Death of a Pet - Attleboro,MA

Updated on January 13, 2011
M.T. asks from Attleboro, MA
16 answers

We have several animals and two of them are getting up in age and have started having health problems. I know the time is going to come soon where we need to make a decision about their future (and the thought is devistating to me). My question is how to handle it with the kids. They are 7 (8 in May) and 5 and do realize the animals are elderly. They have had exposure to death when both my grandparents died in rapid succession (and they attended the wake/funeral). If our pets die a natural death it is not a big concern, however I am wondering what to do if my husband and I decide that it would be kinder to put them to sleep. Do I tell the kids in advance? Do we just take them and tell the kids that Penny or Tigger died? If we tell them in advance, do I give them the option of going? I have only seen one animal put to sleep and I was an adult - it was the most peaceful thing I had witnessed. But I worry about them thinking every time someone gets a shot they die. Input please.....

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

I honestly cannot thank you mommas enough - - although I had weighed a lot of the pros and cons that others mentioned, there were some things I had not thought of and that is what makes this forum great! When the time comes we will just play it by ear - I definitely will not allow the kids to come with us and will just see what the circumstances are that bring us to our final decision. My mother's dog recently died and when we went to their house at Christmas the kids wanted to see the urn, so they understand at least in the abstract. Keep the thoughts coming - I really appreciate it more than you know.....

Featured Answers


answers from Dallas on

Personally, I'd not allow them to witness. What a sad memory! I'd just let them know that the pet died. :(

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Detroit on

Personally, as a vet, I do not recommend having kids at their ages in the room to actually witness the pet being euthanized - I've had many kids say good-bye and step out of the room (sometimes they come back after, sometimes not), but I think the youngest I've had stay was 12, and she knew what she was doing and insisted on being there. The parents told her only if was okay with me, and I told the parents it was up to them, they knew their child better than me - if they thought it would be better for her to be there than not, that was fine. At your sons ages, I think it would just be way too upsetting and too traumatic. I once had a client want their 4 year old to watch their pet get put down, so she could "learn" from it, but I told them flat out it was not a good idea and I wasn't going to go along with it. While in general it is very peaceful, sometimes the pet can take some startling gasping breaths after they have passed, sometimes they can stretch out or have muscle/skin twitches afterwards for a while, and all that can creep out an adult, much less a little kid. I've even seen a few dogs give out a kind of howl or start crying a little - they are not feeling any pain, but again, they could be reacting in some way to the medication, and I can't always predict which ones are going to have a reaction like that (sometimes if the vet can give the pet a sedative first, that can help). Also, most of the time, the pet does not close their eyes - the eyes remain open, and that creeps people out too (but it's normal - happens the same way with people). Even if none of that happens, it can still be upsetting for a child to watch.

If you think your kids can understand, you can try explaining to them that your pets are old and sick and may die soon, but you don't want them to suffer - so you may need to take them to the vet to help them to die quickly and painlessly so that they don't have to suffer any longer. The older child may understand this better than the younger one (though not always!). If they ask how this is going to happen, you can let them know that the vet uses a special shot that is only for this purpose, and it is not the same as the shots they may get at the doctor's.

I am not a big fan of lying, but I've had other parents tell their kids that the pet died on its own at the vet, rather than telling them that the pet was euthanized, simply because the kids would freak out otherwise and would not be able to understand (some of these were kids with different learning disabilities and emotional issues so I could understand that - others were people kinda taking the easier way out but I know everyone needs to do what they feel is best for their family and what their kids can and cannot handle). Certainly I would not be trying to explain euthanasia to a 2 or 3 year old, that is just beyond them. I also would not use the term "putting to sleep" because it can make kids afraid of falling asleep, or make them think that the pet is just sleeping and will wake up at some point.

I suppose if you had a talk with them about the pets dying at some point, you could relate the story about the pet you saw being euthanized, explaining that sometimes some people have to decide to have that done for their pets, and see what their reaction is. There are also some great books out there about losing a pet, like "Dog Heaven" and "The 10th Good Thing About Barney." After the pet is gone, you can think about some ways to memorialize them, like a scrap book or planting a tree.

