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How to explain a pet's death to a young child?

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  • How to explain a pet's death to a young child?

    Rough day here. Our 14 yr old Golden Retriever was just diagnosed with cancer. Extensive, extensive lung involvement, so no real treatment options. Keeping her happy and comfortable at this point, but probably looking at a few days to a few weeks. Most difficult for me is how to explain this to my 3 (almost 4) year old little girl. I tried to start laying the groundwork this morning, as I had a feeling that it was something bad. I told her that Dixie was very old and sick and that we might need to let her go to heaven so that she could feel better. My daughter looked at me and said " I don't want her to go to heaven, b/c when I want to kiss her I won't be able to". Very hard for me not to cry at that. How would you handle this situation/or how have you handled this?
    Any advice greatly appreciated at this point...
    Already excited about our 2016 foals! Expecting babies by Indoctro, Diamant de Semilly, Zirocco Blue and Calido!
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hills...h/112931293227

  • #2
    Hillside, the death of a pet is heartbreaking for everyone. The older we are the deeper it cuts. I think you are doing what you can to prepare your daughter. Maybe reading to her about the Rainbow Bridge will help. Hugs to you and your brave dog.
    SPAY/NEUTER/RESCUE/ADOPT!
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    • #3
      Good start. But I trust that you kid is young enough to not be too traumatized by the events. Small kids are awesome that way.

      I made the mistake of telling my son on the way to school about how his cat (a stray that had just decided to take up house with us) was very sick, but being 8 years old it had a bigger impact on him. But when the time finally came he was fine.

      We can'r shield them from this, so I suppose going about it matter of fact is the best way to go.

      Comment


      • #4
        Got this question a lot when I worked at the veterinary hospital. I am not a parent and I'm sure you'll figure out what is best for your situation....

        But one thing I'd mention is that telling a young kid, "Poopsie is sick and going to die" is a little scary because sometimes they start thinking that EVERYONE that gets sick (including them) is going to die.

        One approach that has seemed to work well for that age group is something like,

        "Sometimes, our pets get sick or have diseases that the doctors can't fix. The doctors try very hard and they usually can make our pets feel better. But our dog has a disease that the doctors can't fix this time. We have a little while longer to spend with pup, so what kinds of things would you like to do?"

        Then, go pick up those paw print cast things or take pics, or go for a walk, or make a little book about the dog. Something active....

        Again, not a pro at this, I don't have kids. But at that age, they seem to accept it better than we do as adults.
        A good horseman doesn't have to tell anyone...the horse already knows.

        Might be a reason, never an excuse...

        Comment


        • #5
          I'm 20 years old, have outlived upwards of 30 animals or so. (We always have at least two dogs, five cats, horses, plus some other oddities) All but a few died of age-related illnesses, a few were hit by cars. Heartbreaking either way.

          They'll be tears, and there's not a single thing you can do about it. DO NOT LIE TO YOUR CHILD ABOUT WHERE THE DOG IS GOING. Nothing makes me angrier than the parents who tell their children that the pet "went off to live on a farm" or other BS like that....it only ends up hurting the child in the end.

          My parents were always blunt, but kind about it, much as you told your daughter. "Sweetie, Muffins was sick, and she went to heaven." We have a big hill on the property that is devoted just to the graves of animals that have passed, and my sister and I were always present at the burial of all the animals. My sister, a few years younger than me, has always pet the dead body a few times and been right there for the burial. I, even now, can't really touch the actual dead body, and I watch from a distance as it's buried. With my most recent pet passing, a cat with kidney disease, I knew when it was "his time" and brought him to the vet, and stayed with him in the room until my sister got there. Then I said my last goodbyes to him, and went and sat out on the front stoop. I wasn't comfortable staying with him; my sister desperately needed to be in the room when they put him down. Different people have different "levels of involvement", or what have you, of what they find "acceptable" when a pet is put down.

          Being as she's so young, I'm not sure that I would let her into the room, although dogs and cats do go VERY peacefully. (As do most horses, for that matter, but there is a larger risk of a "struggle" with horses.) But I would let her be a part of the burial, if she wants to be. If she wants to watch from a window of the house, that's fine too.


          AND GET THIS BOOK:
          http://www.amazon.com/Dog-Heaven-Cyn...6924640&sr=8-1

          It is a beautiful story, beautifully illustrated, and appropriate for both children and adults alike. I keep a few copies on hand to give as sympathy gifts to those who've recently lost a pet. (And don't yet have it.) There's also a cat version, which is also beautiful.

