friend is dying, we want to spend time with them before they go, this is the natural thing to do. But if we don't get to, we feel cheated and angry, "If only...I could have told them this or done this..."
It is so important that we see them or talk to them before they go and that we are able to prepare ourselves for their death as much as possible. Kids are no different, they need that time to prepare also. That way, they have no regrets or bitterness towards their parents.
Whatever you do, please don't lie to him. This makes it easier for you, but in the long run, not for him. Parenting in love is tough, but he will respect you more for trusting him with the truth.
Hope this helps.
Mother of 4, ages 20y to 11m
BSW and counselor

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!!!

I would explain about life and death. I feel that even at a small age children do understand and will comprehend what they're being told. Maybe watch the movie "All dogs go to Heaven" and explain that this is what happens when an animal or person is no longer here. They simply go somewhere else and wait for us. I have explained to my boys that there are children in heaven that need pets too.
Being that he's only 2 1/2 you will need to keep the explaination simple, but an explanation is needed to understand why daddy might be upset. I definately would not bring him along for the proceedure. The baby will most likely provide a comfort for your husband will such a simplicity of a two, almost three year old.
Watching the movie will be key.....
Sorry for the loss,

I was raised on a small farm, always believed in having animals, so my son grew up around them as well. Having animals, you have to explain life, death, and God. If you are religious, it will help. Having animals and knowing about death (natural death, accidental, and slaughtering for food) helped my son with the unexpected death of his father when he was 6. We lost our beloved dalmation last year too (he was 17 1/2). It isn't easy to lose a loved one, but belief in God certainly helps.

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