Toddler and Dying Dog

Updated on February 08, 2008
G.O. asks from Seattle, WA
27 answers

One of our two dogs is probably going to be put down in the next few days and I'm not sure how to help my 18month old deal with that. I know she will not understand what is happening and she needs something concrete to understand. But I also know that she will miss him very much and ask about him a lot. I'd love any suggestions on how to help her find some understanding.

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?

Thank you to everyone who responded with such kind and supportive advice. I feel very lucky that we've had time to think about our plan and receive your suggestions. We feel much more prepared to handle Jack's transition both for our daughter and ourselves. He is still with us so we are enjoying his company as long as we can.

Featured Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.W.

answers from Eugene on

There are some nice child oriented books (I am thinking of one about Badger) that deal with death. My child gravitated to these before death was an issue that we had to deal with. They can be very soothing in terms of 'understanding' the circle of life.

best wishes,
Sarah

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.M.

answers from Portland on

I am not an expert at all or know if you're religious, but I think it's still appropriate to tell her that her friend went to Heaven where he's happy and a young puppy again. While death and heaven is not going to be a concept for her to understand, it gives her a foundation and you an answer. I wish you luck and am sorry for the loss.

More Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.R.

answers from Portland on

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. We had to put our sweet yellow lab down when my son was 18 months old, so I feel your pain.

We just told our son that Tyler was not going to live with us anymore. We didn't want to say he was going to sleep, or going on vacation (or anything like that) because we didn't want him to be afraid of sleep or traveling, thinking he wouldn't come back. He took it very well. The next day he asked where Tyler was, and we reminded him that he didn't live with us anymore, and that was it.

He still remembers Tyler, and sometimes will say, "Tylerdog!" when we see a yellow lab, but he never seemed traumatized by the loss. Wish I could say the same for myself. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.W.

answers from Seattle on

Hi G....
I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. I'm a huge dog lover, big hugs to you. Not too long ago our cat was killed by a coyote. My son had just turned three so it was hard to figure out what to tell him. But, I just simply told him that our cats body couldn't work well anymore and that he'd needed to go live in heaven way up above our house. I told him to look up at the clouds and stars and that was where our cat is now. It really was hard and now seven months later he still says hi to him looking at the clouds or the stars. He also still tells everyone that our cat is in the clouds or the stars :-) I wish you all the best!!

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.H.

answers from Seattle on

G....we had to put our 12 year old lab down 2 weeks ago. It was so hard to say goodbye. My kids are 8 and 5 though so we were able to go at it a different way. We told our kids after the fact. We had been telling them that Jake was getting older and that probably pretty soon he would have to go live with Jesus. The day we knew it was going to happen I made sure they each gave him a hug before they left for school (I didn't tell them why). When they got home my husband and I sat them down and told them that Jake went to live with Jesus today. There were tears of course. We gave our 8 year old one of his collar tags. We gave each girl a framed picture of Jake and we have let several helium balloon go since then that we have written "we miss you Jake" on with a sharpie so that he can get messages in heaven.

Your child is younger so I know this advice might not work. But I really just wanted to give you a virtual hug and say I'm so sorry. Losing a pet is really so very hard.

Hugs to you...

L.

P.S. Im a SAHM to 8 and 5 year old girls.

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.B.

answers from Portland on

G.,

Sorry for your loss. You could always tell your 18 month old that the doggy went to doggy heaven. and that it will become a star in the sky. That is what i told my kids. They are now 8 and 6 and still think there is a hampster heaven.

Good Luck

1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.F.

answers from Seattle on

Hello G.!
I live in Gold Bar Wa and am new dog owner!
Own a 4 month old Siberian Husky.
Beutiful and well behaved!
Have you been to see DR Whent at Sultan Vet Clinic?
Why is your dog being put down!
Medical or behavor reason
PLEASE
Let me know!
C.!
14619 391st Ave SE
Gold Bar Wa

###-###-####
[email protected]____.com

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.E.

answers from Anchorage on

My son was about the same age when we had to put our dog down suddenly. There was no outward actions that made him seem extermely upset. Although I am sure he must have wondered where she was.

