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Need Advice: What to Tell Young Children That Their Dog Is Dying.

Hi there - Well I have a 22 month old and a 3.4 year old boys who ADORE our family dog. He is a wonderful black Lab who has cancer and the vet thought that he would only have 4 -6 months to live. I am wondering what to tell the boys is wrong with their dog when it is time to put him to sleep. We are very sad about this news, although I feel that at this point it is about the boys and the dog. I want to some how make this experience of losing their dog one they can maybe understand? Can anyone help us with this one?

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We lost our family dog to seizures when my son was just over 3 and deep in the "why" phase. It was not something we'd prepared him for before the occurrence, as it was a gradual decline and reasonably unpredictable death, so my experience is in explaining death after the fact. We ran through all of the thoughts that came to mind as we tried to deal with it and the logistics ourselves - from spiritual to clinical explanations. The one thing he latched onto was a rather abstract last-ditch effort - that our dog had died which meant she no longer lived in her body but from that point forward lived in our hearts. He liked that idea and spent days thinking about it. A few days later I heard him ask his father, "Dad, does Shawnee live in my stomach?" My son is now 5 and has a healthy respect for, but peaceful and not scary understanding of death.

Sorry about your dog - they make good family. Best of luck with your boys.

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Im so sorry about your dog! I went through the same thing a few years ago. My daughter was 2 and half and also adored our dog and my son was not a year yet so he didnt understand. I would be as honest as possible except for when it comes to putting the dog to sleep. I was given advice not to tell them that you are putting the dog to sleep because that may frighten them that if they go to sleep they wont wake up. Try just telling them that the dog is sick and if you believe in heaven that he will be going to doggy heaven. I would also make sure they know it is okay to be sad. I guess death is a part of life and they have to learn about it as some point so I believe being honest is the best thing. Best wishes!!

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So sorry you all have to go through this.
Here is a link to a previous inquiry: http://www.mamasource.com/request/14920890985197076481. There was lots of sensitive advice there.
There are lots of books that deal with death and dying, some specifically about dogs. (Some are listed in the link above.) Your children seem to be at an age where they would want some sort of explanation.

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J., We lost our cat about 6 months ago and it was very difficult figuring out what to say to our 4 year old son who adored him. We told Cole that Ollie wasn't going to live with us any more that he was very sick and he needed to go to a place where he would feel better. We told him he was living in Heaven now and he could have all the treats, and play as much as he wanted to. We gave Cole a picture of him to have in his room and we made sure he got to say a nice goodbye to Oliver. Even 6 months later he still brings him up, says he misses him and asks when he'll be back, but we just keep reiterating the same things and he's done well. I hope this helps a little bit. M.

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Good morning J., I am so sorry about the situation with your dog.

We had to put our cat of 8 years down about a month ago. The poor guy had kidney failure and was not well. Before we did it we explained to our 4 year old that Ivan was sick. She understood and knew that daddy had taken Ivan to the doctor a few times already to try and make him better. We never tried to hide his illness from her, which I think made it easier on her when we did put him down.

My husband picked Ivan up from the vet after they put him down because we wanted to bury him. The 2 of us did it while our daughter was napping and when she woke up we explained it all to her and asked her if she wanted to go see where we buried him. She said yes, so we took a garden stake that was in the shape of a heart and said "love" on it and used that as his grave marker. We told her Ivan is in kitty heaven and that he is no longer in pain.

She did the cuttest thing and said that Ivan is chasing butterflies and eating tuna all day long, so she got it. We also found a stuffed animal that looks like Ivan, so she holds him when she is missing our poor kitty.

I hope this helped you a little bit. Once again, I am so sorry that your dog is going through this.

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I would just add to the advice you've received that you consider using phrases like "The dog is dying and the vet helped him to die without pain." Most sources suggest that you NOT use phrases like "put him to sleep" or "put him down" with young children, as they can then become afraid when it's time for them to go to sleep, or when you are tired of carrying them and want to put them down! You also don't want them to associate all sickness (including cancer) with dying. You can use language like "it was his time to die" but it won't be our time for many many years. Then stress the good memories, talk about when he was younger and healthier, and so on. Pictures are a good idea. What you do about burial, cremation and talk of heaven should coincide with your own beliefs, so do what is comfortable for your family.

So sorry for what you are going through. We have a healthy 13 year old terrier, but I know that this moment will come for us, and we dread it.

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Be honest and forthright.
Tell them their dog is very sick...so sick that he cannot live much longer. Tell them that this illness hurts the dog a lot.
Explain that when the sickness and pain are too much for the dog to bear that you will take him to the vet and have him put to sleep. Let the children come and love the dog up on the way.
If the 3 and 5 year old want to be with their dog while the vet does his thing, I would let them.
Verbalize how sad this is, and how much of a loss it will be .
Is your home in an area where you can bury the dog on your land? They could help pick out a gravesite, even help dig the hole. Digging a grave is very theraputic and helps work through the grief.
I think children are too insulated from the ebbs and flows of the realities of life these days. All these things, knowing the pet is ill, gives them a chance to love him up, going with him to the vets gives them the opportunity to say goodbye, eliminates curiosity about "how much it hurts the dog to die" ( it doesnt, he simply goes to sleep) digging the grave affords them the chance to participate in taking care of the pet's body because it is the right thing to do.
These things do not traumatize a child..it helps them to learn and deal with death and work through their grief.
Do you have photos of them with their dog? Not a bad idea, yes?
Scenario...a grandma is baking cookies with children. Next thing they know,they are told gram is in a hospital where they may or may not be able to visit her..then they are told she is dead, then they are told she is buried, then they look at a stone and told this is where gram is now. They have no idea what illness is, what death is, what happens to people or animals when the body dies.
Our job , as parents, is to prepare them for the realities of life as best we can. Death is a great unknown to children and has become so surealistic that it can also become a tremendous fear of the unknown.
A pet's death can be a teaching tool for them, if you use it as such.
After your dog is put to sleep, would you consider getting another dog for your boys? Perhaps you could go to ASPCA and they could help pick out one?
As in any life situation, the very best advice I could possibly give you is to communicate honestly with your children, to validate their curiosity, their fears, and their grief.
Best wishes and God bless
Grandmother Lowell

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We had to put our dog down two years ago, right after christmas, after he had a stroke. My daughters were two and six at the tim, a little older, but not too much. The decision was made without much warning, but he had been declining for several months before hand. during that time we talked with the girls about treating him gently because he had owies and they couldn't rough house with him any more. The day we brought him to the vets we took pictures of him with each girl and they are framed and in their rooms now. We explained the vet was going to give him medicine that would make him sleep and he would not wake up. We ended up telling them he was going to be an angel doggie and god would throw balls for him. We didn't intend to tell them that, but that's how they understood dying, so it helped them. They will be sad, but it really is a good lesson for them, everything dies, better a pet before a relative! I'm sorry for your loss! I agree about being up front, but be careful about allowing them in the room. Some animals fight the medicine, (ours did) and it can be very scarey. We opted for them to say their good byes at home where they loved him the most!!!

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