When my stepsons were 7 and 8, they asked me about pets being put to sleep - they already knew that it happened, and I was a vet and they wanted to know if I did that, and why. So I was honest - yes, I do have to euthanize pets if they are suffering and the owner requests it, but at that point, the pets are very sick, or in a lot of pain, and there isn't anything else that can be done to help them, so it's not right to let them keep suffering. They understood that perfectly, so it's possible one or both of your sons has already heard something about it on their own from another source (a friend, or TV, or whatever).

I am sorry you are going through this - I would just try to have a conversation with your kids and see where it goes. Good luck to you...

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'm a veterinarian and teach students about how to handle euthanasia. I strongly recommend that you are as honest as possible with the children. Because the loss of a pet is often the first loss that a child will experience it can be a very important one. The whole family should participate in the decision and to avoid confusion it is important that they understand that euthanizing an animal is not something that we do to people. (children can become confused if you use the term "put to sleep" and be afraid to go to sleep). While I would allow the children to understand that the animal is not coming back and to have a chance to say good bye you may feel that they are too young to actually be with the pet when it is euthanized. The veterinarinan will give the animal an overdose of an anesthetic medication and the death itself is very peaceful but can still be disturbing to young childern. I would also discuss a plan for when and where the euthanasia will happen with your veterinarian, the sooner the better, even if it will be months or years from now. The more preparation you do now the easier this hard experience will be. You should also decide what you will be doing with the body of the pet- will you have him/her cremated. There are ways the children can participate in memorializing the animal such as by making impressions of the paws or keeping some fur. The children need to understand that greiving the loss of someone that you loved is normal and healthy but hard for everyone. Everyone is going to be sad for a while and it is ok for them to see you sad- that is how they learn coping skills.

there are a number of excellent books and online references: for example the 10th good thing about barney by judith viorst is a great book for kids as is the book Dog Heaven. The veterinary schools have pet loss hotlines where you can talk to a student about a pet that you are planning to or have recently euthanized and they can send you a lot of information. The one at Tufts is ###-###-#### and is staffed most mondays-fridays from 6 to 9 pm.

good for you for planning ahead, I am sorry that your pets are not doing well


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cincinnati on

If the animals were to die on their own the kids would not have that last 5 minutes with them. ...That is how I would handle it as well if I were taking them to the vet to be put down. Don't say anything to the kids. Take care of business. Afterwards, let the kids know the animals passed away.

While putting an animal to sleep is, I think, a wonderful way to discuss the concept of death & afterlife with kids; I don't think they need to watch the animal die. Like you said, that may scare the snot out of them for the future. They are only 7 and 5.

Good luck with this and I'm so sorry you have to do this. We did less than a year ago with our kitty of 10 years. So sad.....

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

My boys were 7 & 5 when we lost our 14 1/2 year old cat. I was pregnant with my third at the time. He had been sick for a while and we had been doing what we could to keep him comfortable. I don't know how to explain it but we could tell he wasn't ready to leave yet all that time. Finally he took a turn for the worse and we could not do much more for him. Every day there was the thought of if we should bring him in yet, I'd look in his eyes and say not today. Then one day we left for a prenatal apt and dinner with family. When we came back he had lost the ability to walk. I held him the entire rest of the night and we brought him to the vet the next day. The boys came with and were in the room when he was put to sleep and they got to say goodbye. They both are still happy they were there and got to say goodbye. This was Jan 2009. We have another elderly cat that is now 14, she'll be 15 in April. They know she is old. She's lost about half her body weight. They know she's going to die sooner than later. We don't hide that fact.They treat her with respect due an Old Lady. We will take all 3 kids with us when it is her time if she does not go on her own at home. I will look in her eyes and know what to do.
How we explained everything. We explained that his body is old and it can't work right anymore. He was in a lot of pain. The vet was going to give him a special medicine that would help him relax and take the pain away so he can relax and die. His spirit was going to leave the body that was no longer working. We were very careful to never use the word "Sleep" when refering to anything so they did not get scared of going to sleep and dying. We also did not say it was the medicine itself that killed our cat but that it helped him relax enough to die. That it was hard for him to die without it if that makes since.
Most of all we were honest. We used simple words to explain everything.
They both took it well. I wouldn'thave done it any other way.

sorry..I edited..did the math as after my son turned 5 not before..