She seemed to be his favorite dog (we had 2 dogs). (not that I am suggesting it but) several months later, we found a dog that looked just like our Precious. My son lit up when we brought her home. He seemed to think it was the same dog.

Children are so resilliant when it comes to things like this. My son did better then I toought he would. I think it was harder for my husband and I. I still feel like I needed to say goodbye myself. So maybe, If your daughter understands goodbye, tell her that the dog has to go bye, bye. That way the dog does not just disapear.

Hope that helps. I am sorry about your dog. I know it is hard. It took my husband and I about 2 weeks to get over it.
Take care.

L. E

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.W.

answers from Portland on

Hi G., I don't know how to explain it to her, but there is a lovely book called "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant that is very very nice--not gooey at all. If the idea of a dog heaven doesn't repel you, I think it would be very reassuring for such a young child. As I read it I felt myself getting teary and thought how it would have helped me when I was little and our first dog got put down. All my best to you...

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.S.

answers from Portland on

This really depends on your religious beliefs. If you believe in God, then all you need to say is that Fido went to live with God. If you sound upbeat and happy about it, she will be okay with it too. She takes her cues from you. If you do not believe in God, then you can simply say he is gone or went bye bye. No matter what you say, at 18 months, she simply won't understand. It is just important to be upbeat and positive. "Fido is all gone, but we sure did have a great time playing with him didn't we?"

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.R.

answers from Seattle on

Hi G.,

My advice will probably not settle well with most people but this is one area in which I have alot of experience (of a sort) and feel strongly about. First I will tell you what I learned during my months of researching and developing a pet loss/grief kit for two vet clinics that I worked for for years. One was an emergency clinic, where pets often died unexpectedly and the other was a large day practice where we did many euthansias. Second, my experience in this area as a parent has yet to come but it will soon as one of our ferrets has cancer and will not live that much longer. But I will happily share my ideas and fears about the whole process with you.

The decision to make these kits came from the observations of the entire staff of both clinics. We saw so many people trying to hide or deny their grief not only from the children but from themselves as well. It was devastating to see people in such torment with no way to help them and to have children years later come back angry at us for not telling them the truth about their beloved pet's death (after their parents had lied to them about and then they discovered the truth). The two biggest things that I discovered after my research and talking with grief counselors are to not hide the death from the child(ren) and to allow and help them express their grief, as that is the only way that they will heal. Your daughter needs to be there if you euthanize or at the very least have the chance to be with the body, experience what death means (none responsive to her and lying very still and at peace) and say goodbye if she can. I do realize that she is only 18 months old but that is another reason that she needs to experience it for herself, words alone will not make sense to her. Death is a part and fact of life. Hiding the dogs death by telling her that he/she ran away or what have you just leaves the hope of return and does not truly allow your daughter the chance to understand and grieve. It will not be easy for any of you but it will less confusing. (May I add that if you choose to euthanize and have your daughter in the room while the injection is being given than please make sure that the veterinarian understands your desires before you go in. Also, it is probably wise to have the vet sedate the dog first before the euthansia solution is given. Most vets do this automatically but not all. The sedative reduces or eliminates the post euthansia jerks and such which can be very distrubing to see but are natural.) To help your daughter with her grief you can go get a book like "Dog Heaven" by Cynthia Rylant or "For Every Dog an Angel" by Christine Davis or both. That way you have something to read to your daughter when she is feeling sad. Also, talk with your daughter about how you are feeling so that she can feel that she is not alone in her grief. There are also books out to help children understand death in gentle ways like "The Fall of Freddy the Leaf" by Leo Buscaglia. If you search for these books on Amazon.com others that are similar in content will come up so you can have some choices. Their are also resources on the web. You can try www.aplb.org or just do a search on pet loss and grief/bereavement. Alot of sites have some info but also products for sale, like urns, plaques, angel pins, etc. Also their are counselors (or support groups)who specialize in grief (some even specifically with pet bereavement) whom you may be able to get some other ideas for your daughter from.

