Putting Dog down in the Morning - What Do I Say to My Kiddos?

Updated on January 29, 2013
A.O. asks from Tahoe City, CA
12 answers

My 9 1/2 year old Bernese Mountain Dog has had bone cancer for almost 4 years now and she has reached the point where we need to put her down (She can barely walk, defecated on herself last night and didn't even enjoy the beach yesterday when I took her). I have been preparing myself for this moment and have mentioned to my 3 1/2 and almost 6 year old daughters that she is not feeling so well and may go to doggie heaven soon so they have an idea of what is going on. I am going to call the vet to put her down at our home in the morning. Is there anything you could recommend to say to them? Should I just tell them to give her extra loves tonight because she needs it or is there anything else I should say to them? Any advice appreciated.
BTW - They will be at school when this happens.

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answers from Chicago on

I would maybe get them up a little early so they can spend time with her before school. Let them know she will not be there when they get home. I would also tell them today about it. There will be questions. The 6 yr old may understand more but both may be confused. Tell them why she is going away. They can see she cannot walk. They can see she cannot do a lot of things. Don;t hide anything, let them say goodbye the night before and let them spend a little time with her in the morning. Tell them what is going to happen.

We had a cat that got very sick in 2011. My husband took her to the doc and we did try to save her. The doc wanted to give her a transfusion but I just had no way to pay for it. The day after she seemed a bit better and we took her outside to wash her up a bit. It was a really nice day so she also got some air. Unfortunately, she died while we were washing her. My then 3 yr old and one of my older girls was with me and saw her start to have trouble breathing and chokiing and then she got really pale. She was a black cat so it was especially noticable. Even though I explained everything and all 3 of my girls went with to the vet to take her for cremation, my 3 yr old asked for several weeks when she was coming home. It takes time to understand.

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answers from Columbia on

I firmly believe that you should give the children the opportunity to say goodbye, to understand death, to grieve fully, and be completely honest with them.

Death is an inevitable fact of life. Everything living dies. When your 3 1/2 year old picks and brings you a dandilion, eventually it dies.

This is an important talk that shouldn't be brushed over with "oh, doggy went to heaven." A child will say "when will doggy come back?" Then you have to explain that they can't. It's too confusing at this point. It raises a lot more questions. "What if YOU go to heaven and can't come back, Mommy?"

Try not to use euphemisms with young children. You can explain heaven when they are old enough to grasp the abstract, but right now they simply don't have the critical thinking ability to do so. Be truthful about the reality of the situation right now. Doggy is old and got sick in her bones. She's hurting a whole lot and isn't able to walk (which they can see). She is going to die. We all love Doggie and want to say goodbye to her and tell her we love her when she dies. We will bury her in the back yard and put a pretty yard ornament out there to show that we miss her and will remember her. We'll be sad when she is gone, but we can visit the place we buried her and remember all the things we loved about her.

I would involve them as much as possible. And if it were me, I'd take the 6 year old (who is at an age where death raises MANY questions) with me to the vet. Explain everything that is happening using age appropriate terms. Don't be afraid to cry in front of him. This is a sad experience...and it's also an opportunity to model what healthy grieving looks like.

I'm so very sorry for the loss of your doggy. He'll be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

C. Lee

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answers from Jacksonville on

I agree with OneandDone. Why go into the details of the vet coming in the morning? Just tell them she is very sick and close to death. That they should say goodbye to her, and take pictures of them with her. When they get home from school, you can tell them she passed away.
Then you can talk about the rainbow bridge.

No need (at their ages) to go into the details of a vet euthanizing her. That just makes it more confusing and complicated.

I dont' know if you are religious, but I fully believe that pets/animals are in heaven. Nothing says they aren't. And we are told that the lions will lie down with lambs. :)

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. We were there a few years ago when our long haired chihuahua (our first baby) needed to be put down; our daughter was 4.

We were completely honest with our child that it was going to happen the next morning; we told her that our sweet dog was getting worse and worse and we didn't want her to hurt any more. We spent the whole day on the couch with our dog, loving her, petting her, whispering to her and just enjoying her one last day. We really wanted everyone to be able to say their goodbyes and not feel cheated. When I was a child, my parents put our dog to sleep, but they didn't let us know. We came home from school and they sprung it on us kids. We were absolutely devastated to have not been able to say goodbye and I never forgave them for that! I know they thought that they were sparing us, but it actually really backfired and made everything worse.