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on


I came away from this question and thought for a while. The previous posters do make a good point I didn't consider, that this may be more than what your child wants to experience at this time. Perhaps, if they ask to go,
then you would consider it, and ask the vet to be discreet. If they don't ask, I wouldn't offer. Kids are all so different. But it may be more than they can understand, having a pet put down, and even the information that the event was about to happen would be confusing to a youngster. Pet euthanasia might be a topic to let them approach with us when they're ready to ask about it.

Thanks, Mamas, for making me think about this a little more!:)

and still....

You will make the best decision you can, when and if the time comes, you'll know what to do. You sound like a very loving pet family and parent. Go with your instinct.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Hi M., I am a vet tech and have witnessed many euthanasias. Start with the word euthanasia don't refer to it as put to sleep. Some children don't understand and can become frightened of going to bed and not waking up. Not all euthanasias are peaceful 5 and 7 are probably still to young to witness, especially if it is not completely peaceful. Most euthanasias are very peaceful and when it isn't it's more about how it is interpreted by those witnessing. Some pets may take a breath or 2 after passing away some will have involuntary muscle spasms. If you don't understand it can be hard to watch. A better age from my experience is 10 to 12 depending on maturity.
Personally I would not tell them in advance and have them thinking about it all day, but maybe your children would feel bad they did not get a chance to say goodbye I suppose it depends upon their personality. You may need to treat them differently because 5 and 7 are very different developmental places. Well I hope this was helpful.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

We had to put a family pet down a year ago this month. My kids were 7 and nearly 6. My mother in law lost 2 cats and a dog in the span of 2 years and also my husbands grandfather. I was very open and honest about the fact that our cat was getting old(22) and that he was in a lot of pain and just not the same cat anymore. I explained in very simple terms that the vet would give him special medicine to help him die without being in the pain he would be in if we just let it happen. In our case the cat was throwing up nearly everyday and it was pretty plain to the kids that he was very sick. The really handled it very well. We didn't take them to the vet with us, but we let them say goodbye and took one last picture with the cat to be put in frame for their rooms and that really helped them. This is never an easy time, I wish you luck in your situation.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

I wouldn't allow them to go to the vet with you. And I wouldn't explain it as "putting them to sleep" either. I explained it to my daughter about a year ago (when she was 7) and I told her the correct name. Our doggie was really old and had cancer - wasn't doing well. Fortunately it happened while she was on vacation with her Dad - but I told her Duke wasn't doing well and I took him to the Vet and they euthanized him. Of course she asked what that meant - I explained how it is the right thing to do so your pet isn't in pain anymore. She asked if the medicine they give him makes him die. I told her yes. We also had a long conversation about being responsible pet owners and it is something a pet owner can do to show how much they love their dog and doesn't want them to suffer anymore, etc etc. I never said putting him to sleep.....And if she was home I would have had her stay with someone else while I went to the Vet.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Don't let them 'see' the animal die.
That could cause them night mares....
they are young.... or they may fear getting 'shots' themselves....

Let them at least say 'goodbye' to their pets.... first.
Explain the Doctor has to... (think of something here), maybe help your pet to sleep.... and go up to doggy heaven or whatever you feel is a nice thing for them to palate....

I hope you have (I'm sure you do), great nice photos of your pets... for your children to remember them by.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We've been through it 3 times and we are facing it again more than likely this year with our 12 yr old Cocker.

It is NOT easy. For me,,, the first time did not really phase our daughter as much as it did hubby and me. Maggie was our first dog/fur baby and she was attached to us pretty much exclusively. This occured when daughter was in preschool and did not really grasp what was going on. Maggie went to the Dr., Daughter knew Maggie was very sick and she understood that the Dr. could not save her. We DID NOT say she was put to sleep.

