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Should Children be Present?

Little girl and dog

Should children be present during a pet’s euthanasia?

I have been asked this question many times over the course of my years as a veterinarian. There is no one answer to this difficult and emotional question. Often, the way a child will respond to a pet’s euthanasia is a reflection of the way the parents respond. If the parents’ response is highly emotional, which is often the case, then the children will most likely follow suit.

Generally speaking, children under the age of 7 might not be fully aware of what is happening but will be capable of reflecting the same emotions that they are experiencing in adults. While some parents elect to have even young children present some do not and prefer to tell their children what is going to happen but not have the child be present during the procedure. There is no hard fast rule. You know your child and what your child can handle emotionally. That decision should be entirely up to you. You know what is best for your child.

In my experience, being honest with your children is preferable to having your child come home and find their pet gone, with no prior explanation. Some parents elect to have their child say goodbye to their pet before the procedure and have the procedure performed while the child is not in the home. This can provide closure for the child and is sometimes easier on both parents and child.

I have found that children 8 years and older are better able to grasp the idea of euthanasia, particularly if the pet is quite old or has or has been ill for a long period of time. The euthanasia process is not a frightening or traumatizing process. The pet simply appears to fall asleep. For parents who feel their children in this age bracket are mature enough to understand the concept sometimes having them there gives the child the best opportunity to say goodbye to their beloved pet.

Always remember, however, you know your child best and are the best judge as to how to proceed.