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Pet Euthanasia -- at what age would you allow a child to attend?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

HI there -- I am looking for some feedback about our beloved family dog. He has been diagnosed with a terminal form of bone cancer. He is suffering and right now his pain is under control with pain medications. But we don't want him to suffer and will likely be having him humanely killed within the week.


Please -- no debates on the issue of pet euthanasia. We are all grieving the loss of a family pet.


My question is -- at what age would you/have you allowed a child to witness the euthanasia of a family pet? I have an 8 year old daughter and a 5 year old son. I suspect that they would both say they want to be present...but am not sure if either one can really handle the event. 


Have you had a child present at the euthanasia of a pet? If so, what were their ages?

Thanks! I am looking for discussion and sharing of experiences -- not debate. I appreciate the help.


post #2 of 18

Hi Rachel - I am so sorry to hear about your 4 legged baby.


This is an excellent question and one that we get all the time.  I am a veterinarian that only performs in-home end of life care and we have 50 vets across the country dedicated to this service.  


On our website - we have an FAQ about this question: http://www.lapoflove.com/FAQs#Should_children_be_present_during_the_euthanasia_


I have been in homes where children are present and they actually do really well.  All of our vets give a sedative before hand and this typically makes the pet sleepy and children like to see this part as they think they are just 'going to sleep'.   I have some parents that just let their children watch this part (make sure the vet you select will pre-medicate) and not be present for the final moments.


I have had an 8 yr old have the pet sleep in his lap as we said goodbye. It was quite sweet.


I have also had parents want us to come when their kids are at school and I am not a huge fan of this - but it is the parent's right.   I believe we make the experience a beautiful one that it is more a celebration of life and how lucky heaven will be to get their angel (regardless of your beliefs. :))


I think children are more upset over their mom and dad being really upset. 


I hope your last week with your little one is filled with good memories to hold on to for years to come!



Dr. Mary Gardner

Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice


post #3 of 18
We euthanized our dog and our cat within the last year. Both had terminal illnesses that were causing them pain/distress and could not be treated. Neither of the kids was present when I found out about the dog, so it was not an issue. With the cat, they were both at the vet with me (I also work there part-time) when we found out she had heart failure that was not treatable. My 7-yr old son opted to stay in the waiting room but my 4-yr old daughter wanted to be present. I've always been very honest with them about what euthanasia is - that we give the pet medicine that makes them die when we can't do anything else to help them. I explained what would/might happen - about the injection,that her body will just relax and her heart will stop, that her body might move even after she was gone because her muscles might twitch and she might even look like she takes a breath because of it, she might pee after she is gone, that type of thing. I wanted her to be prepared for the things that can happen. Everything actually went fine, normal euthanasia. My daughter was completely fine until she saw me crying and that upset her a bit, but in an empathetic way, not a distressed way. She was able to pet the cat afterward and say goodbye. She has not had any issues dealing with it since and I think it was the right decision for her. I think you know your kids and I think they probably know whether they can handle it or not.
post #4 of 18

I was present at a dog's euthanasia at 11 or 12. I remember being very aware of the process, and realizing that it was both sad and necessary, and a mercy to the dog. She also had bone cancer.


within the last two years I had to put one of my dogs down. The kids knew she was sick, and that the vet was going to help her die. They were not there for the procedure, but saw the body after and helped me in the digging of the grave.


At 8, I might let them be there. I don't think at 5. But I do wonder if we ( as a culture) shelter too much. Death is a real part of life.


Here's my thoughts: If you think you don't want to be caught up in the moment with both your own grief and your children's grief, do not take them to the vet with you. If you'd rather be as a family there, and have your grief together in the moment, bring them along.


I'm sorry for your heartache. Losing a pet is hard.

post #5 of 18

I am deeply sorry for your loss.



Originally Posted by Red Pajama View Post


If you think you don't want to be caught up in the moment with both your own grief and your children's grief, do not take them to the vet with you..





My kids chose to be present when we euthanized a beloved cat when they were 11 and 12. The vet ended up euthanizing that cat in the other room and bringing her back in and letting the kids say goodbye (my kids thought they were with the cat while she passed, but they weren't). It was the right thing to do for my kids, but not what I would have chosen for the cat.


Last year we were sadly faced with saying good bye to our golden retriever, and kids chose not to be there. They were 13 and 15 at the time.


For me, it was a blessing that they weren't there because it allowed me to feel my own feelings without stuffing them so that I could help the my children process.


Your kids are too young to understand what they are deciding, and it is fine for you to make this choice. It's fine to make it based on what is best for YOU and for the DOG.


BTW, we found a vet who would come to our house. We felt that going to the vet would be extremely stressful to our sweet dog, who was in quite bad shape. He wasn't afraid or stressed, and he died in my arms. They took the body away and we had him cremated. I highly recommend seeing if this is an option where you live.

post #6 of 18

Always a tough decision. The two dogs that I have had to put down... the kids were not present. It wasn't a conscious choice, just the way it happened. Pen literally fell ill overnight - Xrays and a CAT scan showed cancer throughout her organs. Letting her go was a kindness, and I couldn't let her suffer - not even long enough for the kids to get there. And... she was my dog. Despite the kids being older, I knew I couldn't help them through their grief and handle my own as well.