Second...Frankie the 2nd Cocker. This one she knew. She was in elementary school and it happened on Easter night when the bunny came. Frankie had an attack and we had to go to the ER clinic and he was put down at 15. When she awoke that am (thankfully another adult was home so we slipped out and took care of Frankie while all were asleep)... she noticed her Easter basket but she noticed 1st that Frankie was not there to greet her as he always was. She took this well, although a couple years later, Frankie's story was the topic of an English assignment and only then when we read that assignment did we really cue in to her connection to him. It seemed as though she never had a big connection to him. Again, she knew Frankie was sick, she knew we took him to ER in an effort to save him if possible but he died.

Her bunny Easter, died at 8 of natural causes. She helped me put him in the car to go to the vet.

All 3 animals' remains are on our mantle in special cedar boxes and a pic.

Just today, daughter 16, talked to me about Fluff (soon to be 12 and not doing so well) about how we handle it. She knows and understands about doing the right thing at this point. honestly, you can tell when the pet is ready to go... at least we could with ours. It was a look in the eyes.

We never, ever said we were putting them to sleep or there was a shot. In all honesty, when we were at the vet with the 2 dogs, we were there as a last ditch effort to save them and the Dr. explained what was needed just as we already knew.. We needed the Dr. to validate the decision. It is HARD when you've had a pet 15 yrs to go through this.

When the time comes for Fluff, she will have the opportunity if needed to go with us to go through the process which is SO HARD. She will be more involved at this point due to her age, maturity and understanding of the life span of our pets.


answers from Tampa on

Yes, tell them that by allowing them to die in a peaceful and lack of pain manner - they are making the end of life for your animals better. Allow them the choice if they want to stay for the procedure and comfort the animal during it's passing.

I allowed my 5 y/o to pet and talk to 2 of our cats who died unexpectedly during a routine neuter procedure. It made her feel closure and when we got the ashes back, she wanted us to make a special name take for them. She's also been present for the death and burying of our very old guinea pig and tortoise.


answers from Biloxi on

Hi M.,

I agree with Mara about using the proper terminology with your children. I have always had pets and I had to euthanize first one when the cat was 16 years old and my son was about 3 1/2. This had become his special cat of all the ones we had - this was the one he laid on top of, and napped with, and chased around the house while the others just stayed out of his way. Since the cat had been failing for some time and I had been doing Sub-Q on him at home and at the vets, my son knew that kitty was sick. When it came time to take him to the vets and let him go, I brought my son with me. He did not go in the room with me, but stayed with a vet tech that we were close to. But he did know that our Orphy was going to kitty heaven.

Fast forward to 2005, after Katrina we had another elderly cat that began to fail. My son was now 9 years old and he decided to be in the room with her when we let her go. He also insisted that we have her cremated so he could "take her home". So we have two kitty urns up in a closet.

His hamster of 2 1/2 years died this past November and we had a funeral for Billie who is now resting comfortably in the back yard.

We have always lived with pets so, and my Aunt has lots of pets, so he has been exposed to pets passing from a very young age. It is hard, but I have always explained to him that since pets do not live as long we do, it is extra important that we take great, loving care of them for the time they are with us. I also have explained that it is equally important that we do not prolong their suffering and that they will "tell" us when they are ready to go and that we have to honor that and let go with love and dignity. I have always opted to have my pets cremated and brought home - a little odd for most people, but neither my son nor I can leave them behind to be disposed of...Yes, he asked me in 2005 what would happen to the kitty if we didn't cremate her and I told him true.

From a personal perspective, when I was growing up and one of our pets became ill, Mom would take them to the Vet and they just would never come back. It would take her weeks to run the "scam" that kitty was sick, kitty was still sick, no I couldn't visit kitty, "Oh, I am so sorry, kitty died". I never got to say goodbye and I began to panic every time Mom took a pet to the vet for fear it would never come back. Okay, a little neurotic on that subject still. LOL

Anyhoo, I think the key is an open and honest communication with your children. I would not compare it to the passing of their grandparents, just a discussion of pets and their gifts to us and our gifts to them. Then let them decide if they want to be present or not. You know that pets enhance our lives and teach children to love unconditionally - I think our children, because of those lessons, can make the transition to compassionate endings.