Now, as a mom of a 2 and 1/2 year old, I have to say I am not looking forward to the day that I have to read these books to my son but it will come over and over as we have 6 pets. One thing that I am hoping to be able to do for him is to have a book of pictures of him and Loki - the ferret. That way he has a tangible way to remember himself with Loki as they played and such. There really aren't any books for ferrets like dogs and cats that I have found so I was hoping to kind of make one myself using pictures we already have of the two of them. The other thing I thought we might do if we decide to euthanize would be to make the appointment later in the day and do all the things that they love to do together and let my son feed him all his favorite treats. Make it Loki's special day and take plenty of pictures for the book. Maybe those would help your daughter as well, I don't know.

My fears are that I won't be able to convince my husband that our son should be present. He worked in a vet clinic for years as well but still seems to want to try to protect me in any way he can, even though I am an adult, when we have lost pets. I fear that that drive in him will only be increased with our son. I also worry that I won't be able to help my son deal with his grief effectively. Mostly, I am concerned that I might not pick up his need for support before he starts acting out. I know that is it pointless to worry so I try to just let that go and think of ways that I might help him. That way if I try something and it doesn't seem to work than I will have other things to try.

My Best Wishes for you and your family and Good Luck!
S.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

B.L.

answers from Portland on

When my 18 month old dumped a bottle of bubbled into the bowl our fishing were swimming in while I cleaned their tank, and they all went belly-up and had to be flushed down the toilet, she got a quick forthright lesson in death. I told her she killed the fish, but it was an accident, and they were going to go be with other fishies. She soaked it all in, and started telling people "fishes... dead... Bubbles!... No! No!" In a language only a mom understands, of course.

I'm a big fan of gentle honesty with my child. Death is a part of life, and there is a certain beauty to learning that at an early age. Keep it simple, like..."Sweetie, you know how 'Bob' our dog was feeling sick all the time? Well, he is going to die and go to a place where he won't be sick anymore." She's probably not old enough to even ask what dying is, but she'll assimilate your details with what happens, and she'll store that information and build on it later.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.C.

answers from Portland on

Hi my name is L.,
I think the only way to deal with this is to be honest, tell your baby that the doggie is sick and he has had alot of fun being in your family but it is time for him to go to sleep and go up to doggie heaven because in doggie heaven he will be with all of his friends and he will not be sick anymore and that would be better for him and that you can keep him in your prayers and in your hearts, make sure you keep a picture of the dog around, so when your child looks and ask's about the dog then you just simply talk to the baby and explain again what you said the first time eventually the baby will move on, give the other dog more attention I am sure it will be fine. Lot's of hugs and kisses it will be hard but it will be fine.
I hope all works out for you and sorry to hear about your dog,
GOD BLESS
L.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.E.

answers from Yakima on

G.,I am the mother of three and a pediatric/NICU nurse. I don't know if you believe in a Heavenly Father but many of the small children I work with understand more than we give them credit for. It is true you need something concrete to give the child also to help them express their emotions. I can give you my idea that seems to work in the hospital and at my home. Make several molds of the dogs paws with a clay that drys hard, have the child help you if it is possible. You can use the molds as your concrete object that the toddler can keep with him/her. The child can later paint and decorate it. If you choose you can then discuss through interactive play and drawing where the dog has gone and his importance to your family. Let the child know the mold is her gift from the dog. Giving the child pictures in a book nis another idea. If you believe in Heaven you can also discuss those ideas. Good luck it's never easy but always important to tell the truth don't make up stories, L.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.B.

answers from Spokane on

I had 2 dogs die within 3 weeks of each other when my son was 2 1/2. The first one had a heart attack. We explained to Alex that Kody's mind and spirit went up to heaven. He went over to the dog after he was gone and petted him and said goodbye. When we had to have Kenai put down 3 weeks later (he had cancer) we had him say goodbye to him too. He made it look so easy. I think he was at an age where it just seemed so matter of fact-that's the way it is. He seemed to have understood what was going on.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.L.