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            I really appreciate the advice guys; it helps to get my thoughts in order. It is a little different for us, as my husband is a vet and so our daughter is familiar (as much as she can be at her age) with the idea of pets being sick and not being able to be fixed (although she is having a hard time understanding why daddy can't fix Dixie). I have also reccomended certain books to clients with children who have lost a pet. I've just never had to deal with pet loss affecting a child myself. My daughter certainly understands, and is justifiably sad, that she won't be able to see/pet/play with and kiss Dixie anymore. I did think about taking pictures of the two together, so that when my daughter is sad she can "look at Dixie" and think about her, but I was worried it might be morbid.
            Already excited about our 2016 foals! Expecting babies by Indoctro, Diamant de Semilly, Zirocco Blue and Calido!
            https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hills...h/112931293227

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            • #7
              Taking pictures of them now is a wonderful idea and not morbid in the least. The "waiting" is so hard and I wish you well during this time of transition.

              I've said much the same thing that BuddyRoo offered in my work at the vet clinic to children who were in the clinic when we had to let a horse or pet go.

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              • #8
                The picture of them together is a really great idea!!!
                I had to put my older dog down on the 20th. Cancer as well, but it was sort of a surprise that he had had a tumor of the size that I wouldn't put him thru chemo or surgery for... it was related to an infiltrative lypoma(?) he had had "removed" last year. Seems it had been more involved than we had thought at the time and had grown rapidly. The vet had said he might have two days left, so I put him down then and there. It was so quiet and peaceful and right. I would not have made a different decision.
                I do have pictures and video I had taken of him this last yean and in the days prior to his passing. I look at all of it with a heavy heart, but I am so glad that I have so many wonderful memories of the best friend I could have asked for.
                It is something I will treasure forever! As will your daughter treasure the pictures you take.
                I have to say it is a tough one that your husband is a vet.. that throws a kink into the equation.. Daddy can't fix it... ugh.. not an enviable position. You have my thoughts and prayers that your daughter and you get thru this with flying colors! You have my sympaties in the fact that you are going to loose a great part of your family as I recently did. Hugs

                Comment


                • #9
                  There is a childrens book called "The 10th good thing about Barney"- this is a wonderful book about a child dealing with the death of the family cat. I would read this book, and explain that your dog is very sick, and that medicine will not make her better, and that the dog will die like barney, and become part of the earth- like Barney.... And remember to make sure your child understands that it is ok to be sad. I am sorry you will be losing a member of your family.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Just be honest. Kids get it and often handle it better than you think. Definitely take some pictures so that she will have something to look at and kiss. I don't know how sick your dog looks but maybe a nice picture of the two of them in younger healthier days would be good to frame and put by her bed.

                    If she wants pictures of the last day, do that too. My girls are all older but on the day I took our old man cat to be put to sleep they all held him and had a picture taken with him. It made them feel better. I brought him home and that night we had his funeral. Very sad but it helped everybody get over his loss.

                    I'll also add that a new furry face is always a good way to fill that aching hole in your heart.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      A consolation for me when I am facing losing one is that there is another one out there who will benefit from the vacancy. I'm not just saying "get another one". But maybe try to give her a glimpse of the big picture of the pet world, and that there is an opportunity here to help another animal, and doing so will honor Dixie's passing.

                      So sorry for your impending loss.
                      "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                      Spay and neuter. Please.

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                      • #12
                        I've told my 4 yr old son that the various hounds have gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds. When he asks to see them, I tell him we will see them again some day, just not anytime soon.

                        He talks a lot about the one he knew best & often asks where "his Weppie" is. I just repeat the above and tell him that I miss her, too. He very much enjoys seeing the pictures of the two of them together.

                        We really did have to give away one of them & he still remarks that Hadrian went to live with another family. And he can talk about why, too.

                        When he's older, we will talk about what death is, but at this point, I don't feel he needs to understand the concept.

                        He also doesn't know that all those boxes on the kitchen windowsill are really the dogs' ashes.
                        ~ Horse Box Lovers Clique ~

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          The child will take her lead from you. If you're an emotional wreck, she will be, too. If you handle it with courage and dignity and emphasize that this is part of what we do for animals we love, she will get that also. Show her the feelings you want her to take from it. It doesn't have to be high drama and floods of tears. She doesn't know how to deal with death, but will take her cues from how YOU deal with it. Good luck, and sorry for your poor old doggie. I lost both my old retrievers a couple of years ago, with my son the same age. He handled it fine. I didn't let him witness the flat-out bawling I did as they both died in my lap; that's nothing a child that age needs to see, IMO, and I wanted to be able to lose it in private, just me and the vet.
                          Click here before you buy.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Borrow from The Lion King: Circle of life. At least, that's all I had the creativity to do, and it seems to make sense to my young children (and to me, for that matter). One child seems oblivious to the loss of several ancient dogs over the last couple of years, and the other still pipes up that he misses one dog or another, from time to time.

