How Do I Explain Putting Our Dog down to My 2 and 4 Yr Old?

Updated on February 19, 2010
S.R. asks from Ansonia, OH
20 answers

We are putting our family dog down in a week, and I'm trying to figure out how to tell our girls what is happening without being too graphic or dishonest. Do any of you have any wordage that would be good to use with a 2 and 4 year old?

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T.T.

answers from Chicago on

i cant help more than telling you dont use the word "sleep" so they dont associate sleep with never coming back again. Also I can recommend an excellent book called Dog Heaven which is age approprite and even if you are not religious can be adapted easily. It is a fantastic sweet book!!! Great for adults too!!!!

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K.S.

answers from Chicago on

As a dog lover and have 3 dogs myself, I know this will be hard for you. It's always tough to have to do that. I have my dogs on a site called doggyspace..kind of like Facebook or My Space. We talk a lot about doggies or kitties who have to go to the Rainbow Bridge. You can find a copy of it on line. It tells how when the sick animals go to a place called the Rainbow Bridge...they are young again and play together and run through the fields and it's bright and sunny and wonderful food and water..etc. It makes it sound as if the dog has gone to a wonderful place and will be waiting for you. Just google Rainbow Bridge!

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S.E.

answers from Chicago on

So sorry to hear about your situation, S.. I know it's really hard to lose a pet. Our dog died when my daughter was 2. She knew the dog was sick when we took the dog to the vet one day unexpectedly and ended up putting her down while there. My daughter was not with us. So, we just told her that the dog was so sick that her body just couldn't keep working, the vet couldn't help her anymore and she died very peacefully. We didn't tell her that she was euthanized as it didn't make any sense at age 2 to do that. It's trickier when you are planning this all in advance. Our vet had lots of resources for kids and adults to handle the loss of a pet, so I would check with yours. We used the book Dog Heaven and also another that I can't remember the name of, but it was at Barnes & Noble and was about how everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. It starts with plants and ends with humans and is a nice, poetic, circle of life kind of message.

Expect lots of questions! Even at 2 our daughter talked about it constantly and we had so many conversations about death, heaven, etc. It was challenging at times, but kind of amazing, too. I would start talking to them now about how sick your pet is and how sometimes it's just time for a pet to let go, and you feel that this time is coming for your pet. Maybe start having some special time together with your dog petting his/her head and thanking the dog for all the things they love about about him/her. You could take the lead, especially for the two year old. You could say things like, "Thanks for being such a great friend. Even when you get too tired to be with us any more, we will always keep you right here in our hearts." And, "I love how you wag your tail every time I come home. I will always remember that and it will make me smile when I do." You can start preparing them now so that when their pet is gone, they are not unprepared and don't feel they didn't get to say goodbye. This can be a nice thing for you as well. Best of luck to you S.. And again, so sorry for your loss.

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D.W.

answers from Indianapolis on

There was a similar question posed last week, but the family had a sudden accident that required the family dog be put to sleep.

Consensus was that honesty was the best policy. You don't need to get into a lot of details, but explaining that the dog is very sick seemed to be the best advice.

I know that's the approach we took with our 2 year-old when I was going through chemo. He didn't need to know all the details and certainly didn't understand cancer. He just knew that Mommy was very sick, lost all my hair and needed to sleep a lot to get better.

They really seem to understand a lot more than we think they do and seem to appreciate candor to help digest exactly what's happening.

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M.J.

answers from Sacramento on

We had to put our dog down when our son was three. I searched online and found some tips. Basically, you want to be honest and say your dog died and he's not here with us anymore (don't explain the putting to sleep or being sick or old ... all can make kids associate these with death going forward). If you believe in heaven, then explain that's where your dog is now. I really stressed about telling our son and it ended up being too much for him to comprehend at the time. I was tearing up telling him and as soon as I finished, he asked if he could go play again! He didn't fully realize our dog was gone until about a week later. It's a lot for young kids to take in.

My condolences to you in advance on your loss. I hope the process with your children goes smoothly.

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K.E.

answers from Chicago on

I also recommend the picture book, Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant. She also has one called Cat Heaven.

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V.N.

answers from Chicago on

I am so sorry to hear about your loss. The U of I has a great resource for dealing with pet loss.

http://www.cvm.uiuc.edu/CARE/index.html

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C.F.

answers from Chicago on

Well I would say to tell them that the dog is getting old and it is time for him to go and live with God. With children that age it is hard toexplain death. I don't know if you believe in God but that is what I would use. You can't be totally honest all the time with your children. That is why we have the tooth fairy, santa clause and the easter bunny.

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S.H.

answers from Chicago on

I am so sorry for what you are going through. We just put our German Shepard down on 12/29 & in August of 2008 we had to put our Pug down. My daughter was 4 when we put the pug down & 5 now. She was really close with the german shepard. We were very honset, not to graphic. We told her that both dogs were very sick & sometimes when animals are very sick & they can't get better they need to go to heaven. We told her that me & daddy took the dogs to heaven & she said it looked like a long drive & how did our car go in the sky. My dad had passed away before she was born, so I told her that he was talking good care of the dogs. We are not religous & don't go to church but we do talk about God & stuff like that.We had prepared her in advance because we knew it would be hard. She asked alot of questions & was very upset. She saw me crying & she cried alot too. We gave her pictures to put in her room & said that they will always be with us in our hearts. We could talk about it anytime she wanted to & if she was upset & cried, we did it together. Also what I did was plan it so she could go to my sisters house overnight, so it would take her mind off of it & have some fun, and not see how upset we were when we came home. A family picture together with the dogs helped alot! My daughter still tells me how she misses both dogs & talks about them alot. I tell her stories of the funny things they did before she was born or when she was a baby. Only you know your children & how much they can handle. I have found that simple honsety without too much graphic information is the best. Don't forget that everyone will need time to grieve & it will take time for the house to feel normal again.