answers from Seattle on

We had to put our dog down a few years ago. The kids were 2 1/2 and 1 1/2. We told the girls that the dog was very sick and the doctors couldn't fix him. We emphasized the fact that the doctors couldn't make him better. We didn't want them to misinterpret what we said as, "if you get sick, you die." The kids were far more resiliant than we were. My husband and I had a tough time. For weeks afterward, the kids would ask where the dog was and when he would come home. We believe in heaven, so we explained that he went to sleep and is now in heaven. We told them that we were sad and it was okay to feel sad because we missed him. We told them to remember all the good times we had with him.
Sorry to hear about your dog. Good luck.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

B.H.

answers from Eugene on

I'm sorry to hear about your dog. We have a yellow lab that we got for our daughter who is 2. It is really nice to see them grow up together (even if it means raising 2 toddlers at the same time!) anyway, not sure if this will help but perhaps you should research to see if there are any child appropriate books out there that helps explain death of an animal. I can invision a childrens book that talks about the animal having a full life, loving his family but then getting old and tired and ready to move on. Maybe reading the book and trying to associate it with your dog your child may have something she can accept as being "normal" or "ok" and feel assured that their precious pet is safe and happy. And if you can't find a book maybe create a little story for her and repeat it when she is sad or asking questions. Maybe even as time goes by her little imagination will create a safe and secure world for her dog and accept death as a passage, not an end. I hope i helped give you a few ideas. Good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.P.

answers from Portland on

We just lost our dog about a month ago. It was very unexpected, but our 18 mo old son wasn't phased much. It was a lot harder for our 3.5 yr old daughter to deal with. Our son just gets really excited when he sees other dogs now. I'm so sorry about your coming loss. One thing that was important to me in the whole situation was to cry when I needed to cry. I think it was good for our daughter to see that we were all sad about our loss but we could be happy that Benny was in heaven watching over us. There are a lot of books geared to the loss of a dog. We were given one with pretty pictures that we read to our kids. One warning...they are hard to read without crying so prepare yourself if you don't want to show too much emotion. Again, I'm sorry...mol

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

V.D.

answers from Eugene on

G., Sorry that you are having to put your dog down. My oldest daughter will be 2 in March. She grew up with our dog and absolutely loved her. When my second daughter was born in October, caring for my dog became much too taxing, and we found her a new home in Portland. (My daughter was 19 mo) I thought my daughter would miss her a ton, but as it turns out, it was an out of sight out of mind thing. She never asks about Joy (our dog) or mentions her at all. (I also started phasing out bottles when she was 20 mo or so, and the same rule applied... out of sight out of mind... and it was much easier than I expected!) I just wanted to share our what happened with us, and I hope your experience goes well.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.J.

answers from Portland on

My oldest girl was about 3 when we unexpectedly had to put our beloved dog down. The vet had a book they let us borrow, called 'Dog Heaven'
by Cynthia Rylant
It is a very sweet children's story. It even gave comfort to my husband and me. You can google it...here is a brief summary:If you have ever been lucky enough to have a special dog in your life, then you know there is a place called Dog Heaven.

Annotation
God created Dog Heaven, a place where dogs can eat ice cream biscuits, sleep on fluffy clouds, and run through unending fields.
Good luck, and I am sorry for your loss.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

J.G.

answers from Seattle on

My parents just recently had to put down the family dog and I had to explain it to my 2 year old. She had a lot of questions but I decided to tell her that Mojo was done playing here on earth and that God wanted to enjoy spending time with her so he took her back. I don't want her to have a fear of death and I personally don't think it is appropriate for their young age to go into all the details...they will know all of that someday. She didn't have fear for her and was happy to know that she was going to get to play again and was no longer sick.

I am currently faced with having to put our family cat down and she asked me yesterday if "God was going to take Baylee to play with too?" ...obviously, she understands that when animals are super sick they are no longer here but in her mind they do go to a better place.

