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Helping Your Child Deal with the Death of a Pet

For many kids, the first time they are exposed to death is when a family pet dies. If an adult handles the situation carefully, children will be better equipped to deal with grief in the future

When explaining a dog’s death or euthanasia to a child, consider being honest and using the correct terms. Don’t say that euthanasia is “putting the dog to sleep.” Parents also tell the babysitter to put the children to sleep, so that term can be confusing.

Some people try to avoid dealing with death by telling kids that the family pet ran away or was given to a new home. These children may wonder why their best friend would abandon them, or why their parents would give him to someone else.

When euthanasia is planned, you should talk about it before it actually occurs. Get the children involved. This could take the form of: “We are going to help Casey to die because we don’t want him to suffer. We want to stop the pain he is feeling.”

Should a child be present when a pet is euthanized? In some cases, you can ask the child what he wants to do. This helps him feel he is in control of the situation. Other times, you may not want her to be present but you may consider letting her see the pet after the euthanasia. Viewing the body can offer closure and she won’t have any doubts that her friend is really gone.

Showing that you too are grieving lets a child know how to react. If you hide your sadness, the child may wonder if he should act the same way. For some kids, holding a memorial may be an appropriate way to say goodbye to a canine companion. There are many ways to remember a pet. Your dog’s ashes or even a lock of hair can be buried in a favorite place. Many families plant a tree or write a poem in honor of their companions.

A version of this article originally appeared in AKC Family Dog’s “Nutrition and Health” column by Dr. Jeff Grognet
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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