answers from Boston on

I had to euthanize our cat unexpectedly earlier this year. She was struck with a sudden illness that was fatal. I didn't tell my daughter, who was 3.5 at the time, but that is much younger than yours. I had 2 pets euthanized when I was a child and was told that was what would happen but was not allowed to go. So this was my first experience with being there and I would not allow children that young to go. If I hadn't needed to be there for my cat, I wouldn't have wanted to witness it myself. I still can see the look of her after she died and it is very upsetting to me to think of it almost a year later. I am glad my parents spared me that when I was a kid. I'd really rather think of my pets alive. I don't think they will necessarily associate injection with death after that but a dead animal doesn't look peaceful and asleep, it looks dead. It's not a good way to remember them.

So I'd say telling them in advance so they can say goodbye is a good idea, but keep them home of you can or at least not in the room when they give the injection. As compassionate as the vet and tech were, it was a very unpleasant experience for me as an adult.



answers from Boston on

I am sorry you are having to go through this, and commend you for being proactive.

You have received some thoughtful responses about euthanasia.

As for preparation, I prepared my daughter with books: When a Pet Dies, by Fred Rogers and Lifetimes, by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Igpen. Both are sensitive, but matter-of-fact and use clear language. My daughter still likes reading these books and it's been 3 years since our cat died.

Here is a link to a similar question that also received helpful responses:



answers from Boston on

The first thing I would do is decide on vocabulary. I have issues with the terms "put to sleep" and "put down" because children misinterpret them. It isn't just your children - it's the children they will talk to. Kids get confused and can become afraid of going to sleep at night, since Rover didn't wake up when he was put to sleep. Same thing with kids who are still carried around - while yours are older than that, the confusion can occur when a parent is tired of hauling around a 40 pound child and says, "You're getting so heavy, I have to put you down." I've seen screaming ensue!

So I would decide on a phrase - given your kids' ages, I think you can use "euthanize" or "the vet helped Rover to die." If you explain that end-of-life issues occur and there are ways to determine if there is absolutely no hope and if suffering is occurring. Explain that people can use their words to describe their suffering, but that animals cannot. They can become confused and agitated by excessive treatment - especially if there is no hope that they will ever come home from the hospital. Animals also have a strong sense of when their time has come, and they do approach it peacefully and with some resignation. We went through this last spring with our dog - we learned a great deal from the way she handled it with acceptance and calm. Knowing that the animal is ready to die is very comforting.

As your animals begin to fail, you should point these things out to the kids - how they don't do their normal activities, how they perhaps have stopped eating or have trouble walking, whatever the problem is. Make sure they know that you have discussed this with the vet, that you will not give up until there is no hope and no treatment, and that no one wants the animal to suffer. You can say that the pet "is ready" and you can also incorporate any relevant religious beliefs. Use the example of their grandparents if you want. But explain that the animals are not afraid of dying, only of being away from their families hooked up to tubes. Explain the 'circle of life' or "nature's way" and how animals are more in tune with that than we are, often.

Also plan what type of funeral or memorial you want for the pets - will they be cremated or buried? At home or in a more formal pet cemetery of some sort? Will the vet handle it or will you? We buried our dog at home at the end of the woods, and we got one of those stepping-stone kits at the craft store and made a plaster marker - you can buy letters to press into the mold, create a design, and so on. Whether you have your children at the vet and dealing with the issue of a body is your choice - there are reasons on both sides. I agree that having them witness the shot might be a problem, but you know your kids. But if you have some sort of remains to bury, definitely involve the children in the memorial part of it. I would not necessarily have them look at an animal's dead body at the vet's, but then again, explaining cremation might be tough too. Depends on your family's customs, religious beliefs, and so on.

I would also be sure you have a couple of nice photos of the animals now, either alone or with the kids. We made a little scrapbook with our dog's license, some photos, and so on.

There is a poem about "Rainbow Bridge" which a friend sent us a link to, and the vet gave us a hard copy of it - check it out and see if you think you and your children would find it helpful.

Good luck to you and I hope you do not have to face this issue too soon. It's very difficult.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions