Death of Pet and 2 Year Old

Updated on June 10, 2010
R.M. asks from Spring Hill, TN
10 answers

I have an older dog with a heart murmur that seems to be getting progressively worse. I plan to call the vet tomorrow. My question is not about the dog, but I have been thinking about the possible outcomes of her vet visit this week and even if all goes well this time, she is still a 14 yr old dog with some health issues.

My son is 2 1/2 and pretty observant and also very advanced language-wise. I am trying to figure out what I should tell him if the dog starts to act more sick than she is now, or if I have to put her to sleep soon. She is already coughing pretty frequently and he gets very concerned about it. Right now I just tell him that she has a cough, he knows what that is. But when I have to put her to sleep, I have no idea what to say to him. He is not super attached to her, she is slightly cranky and just sort of steers clear of him. But he is involved with her care- he feeds her and our other dog for me pretty much every day, so it's not like I could just hope he doesn't notice.

We don't attend church so he doesn't really have a concept of heaven yet. I have no problem with telling him the dog has gone to heaven, but how do I explain to him about Heaven when it isn't something he has been exposed to? I'm just at a loss at the thought of explaining to him where the dog is when he asks, which he absolutely will. He doesn't even really understand about bugs being dead.

Any advice you could give me on what to tell him when this becomes an issue, I would really appreciate. I'd like to hope it won't come to that, but I know it will sooner or later, and I would rather think about it and prepare for it now so I am ready when it happens. Thanks so much.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the help ladies. We took the dog to the vet today (which I didn't want him along for, but it was either that or let her suffer through the weekend) and we got some meds to see if they help over the next few days.

I definitely won't be telling him the cough has anything to do with her death when that happens. But there is nothing else to call that symptom, he knows it is a cough, just not why. If it comes to putting her to sleep, I won't bring him and won't let him associate going to the doctors with it either. I just really wanted to prepare ahead of time for this one, because I know I will be upset at the time, and it is easier to think about it now when it isn't actually an issue yet. I definitely don't want to shield him from it, well I do, but I know you can't and it is a part of life. I'm heading to the library/bookstore to look at some of the books suggested and we will just approach it with honesty when the time comes. I appreciate the help and experience in how to talk to him about it. Thanks again mamas.

More Answers



answers from Portland on

Death is such a natural outcome of life that it does our children a disservice to try to shield them from it. Sadness, loss and grieving are part of life, too, and if handled well, they become simply part of a very rich life experience. (And because I have confidence in the rightness of all natural feelings, I think crying in front of children is fine – they just need to know why we are crying, so they don't imagine something far worse than the truth.)

The idea of taking turns can be helpful. When my nearly-4yo grandson's GG died recently, I told him that she loved being with him. But everybody gets a turn at life, and when our turn is up, we die so that new babies (and new animals) will get their turn. For most of us, our turn will be over when we are very old and tired and achy, and have no energy to enjoy our lives any more. Then our bodies quit so we don't have to feel sick and tired any more. This is what's happening to your dog.

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answers from State College on

So sorry for you, I know this is a hard time. I know you are taking her to the vet soon, so hopefully they have some answers for you and can keep her happy and comfortable. Many young children understand to a degree, so I would tell the truth, but don't be surprised if he still asks where she is off and on and does not seem concerned sometimes that she is no longer there when the time comes. Let him say goodbye when the time is right and maybe pick a favorite toy for her to take. It will help that you already have another dog too.

The book, Dog Heaven, is great for explaining. We used to give copies of it to families with young children when I worked at a vet's office. Also there is a poem about the Rainbow Bridge, so he can always think of her at the other end of the rainbow playing.

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answers from Portland on

There are some really good books about death and dying. I've seen a couple about animals. I'd check at the library and read one or two to him and then let him ask questions if he wants. Talk about how sick your dog is and how when he get's too sick he will die and go to heaven.

One book that I remember being helpful is titled Freddy and the Leaf. It compares death to the changes in season, if I remember right.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

When it comes to the difficult stuff, I tend to be very matter-of-fact with children and then give them the opportunity to reflect so I can clarify when needed to nip misconceptions in the bud.

I would tell him. I would differentiate that the dog's cough is different from the common cold. You might mention that the dog is getting quite old for a dog, and he is getting sicker, and will not get better (different than the kind of sick you guys get), but will eventually die. You will then need to identify what death is. When we lost our cat, I said to my son, it looks kind of like sleep, but it isn't. They do not breath, they do not feel, they do not think, they do not wake up or come back. Because of our beliefs, I explain the pet returning to the earth and feeding the plants (circle of life et al). If you believe in heaven, this might be the time to discuss that. Clear, simple, matter-of-fact terms.

Give your child the opportunities to ask questions. Ask how they feel. Clarify if needed. You may be suprised at how easy it is...and how his perception over this pet's eventual death will change as he grows.

I am also sorry that your pet is going through a rough time. What ever happens, I hope things go smoothly and gently, and when the time comes, peacefully.

Take care.

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answers from Boise on

This might be the perfect time to explain heaven... When our dog died my daughter was 3. She too was Brighter than most kids her age. Our dog loved to chase rabbits, catch squirrels, and run out in the green fields and sage brush we used to visit. We just explained that when dogs and rabbits and squirrels "die" the go through a special curtain... even though their body is here and when the come out on the other side of the curtain it looks just like it does here, but better. Then, they are still able to chase the bunnies, and squirrels and they cannot die any more. (soon after a grand parent died...) When that happened we explained they went to help take care of the dogs, and other animals because now they all eat regular food, and someone needs to make sure they all get fed... It seemed to pacify her till she was older...

I know its a story... but it worked for her, and she was comforted knowing that her dogs could be in heaven too. :o) Best of luck to you!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Phoenix on

We just lost our 13 year old dog that was sick for 2 months. My son will be 3 at the end of July. He knew that he was sick and would sit with him and tell him to feel better. He noticed the first couple days that he wasn't here and that the routine of letting him out in the morning was no longer. I told him he went to Heaven and wasn't going to come home again. When he asks I say the same thing. We have a stuffed lab dog that he calls his Casey and will hold that. I found a great website and chatroom that has so much helpful information for you and your son.

Good luck to you, absolutely the hardest thing I have been through and still grieving. My heart is hurting.

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answers from Dallas on

I think you may be surprised at how easy the explanation of heaven is. My dad died when my eldest was ten months old and we started telling her then that "Poppy went to Heaven". Then, when she was almost 3, I miscarried at 16 weeks and told her that the baby had gone to heaven too, just like Poppy. She asks a few questions about it, but not that much to where it is overwhelming to me! You are wise to gather info ahead of time! I hate feeling stumped when the kids get on their "why?" strings!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Memphis on

Kids are different, so your son may need something different from what my kids needed, but I'll give you my experience anyway.

One of our cats suddenly became ill and died (based on certain facts and circumstances, we think he drank antifreeze somehow). The kids weren't totally attached to the cats, though; they liked them well enough, but they weren't beloved members of the family. Anyway, when I realized what had happened, I told my kids (who were 4&2 at the time) just in plain and simple language that Jack got really sick and died and wasn't going to be here any more. I had to say it a few times for the next several weeks before he stopped asking, but that's really all I said. It may be different if your son is very attached to the dog, so you may deal with tears; my kids just accepted it as a matter of fact.

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answers from Austin on

I would stop telling him it's a cough... if your dog does need to be put to sleep, your son will think it's because of the cough... then what will he think every time anyone gets a cough? it will probably terrify him!!! If you want to give him a kid-friendly answer, you could tell him that he was really sick and went to stay somewhere that makes him feel better, but he can never ever leave, and cant have visitors... if you want him to understand about death then you might say that he was really old, and really sick, and sometimes when that happens animals (or people...) can't stay on earth any more, so they go out of their body to find somewhere they dont feel old and sick... maybe transition that into an explanation of heaven if you want him to learn about that...

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