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A.G.

answers from Chicago on

Hello,
I am sorry to hear about your dog. I would like to share a link with you about an e-book about Animals and the final journey. It is by an animal communicator who lives in Austria and I found it quite helpful when my bird died. This might not exactly answer your question on how to explain to your kids, but might help you dealing with the situation.
Just scroll down on the products: http://www.tiertalk.ch/Animal_Communication.360.0.html?&a...

If you have problems with the link pls email me at [email protected]____.com wishes!

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C.G.

answers from Norfolk on

Yeah, I was really young when our first dog died and I remember my mother just telling me that he was in a better place and that he wouldn't be with us anymore. I think i was 4 or 5. I don't know that your 2 yr old will be able to fully grasp that the dog is dead but I think the 4 yr old will get it a little more.

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S.T.

answers from Chicago on

OUr neighbor just went through this with their dog. Her kids are 5 and 3. Our kids are close with their family, and henceforth, knew their pets well. What we did to explain this to our kids was the following: the pet was either getting old or was sick (which ever is your case), we explained the the dog's body was really having to work very hard and at times it was too hard for the dog. We explained that the vet had some medicine that could help the dog feel at peace, let their body take a break, but it would not make the dog better. We explained that the dog went to doggie Heaven (and then made up whatever story we needed to about Heaven)

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T.P.

answers from Rockford on

S.,
We are going through the same thing with my Mom. She has decided to let time take her cat who has a liver problem. I have told my son that God wants a cat to hold and take care of so when the time comes he'll know that God is taking care of Torby up in Heaven. Whatever you do, don't tell them that the pet is going to sleep. They may not want to sleep anymore!
If you have pics of your dog for them to remember and look at that may work, too.Good luck and I hope it goes well for you.
T.

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K.L.

answers from Des Moines on

My daughter was about 3 when my parents had to put their greyhound down. My daughter loved that dog and she still talks about her to this day...we kind of thought she would forget about her, but we are happy she still asks. We told her that Winnie was going to heaven...a place that we can't visit...she asked if we could see her. We tell her she lives above the clouds...and Winnie used to 'chase' her bone around and just made a ton of noise, so whenever it thunders, she says Winnie is chasing her bone! Just be honest...I don't think they will really understand until they are a little older. And I know not everyone believes in Heaven, so if you are one of those people, I hope I didn't offend you!

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M.C.

answers from Washington DC on

We may have to put our dog down soon. He's 12y old. My kids are 8 and 3. When the time comes its going to be hard on everyone.

I think the approach that I'm going to take is this. Take the dog to the vet, let the kids know about the Thunder has a vet appt. and that he will be staying for some tests or a grooming. They are used to this since the dog gets groomed at the vet. Then, later in the evening, I'm going to tell them that the vet called to say that Thunder had passed away. He had fallen asleep in his kennel and won't wake up.

M.

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P.A.

answers from Chicago on

Our vet has this book in his reception area:Dog-Heaven by Cynthia-Rylant.

We took time to read it to them at previous visits so when the time came for us, we told the kids (6,4 &2 at the time) that Luther was very sick, the doctor was going to do all that he could to help him. In the end, the doctor was with him when he died and went to Dog Heaven. For us it also helped that this was not their first encounter with death. So Luther was going to be with other loved ones in heaven.

Sorry for your loss.

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E.R.

answers from Chicago on

There is a WONDERFUL picture book called 'Dog Heaven' by Cynthia Rylant. I would recommend it for your kids. I'm sorry to hear about your pet- that is so hard. But this book is totally age-appropriate and will comfort them without going into details that they just don't need yet.

T.C.

answers from Albuquerque on

Hi S.,
I am very sorry about your dog. We lost our longtime friend of 14 years (!!!) last May, and it happened while we were away on vacation, so our boys never had the chance to say goodbye, (we had been sensing the end was coming, so spoke often to them about how she might die soon, but it was still very unplanned how it happened), so at least your family will have that.

Whatever you do, be frank with them. We told our boys that their dog was very, very sick and very old and she died (we didn't go into any detail about being put down).

Also, expect to have many conversations about your dog after the fact. Our 4 year old is still trying to make sense of the whole thing (more than 8 months later), so he continues to bring it up and ask about her death. Our 2 year old, if he remembers her, doesn't seem to be affected by it any more. I think he's just too small to grasp much more than: she died.

Take care.
t

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L.L.

answers from Orlando on

I agree with some of the other posters - I would NOT recomend telling your kids anything about the dog falling asleep and not waking up. I think that would really scare them. I also wouldn't even go into details about putting the dog down. I would just let them know he was very sick, old, whatever the case may be and passed away. My daughter is 7 and I put our dog down back in Oct (he had cancer) - she is mature for her age, and I explained to her about euthanizing pets - I even used the correct word because I absolutely wanted her to know exactly what it is and what it's meant to be used for - I didn't tell her it made them sleep or anything. Anyway, sorry to go off ... But, your kids are so young I would keep it simple that doggie was so sick and is in heaven now. I'm so sorry for your loss :-( if you're anything like me, your pets are like family. xoxo

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C.S.

answers from Chicago on

This is probably a bigger deal for you than for the children. I know because I have lost a few pets over my lifetime. In my world they are gone forever and my heart sincerely feels the loss. In mind of young children, people, places and objects are either present or not. You could ask around how they feel about the dog and say that the dog is going to be with its family and that dogs stay with us for a while and then go home when they are not well or old or what you wish to share and this is a part of life. That is what I had to tell the three year old in me.

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