                            It's probably not bad for them to see that Mommy and Daddy are very sad and might cry, but yes, try to avoid curling up on the floor and wailing to high heaven (which yours truly did once the children, ages 5 and 6, were off to school). But the bottom line is that it sounds like you have given a wonderful life to this fine member of your family, and all things have to die someday. I think giving a wonderful life to one's pets and staying with the pet for that last "journey" is a great lesson to give young kids. I don't think being morbid or depressed enters into it, for them (just my own opinion).

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              As a kid I always got a lot out of memorial/funeral activities. Putting some favorite toys or a little blanket in with the cat, planting some bulbs on the grave, choosing a pretty rock to go on top, etc. I think those kind of actitivites (as well as scrapbooks, drawings, etc. afterwards) can help a kid relate. After all, there will be, sadly, no escape from more losses throughout life. In a sense it teaches skills for dealing with death (human deaths too).

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Check out your library for a"When your pet dies" type of book geared for Children. There are several that my library has, but my brain is non-functioning at the moment and I can't think of one title!. Sorry for your impending loss/ It's not easy, no matter what your age.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  My parents told me that he went on a vacation.... just a really long one (i was like 10)
                                  MIDWAY SOCCER 08' First Season!!!!!!

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                                  • #18
                                    It's a sad time and I'm sorry to hear the bad news but you've handled it perfectly well. What a good innings she's had. A breed VERY close to my heart too. I've got 4 lying around my feet right now! And another couple elsewhere in the room!!!

                                    Don't forget though at 4 they don't really totally get it.

                                    My daughter got an 8 week old chocolate labrador puppy yesterday.

                                    She lost her old boy last July - he was 13 and my grandsons are 7 & 8. They were sad of course. They've never known life without Bournville their old chocolate labrador. My daughter said something very similar to the boys before he'd gone and then said that he'd died. After he'd gone they came up to visit.

                                    Truthfully it was my daughter who just needed a cuddle from mum and dad. She's 34. The boys said "Mummy's very sad about Bournville and we miss him but mummy is really sad" They then said "he's with Charlie" (their old cat that died 4 years ago. Seemingly though they'd forgotten that he'd even died till Tracey said that.

                                    Now when the cat died I've got to confess to being quite amused by my grandsons thoughts. They became briefly quite fascinated by the whole death subject and asked Susan "How old are you" When she replied Laurie said "You'll be nearly dead then" and then he said "so how old is Grandad" and then he said "WOW how comes he's not dead"

                                    Children are very robust though and at that age they're quite in the hear and now. The main thing is to try to not project what you're experiencing to them.

                                    And trust me as a dad and grandad I know VERY well how hard that is.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by twofatponies View Post
                                      As a kid I always got a lot out of memorial/funeral activities. Putting some favorite toys or a little blanket in with the cat, planting some bulbs on the grave, choosing a pretty rock to go on top, etc. I think those kind of actitivites (as well as scrapbooks, drawings, etc. afterwards) can help a kid relate. After all, there will be, sadly, no escape from more losses throughout life. In a sense it teaches skills for dealing with death (human deaths too).

                                      Yes. This.
                                      My boys are not little bitty any more and we have buried a fair amount of pets over the years, but it still hurts.
                                      Last fall, after a considerable amount of time spent medicating, our little Siamese fighting fish (Yes we were medicating a fish) succumbed. As fish go, he was a pretty cool, little guy. You would enter the room and notice him watching you from his big bowl. But we had done all we could and he still died.
                                      That evening the boys selected a snack pack cereal box and we opened it length-wise and lined it with tissue. Patriot's limp, red body was gently placed within and the three of us carried it out to the small pond in our backyard. We said a prayer, lit the kleenex (and a small amt of wood firestarter) and pushed the little box out into the pond where it erupted in a burst of flame and our fish had a proper Viking funeral.
                                      After the flames went out we stood in silence for a moment at the side of the pond. It was very cold outside and for a moment there were just no words.
                                      Finally, we turned to go back in the house and my youngest son caught my arm and asked earnestly. "Can we do that to Grandma when she dies?"

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Trrr-ot View Post
                                        Finally, we turned to go back in the house and my youngest son caught my arm and asked earnestly. "Can we do that to Grandma when she dies?"
                                        You gotta love them kids!

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