Children and Pet Euthanasia

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 Children and Pet Euthansia

Coming to terms with a family pet's end of life can be difficult for many adults, but adding children into the scenario can make difficult choices even more complicated for parents.  We would like to help you with this important family event.


Children & Pets

Growing up with a pet is something many adults treasure about their childhood. Sometimes a pet can be our first friend, and some adults remember more about their first pet than they do about childhood human friends. They remember teaching tricks, throwing a ball in the backyard, holiday outfits their pet wore, or just the simple times they spent snuggling on the couch or bed with their dog or cat on a sick day from school.  For many children, having a deep relationship with a pet can help a child develop empathy and responsibility towards others, and also provides the child with a sense of friendship that is unfaltering. Books like Old Yeller bring strong emotions from a well-spring that many share from the human-animal  bond in childhood. It is no wonder that pets provide children with a sense of security in a fast-changing world where people and the environment become more complicated and challenging with each passing year into adulthood.

Old Yeller book cover

As with all living things, our pets lives come to an end, and this is true whether or not we, or our children, are ready for this to happen.   The issue of how to approach a pet’s passing in a family where children are present is something we have seen managed in many ways over the years. Some parents feel a sense of protection must be created in keeping their children away from the painful process of death, including the moment of euthanasia. Other parents embrace this process as a necessary part of living with and loving a pet. Death and euthanasia are an everyday reality of veterinary practice and we respect the judgement and discretion of parents to decide what experience, if any, their children may have in the final moment of a pet’s life during a euthanasia process. As many of us are parents who have experienced this process on our own with our own children, we respect the profound and often personal difficulty of this part of being a parent or guardian. 

We would encourage you to consider some things that we have observed in our years in veterinary practice:

  • Including children allows the family to discuss their personal beliefs about death and what occurs afterlife.   
  • A euthanasia is the opportunity to have a beautiful family ceremony celebrating the life and memories of the pet.  This closure helps children accept and understand the pet’s passing but also open up and discuss their feelings. 
  • Allowing a child to be present and interact during a euthanasia helps children cope with later losses in life, including the loss of human family members. 
  • Allowing the child to say goodbye to their pet is meaningful.  Our vets will speak with the child on a level they understand to help them understand what is happening.  We encourage the child to stay with the pet or leave as they feel comfortable.

Pet Euthanasia and Children

There is no single correct way to approach the decision of what access children should have in the euthanasia appointment for their family pet.  Parents will be in the best position to know what is best for their family, but we strongly recommend that you think about the decision of what your child’s experience will be prior to scheduling the appointment. 

One option is to schedule a special pre-euthanasia consult.  This allows the whole family to meet the veterinarian and discuss the situation.   The vet will make sure to speak at a level that everyone can understand and answer any and all questions.   A discussion of the pet’s health, quality of life, and euthanasia may be included based on the individual situation. 


Resources for Children

Our partners at Hamilton Pet Meadow offer books to help comfort children after the loss of a pet. You can find their online store here.

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