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Talking To Your Kids About Pet Euthanasia

Child resting head on hands and looking sad in order to depict how to talk to your kids about pet euthanasia
Dr. Rick Coufal, DVM

Dr. Rick Coufal, DVM

Dr. Rick Coufal is the founder and lead veterinarian for Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic. Coufal graduated from State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in May of 2000.

Allowing our four-legged family members to be euthanized helps to soothe them in their final moments and soothe our hearts while we say goodbye. Providing them with something painless to let them go during times of discomfort, or even hurting, is what ultimately the best way to manage the transition.

Adults may understand the process of euthanasia is humane and painless for the pets we love but have to let go. This may not be the case for children, who may not as acquainted with the nature of death. Family pets can mean as much, and even more, to the youngest members of the family. A pet was a constant for them, until now. It can be a scary thing for children to imagine their friends won’t be around anymore, and that we are purposefully putting them through a process to let them go.

At Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic, we understand that this is an incredibly difficult process both to explain and to experience. To explain this process to children can be especially difficult, which is why the compassionate, experienced veterinary staff at Ponderosa would like to provide all families with as many tools as possible to show how euthanasia is a merciful way to say goodbye.

Is Pet Euthanasia Painful?

None of us want our beloved pets to suffer. Euthanasia is a quick, painless procedure. At the start of the procedure, the veterinarian will administer a tranquilizer or sedative either with a needle under the skin or orally with a pill. The shot will be the only thing they will feel during this process, as the rest mimics the feeling of a deep sleep. It generally takes about 15 minutes for the pet to calm before the actual euthanasia injection. Veterinarians generally use pentobarbital, which first depresses the central nervous system, including the cerebral cortex where awareness is held. They will lapse into unconsciousness and be unfeeling while the pentobarbital brings them to the stopping of breathing and cardiac arrest. This takes about one or two minutes.

There is the possibility of urination or defecation once the pet is unconscious, or that their eyes won’t close completely, which is all common in the process of death. It is important to remember that despite these unnerving things, your loved one doesn’t feel any pain.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Euthanasia

You know the process is quick and painless, so how can you explain this to your child? There are a few important things to assure your child understands. You may want to find ways in order to soften the impact and put perspective on their feelings, but it will benefit them going into the future to know that death is a part of life, and to grieve is natural.

Use Words Like Death and Dying

It may feel harsh, but this will better prepare the child to understand the pet will not be coming back, whereas in the case of using the phrase “going to sleep” might give them the wrong impression. This introduces them to the fact that death is a part of life. Their lives aren’t as long as ours, and just like any other living being, their bodies begin to shut down.

Let Your Child Know That You Are Grieving Too

They are not alone in this time of loss. Pets mean a great deal to all of us. It can be a great comfort for little ones to understand grief is natural for the loss of pets.

Inform Teachers and Caregivers

Grief can cause different behavior, and letting their teachers and trusted caregivers know can better help them through the hard times.

Give Your Child The Chance To Chat With The Vet

Depending on the age and maturity of the child, it can be helpful if the veterinary professional talks them through the procedure to provide another perspective.

What To Do After Your Pet Dies

Taking the time and emotional perspective to fully grieve the loss of your pet is an important way to reflect on your pet’s impact on your family’s life. While grieving is a different healing process for everyone, below are a few key ways to help guide the experience for your kids.

  • Consider whether you want to bury the pet at home (check local, county, or city ordinances), in a pet cemetery, or connect with the veterinary staff to set up cremation services.
  • Hold a memorial service; allow your little ones to say what they need to say for their beloved pet.
  • According to your beliefs or religion, consider talking to your kids about what happens after the end-of-life.

Compassionate End-Of-Life Care | Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic

Euthanasia is a way we can be sure our friends are treated with compassion, comfort, and dignity in their last moments. It is a hard process for all involved, so the ability to be prepared allows your family to focus on the important moments as your pet departs. For more information, contact Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic to learn more about the process so you and your family can be fully prepared.

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