Reactions to Putting a Dog to Sleep

Updated on March 14, 2010
L.D. asks from McKees Rocks, PA
18 answers

Sadly, we need to put our dog to sleep this afternnon. My 4 year old daughter absolutely loves our dog and has never known life without him. We have been preparing her for this for a few months now, telling her that he will go to the vet and that the vet will take him up to Heaven where he can play with her Pap Pap. She seems to comprehend, albeit on a very simple level. I'm wondering if anyone else has gone through this and how their child reacted. I know that each child will react differently, but any insight will help so we can prepare for any type of possible reaction. Thanks so much!

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So What Happened?

Our daughter completely amazed us whe we took Jack, our dog, to the vet. Before we left, she packed him a bag full of his favorite toys and a few treats. When she was getting out of the car (to go to her grandmas) she said "Bye Jack. I love you. Wait til God sees you...he's gonna be so happy". SHe did very well after we picked her up. She gathered all of her black lab stuffed dogs and tucked them inot her bed and said "See Mommy, Jack is ok". (I had a really hard time with the whole thing). It's amazing how much there is to learn from our little ones! Thank you all for your advice and insight!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm very sorry. Dogs can really be part of the family.
Seems like you've prepared her. When my son first experienced a death (it was his pap) I explained that Pap was sick, the doctors tried very, very hard to heal Pap, but the medicine didn't work and Pap's life ended. All living thing's lives have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can tell her that her dog is not sick anymore but will now live in Heaven. If she feels like she needs to say goodbye, buy her a helium balloon, attach a note to the dog and let her release it. My husband did this with my son and it really helped him. Best wishes.

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answers from Chicago on

We gave our dog a 'last supper' that contained fresh ground beef and a sedative. We joked it was the best meal he'd had in years! Afterwards, we took turns sitting with him, telling him we loved him, then off to the vet. By the time we got there he was extremely drowsy (not anxious or stressed), he had wet his bed in the car, but DH was able to carry him in and the vet was already waiting for us. It was loving and peaceful way to say goodbye to our first son ;) - our daughter had a very nice memory of saying goodbye to her friend. My mom stayed with our DD while we took the dog to the vet.

Everything our daughter saw was happy goodbyes, we love you and now the vet is going to take care of you for us.

We kept talking to him after he was gone...about what it's like in dog heaven, running, playing and being able to do the things he no longer could here with us. We kept it positive...that he was happier now and we'll see him again someday.

Good luck during this hard time.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. We had to put our 14-year-old dog down in November and it was much harder on my husband and I than on the kids. My kids are 8, 6 and 4 and while they realize Kasey isn't here anymore and that he died, they weren't that upset by it as you might think. They just don't comprehend on the same level. My 8-year-old, of course, understood the most, but she also understood that he was very old and sick, and it happens, but even she didn't cry about it. On the plus side, we're getting a new puppy this weekend and the kids are super excited about it. Best of luck to you.

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answers from State College on

I'm so sorry for your loss. One of the vets I used to work for would give a copy of the book "Dog Heaven" to clients where there were young children that were attached to the pet. Most families were happy to have the book and said it did help the children. We also had several clients that would have children with them to say goodbye, some stayed and many families we watched the kids and distracted the kids. Overall it seemed the kids were pretty accepting, but not quite understanding they were not going to see their pet again if they were young. The slightly older ones understood a little more and were usually sad, but would then be asking questions unrelated or about another pet.

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answers from Philadelphia on

So sorry for your loss L..
We have lost several pets over the last few years, my dog Jake had to be euthanized in September of '08. My daughter was only 15 months old and my oldest son was 3 1/2. I explained that Jake had gotten so sick he wasn't able to get better and died. That died means he is gone forever to heaven and we can't see him anymore. I explained what I believe heaven is. Both on occasion still ask about Jake and I keep the explanation the same. They also say they miss Jake and I say I do too. After Jake died we had one of our cats die it was only about 5 months later and they will still ask about her too. Same explanation. I just try to keep it very simple and honest. We still have several pets and as my kids and pets get older I know that the process will change and their grief will also. But, I have found that honesty is and simplicity is the best and expect that they will still ask for the pet for quite some time.