Hope this helps!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.E.

answers from Portland on

Our daughter was very close with our animals. She was also very young when we lost our dog. We told her the dog went to heaven and would always watch over her as an angel. We tried to explain that she would always be in her heart. I now have three kids ages 14, 10, 9, and have gone through several deaths and the kids do remember those times. A special picture with the two of them together is a nice way to remember. As my children get older I know this has has helped them deal with life and death with everyone. Your honesty and going through this is a great value that she will carry with her.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

I.H.

answers from Seattle on

Our dogs died in an accident about 6 months ago. At the time my girls were 3 1/2 and 18 mos. My 18 month old had no clue what happened. We really didn't even need to address it with her. I wouldn't stress. If she asks, I would tell her the dog went to live in another place where he could be taken care of... God's house, whatever your family believes.

Our 3 year old was NOT so easy. I was shocked by the death and unfortunately was the only one home with my kids when the officer came to tell me a neighbor had killed them when they got into a pasture with goats. I lost it... my 3 year old was very scared and confused. I told her the dogs went to live at God's house because they died. I would NOT do this again. I would do what I suggest with the 18 month old... they went to live somewhere else. She is still worried about death and askes us all the time when we will die, when she will die, tells us she doesn't like God since he took the dogs. It has been HARD!

Good luck. You at least have some time to talk and figure out a strategy.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

H.B.

answers from Eugene on

We have 2 daughters, 18 & 15 years old. If we have learned anything, it is that being truthful is best. Children can sense when you keep things from them. We dealt with having to put one of our dogs down when they were young. We all sat down and cried together about it. We all still talk about him - because he was part of our family. We got another puppy within a week because our other dog was very depressed. That puppy is now almost 5 and we are thinking of getting a 3rd dog so he won't be lonely when our oldest dog goes. Dealing with loss is, unfortunately, part of life. Showing your feelings to your children helps them deal with their own feelings. You want them to love animals and to care about them. If you were to make up stories about where your dog is going - she will constantly ask to go see him and will be very hurt when she is old enough to understand.
Good luck & think about getting another puppy.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.B.

answers from Richland on

So many great answers on this subject!

It is always hard to lose a loved one, and pets are definitely in that category. So I feel for you.

When my teenagers were little they had to deal with deaths on a couple of occasions. Because death is part of life (and only sad for the living) I wanted them to have a positive impression of that fact of life.

So when we had to deal with a death of a pet (and then later, family members) I made sure to impress upon them that it was not a devastating thing. We mourned and shed some tears for OUR loss but we celebrated the life of the pet and said happy goodbyes. I said and did many of the same things that have been suggested in the answers here. And the balloon thing happened by accident when one of my kids lost a helium balloon to the big blue. They cried of course, so I told them that the balloon was going to see "name of pet". As an example I waved happily at the balloon and shouted "Bye balloon! Bye! Say hello to "pet" for us!!" That made them happy, they followed suit and from that day onward any balloon that was free floating in the sky was going to see their pets to make them happy.

I'm sure that the loss of your pet is hard for you, even more so than for your child, so I hope that you take care that you have comfort as well.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.C.

answers from Portland on

It just so happens that my son was 18 mos when I had my dog put down. Your little one may ask questions, I suggest simple answers and not dwelling on the subject. Little ones will feed off of your examples. If you are religious, I would suggest saying that the dog has gone to heaven to live with God. Smile when you talk about why the dog is missing and keep answers simple. Your 18-month-old will quickly forget. My son doesn't even recall that we had a dog and he's 12 years of age now.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.G.

answers from Seattle on

You don't need to talk about death at this stage. Make up a story like "Our dog is going on a special journey....the angels (or fairies whatever) are taking him to a special place...a place where by magic will turn into something else - like a tree, or a cat, or even a person...we won't be seeing him anymore because he has a special task to complete." Or something like that - something that resonates your belief system, yet doesn't make it too abstract - death is abstract for a child that age. Start building up a story - you could even say things like "Our dog told me a special secret..." etc. whatever resonates for you. Your child will understand and go with it.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions

Related Searches