Jazzy... I had hoped to hold him steady long enough for both kids to get back from college on break, but it wasn't to be.


I do think it would depend on the kid. Some can handle it better than others.

post #7 of 18

This IS a tough question.


you have already been given great advice.


for me there is no across teh board answer.


the answer depends on the child and you. 


i say this because sometimes i DONT listen to my child. i DONT allow her even though she is willing - because many times she has no idea what it means she wants to do. its a tough tough decision and many times i am not sure if i AM making the right decision or not. there have been times when i have allowed dd to do something which she wanted to do, and she regretted her decision. so its a work in progress. for example at 7 i became super strict about how dd showed her anger towards me. i didnt care of how she showed it but she did. she would be down for days regretting how she treated me. she is her worst critic so i have to sometimes save her from herself. 


but it would depend on how emotionally mature my child is at that moment, how strongly she feels about it and how sure I myself am. 


at 5 dd was there at both her gparents passing. she WANTED to be there. she needed to be there esp. after helping take care of them since she was 4. it was healing for her to be present at that. she held their hand and patted their brow or sat silently next to them as they passed. after they passed she read them a story. and then she helped wash them and dress them before they were taken away. she was SURE she wanted to be. i was SURE i wanted her to be there. it definitely, definitely helped with the grieving process. 


no matter what your decision - a formal goodbye is VERY important. most kids need a closure no matter what age. a memorial service is a great way to do it. dd had one for her hamster at our place of worship. people came in an amused way to support dd, but left moved as they witnessed dd's expression of grief. 

post #8 of 18

I am sorry that your dog is terminally ill.


Something to think about, pets sometimes resist the injection, still have enough life and strength to rally, are fearful, in other words it's not always peaceful.  I think the PP's suggestion about having the vet come to the house is helpful, for the pet, I am not sure about the children. One option is also to sedate the dog ahead of time (by pill) before the vet visit. I suppose what I am trying to convey though is that it doesn't always go as planned. It may be a factor to consider into the decision of whether or not to have the children present.

post #9 of 18

Asiago makes a good point. I worked for a vet for a period of time when I was younger, and it was not always as easy or peaceful as one would like it to be. Although, from my experience... the more difficult passings were when a family member was not present. The owner's presence seems to comfort them...

post #10 of 18

First of all, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your pet.  I have 3 kids, and would have had allowed them to be present when we put our dog to sleep last spring.  He took the matter out of our hands for us, though, and passed the morning before we were going to take him in (we found out about his terminal cancer the previous day).  For my kids, I think they needed the closure.  It was really special to us, though, that he passed at home, at a time and place of his own choosing (he died after my husband had gotten up for the day, but before he had gotten out of the shower.  I believe he was holding on until one of us got up).  I guess, all that to say that it really is not something that anyone can say for you.  It really depends too much on you, how you feel your kids will react, and how you will react to them.  My thoughts are with you through this difficult time. 

post #11 of 18
Originally Posted by Asiago View Post

I think the PP's suggestion about having the vet come to the house is helpful, for the pet, I am not sure about the children.



Because our children did not want to be present, we made arrangements for them to be elsewhere.

post #12 of 18

I don't have any real advice, but I'm glad you're considering this. Twice as a teenager I came home from school to the news that one of the cats had been put to sleep while I was at school. I don't think my parents handled it well. When I was an adult and my parents' two older cats were both failing, I would say a "final goodbye" to them each time I left my parents' house, since I didn't know if I would see them again or not. Whether or not the child (of any age) is present for the procedure, they at least deserve a final goodbye. 

post #13 of 18

Sometimes, that just isn't possible.

post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone. Yesterday our dog was unable to stand up. It is crazy how fast the cancer took him. 

We found a vet that came to our house. We talked to the kids about what would happen and asked them what they wanted. They both decided that they wanted to  say goodbye before and then see his body afterward before the vet took him. His passing wasn't easy -- the vet had a hard time finding a vein and eventually had to go back out to her car to get another syringe to insert directly into his heart. I am glad the kids were not there.


But they saw his body afterward.


They are surprisingly resilient. 


Thanks for all of the replies, 


post #15 of 18

I'm sorry. He'll be waiting at the Rainbow Bridge.

post #16 of 18

I am so sorry, my thoughts are with you and your family. While likely one of the most difficult decisions, you did the kindest thing by letting him rest. He is no longer in pain. Hugs to you and your family.

post #17 of 18

I know it seems tough, but I think it's a good idea for them to be present then for them to just come home and find him gone one day. Death isn't easy, but it's something we all need to come to terms with. I'm sure they will both get some much needed closure seeing your beloved family pet off.

post #18 of 18

I didn't read all the responses, but we took our 8 and 3 year old with us when we had to put our dog to sleep.  We gave the vet a head's up that they would be coming and she handled it beautifully.  It was really important for ds to be there, she was his dog.  The best part was we didn't prepare him for what they would do with her after she passed.  When he asked the vet she was like a deer in headlights.  I gave her the nod to explain and ds said "Oh, like they did in Star Wars when they burned (whoever it was after he died, I can't remember).  It was so sweet  and sad :(


I'm sorry for your loss.  It's so hard :(

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