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answers from Allentown on

My daughter was turning 3 when we lost an elderly cat and her grandmother within a couple of months of each other. I turned to several books - from What to Expect, The Toddler Years, to pediatrician books and more, and ultimately found what fit us best. One thing to watch out for is speaking about heaven as if it's just another place; I remember after my mom told my brother that our granddad went to heaven that he wanted to know the phone number because he wanted to call him there. We just said how the cat and Grandmom were always with us, as long as we remember them; we can't see them anymore, but we can talk to them, if we like. Because they love us and care about us always. Lots of the books suggest keeping the language simple to the point of saying "he died," which I didn't feel entire comfortable saying to her, in part in deference to my husband's way of talking about it - he doesn't like that terminology as much as he prefers to say "passed on" or passed away. Thankfully, they were both older, so I could just say "they got older and their bodies stopped working right, and then stopped working." I reassured her that it won't happen to our other cats or to us for a long time. Good luck!

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answers from Allentown on

Hi, L.:
Is the child going to be present with the process at the vets?
Just want to know. D.



answers from Philadelphia on

How about a little stuffed animal for her to keep that resembles your dog? I am so sorry for your family, you are in my thoughts.


answers from Dallas on

Can she see he is ill? If the dog is sick explain that the dog is sicker than she has ever been. If the dog is older, tell her he is very old. Let her know that what the cause of decline has nothing to do with her or your health. You want her to feel this is something that happens to dogs, not necessarily little girls or her parents. Just to help her feel safe.

I told my children the dog was very very sick, sicker than any of us had ever been and that he was very sad and in pain. I said he couldn't get better. He is ready to explain whatever your family views on death.

My children took these things in their stride. Although a little sad, and I told them I was sad, but happy the dog didn't have pain anymore. It all went very well. Just be open to letting her talk and explain her feelings. Don't discount any feelings. Just tell her what you believe. Sounds like you have done a good job already.



answers from Houston on

Hi L., I'm so sorry about your pet. We lost our pet this year & it was tough. My son is 5yrs old and our dog was 14 yrs old. I did the same thing as you to prepare my son but before we had it done, I had gone home thankfully before picking my son up from school and found her. It was really hard. When we got home I explained to him that she was in heaven waiting for us at the Rainbow bridge and that one day we would see her again. He cried for a while but then came to terms within a few days. It will be ok and your little one will also be ok. Best of luck to you & your family



answers from Lancaster on

I'm so sorry for you all. We just went through this in Sept. '09. Our daughter is a HUGE animal lover and was 8 at the time. Our dog had been sick and my husband and I knew that the vet would recommend putting her to sleep. We were lucky enough to have her for 14 years. He and I took her together and to this day I shed tears because I miss her. Our daughter has asked from time to time if she can go to the vet to see where they put her. We were able to put her off with responding that she's in a good place and we're not able to visit like we do with the great-grandparents at the cemetery. She was in a funk for about 3 months; depressed and little interest in regular things. She has come around and is starting to get excited about the hope of a new puppy. We are still grieving, but hope the new dog will breathe new life into our family. It's never easy no matter how old you are. My heart goes out to your family.



answers from San Francisco on

I remember sitting on the sofa crying with my 4 year old after we had our dog put to sleep. He cried and I cried, for a while.

It's painful. Tears are probably the most likely and normal reaction.

And speaking as someone who has just lost a beloved pet and wailed nonstop for half a day, with occasional tears for the next week, I can tell you to NOT try and talk her out of her sorrow and make her stop crying. Just cuddle her and cry with her if you want to and tell her it's sad. My husband felt very uncomfortable with my grief and he kept trying to get me to stop crying, which felt like lecturing and made me feel all alone.