Anyway, when we put our chi down, it didn't really sink in that she was gone until the next day. That's when our daughter really had a good cry. Of course, I had MANY, but eventually the pain eases, just like with anything.

Good luck, I feel for you!

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answers from San Diego on

You have gotten really good advise. Simple is best, and the person who posted right before me said everything perfect. Explain that doggy is sick, his bones have a sickness, and he loves you and know you love him. Ket each child have a chance to say goodbye, and be there for them when they get home and the house is empty and sad. Almost 2 years ago we had to put down our dog and we had his remains cremated. My kid's were older, 14 and 11 and they were there as well when we put him down. Anyway, with his remains they kept insisting that he needed his collar, his favorite toy, a raw hide, his leash, and a picture of our family. LOL, I kept going to the place and adding more stuff to him! In the long run though, my kid's felt he was well taken care of in this place without pain, and he had his favorite things with him during the transition.

My heart goes out to your family...

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answers from Minneapolis on

My condolences. You've already gotten a lot of advice so I have some thoughts about afterwards, depending on your beliefs. I think there are books about the Rainbow Bridge for children. Also, just yesterday I saw a children's version of the best selling "Heaven is for Real." It's a little heavy and I don' t know for what ages it is intended, but it is definitely a children's book. It's the viewpoint of heaven from a now-12-year-old boy who had a near-death experience at age 3 or 4. The reason I suggest you might want to check it out is that he reports heaven is full of animals and they all get along together. Good luck.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Ah....stinks. I'm sorry.
I assume they'll be out of the house when this happens?
I'd again cover the ground about her being sick tonight.
Take some pix if them with her.
Tell them she got very sick and passed while they were at school, etc.
Again--very sorry.
You might want to order the book "Lifetimes" from Amazon.

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answers from Jacksonville on

We are in the same boat. My husky only has a short time left, maybe into the weekend. My daughter is four.

I've been preparing her for this since we found out. She knows the dog is very sick that she will not get better. I've told her the truth, that as dogs get older they get sick and die.

I don't think she fully understands death, but she does know that the dog will be gone and not come back. So sorry to hear about your pet, I know it's killing us right now. Lots of love.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

So sad, I'm so sorry :( I don't think kids that young really get it until after. It took my five-year-old several days after our guinea pig died to really understand that we wouldn't see him again. He died suddenly, so not quite the same thing, but I think you've done right by preparing them before, if you can really prep for such a thing...

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answers from Phoenix on

I would say to make it CLEAR that she is going to doggie heaven in the morning and she will no longer be here. Give them a chance to have pics taken with her (if you don't have good ones already) and time to pet and love on her before shes gone. I would NOT have them there when it happens, I would take her to the vet to do it. I have been thru this myself and it was traumatic to me, I think it would be too much for little kids. JMO. Good luck and sorry for your loss.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Certainly you want to give them the chance to say good-bye so be as honest as you can.

I'd say something like, "Our pup has had a good life. We have loved him and he has loved us. He is old and too sick to recover and tomorrow I will take him to the vet because it is time for him to move on to the spirit world. He is sicker than any of us have ever been or can imagine. The vet will help him so he can move on easily and he won't be in pain anymore. Give him lots of kisses tonight and say good-bye."

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

My son was five when we had to put our dog down. The biggest difference was that we found out he had cancer on Tuesday, and on Friday he was so bad that we had to take him to the emergency vet on Friday night to have him put down.

He had urinated all over himself and couldn't get up while we were at work - it was really bad. So my husband and my son and I gave him a bath, blow dried his fur (long hair) and held him until my mom arrived. By that time, it was bed time for my son. We took pictures of us holding him (Yes, I was crying. I think it's okay to let your child see you be sad.) We explained to him that our dog was going to die. We explained that Grandma was going to stay with him and when he woke up tomorrow morning, our pet would no longer be with us.

The next morning, we held him and talked about him. I didn't use euphamisms like "he's asleep". I told him that our dog died. I pulled out previous pictures of him and we spent time with that.

As soon as I got the new pictures developed, I framed them and put them around the house. It helped.

It's okay to say that your pet went to doggie heaven. That gave my kids some comfort.

A year later, my husband's grandmother died, mom. I really think that he handled great-grandmom's death better because he went through losing a pet first, for what that's worth.

SO sorry about your dog.


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