And PLEASE let her have a chance to say goodbye to the dog. Don't just have him be gone one day. That is more traumatic than anything.


answers from Austin on

I am so sorry for your families loss. A pet is such an important part of our lives..

Our daughter always did well if we had books dealing with different tough subjects. They allowed her to ask questions and then she would make them fit her situations.. Here are a few titles..

"Jasper's Day" by Marjorie Blane Parker
"Good Bye" Mousie by Jan Omerod
"Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie


answers from San Francisco on

I think its great that you have prepared her for this day. At her age yes she can comprehend some of what your saying but don't be surprised if she blames you for taking her friend away. Its natural for them to do this as it is you who are taking the dog away. Just keep reminding her when the time arises that doggie wasn't well and he is now gone to doggie heaven to play with all the other dogs that are there, he is happy, not sad. Let her know that he misses her to. Again with the blame, it may or may not happen although I know through past experience the onus was on me. Sometimes it just takes time for the wounds to heal but pls. don't feel rejected.
Take care,



answers from Albany on

While we didn't have a loss of our own pet, we did have a loss of my parents' dog. The kids 3 and 2 at the time, colored pictures for the dog and said their last goodbyes for now. We bought battery operated candles and they would light a candle whenever they felt sad and were thinking about the dog. It seemed to help them get through the experience.

We also never use the term "go to sleep" or "put to sleep" due to the negativity of it. I don't want my kids thinking that they won't wake up if they go to bed each night.

I'm sorry to hear about your loss.



answers from Washington DC on

I'm sorry for your loss. Be prepared that she may keep asking when he is coming back as she may not understand that he is gone permanently. Alos, I wouldnm't use the words "put to sleep" around her...some kids freak out about bedtime because they are afraid they will go away (or you will) forever.


answers from Pittsburgh on

L., There is no easy way to deal with this. Your best option is to be as honest and as age appropreaite as possiable. Keep your explainations simple and to the point, don't dwell on it, but don't avoid it either. Death is a part of life and we can't shelter our children from the reality of it. It's important that they begin to learn about it as it comes up durring the corse of life. We had to put down one of our dogs a few years ago and even though we had only had him 3 years he had worked his way into our hearts and the loss was felt heavily by us all. Unexpectedly we found that he had bone cancer...and as a family we decided not to let him suffer...there were lots of tears, anger, hurt, denial, and some acting out. Our other dog (that we got before him and still have) suffered with the loss as well. Talking helps, having fun pictures and stories to remember. I'm sorry for your loss, best wishes.



answers from Philadelphia on

I am so sorry to hear this. And I also believe it is a blessing that we can take away the sufferring of our furry family members.

In november we had to put down our 9yr old lab/sharpei mix. She was the sweetest dog and played nursemaid to both our children from birth. She would come get me anytime the babies cried.

We told both our children (7 & 4) that she was getting sick and would not be getting well and that we would eventually have to decide to take away her pain when it got too bad. When the day came, my 4yr old was with me while at the vet to check our dog who suddenly went lame & was diagnosed with a tumor pressing on her spine. After a call, my husband came with our 7 yr old. Both children were asked to say good-bye to our dog and asked if they wanted to stay in the room when she was given the shot. Both said no after saying their good-byes. Our 7 yr old was sad and cried and talked and asked many questions. Our 4yr old got mad, mad at the vet, mad at the techs but mostly mad at me. He yelled at me for the entire ride home. I told him it was ok to be sad and mad but not ok to yell at me or kick my seat. After the 15 minute carride home he had settled a bit and when he saw our other dog, both children became occupied with treating her kindly as she would miss her friend.

We still talk about our dog. Look at pictures. Share stories of how sweet she was. And now give our only dog more attention. The children do not seem any worse for the experience and it has led to some wonderful talks about responsible pet ownership and knowing when to let go to take away suffering and pain.

We also have read many books about death & loss as both my MIL and my Mom died within a year of each other from cancer. One good book about pets declining is "dribbles" (about a cat who comes to visit and is taken in decline to be euthenized).

Again, I am so sorry.

ann m.

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