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A client caught me off guard last week. While giving their dog a routine examination the owner said, “Doc, do you think it is good for kids to be there when a pet dies?” It can seem like an odd question but it’s one I’ve heard before. Today I want to talk about what effect this “life lesson” could really have on children.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself for those of you that don’t know me. I’m the Irreverent Veterinarian and I give you my honest opinion of issues in the animal care world. Some might say that I’m honest to a fault. I speak my mind and I won’t sweet-talk you or sugarcoat the truth. I tell it like it is – to you, the drug companies, the pet product manufacturers, professional breeders and pet owners. Some of what I say can be controversial, but that doesn’t stop me—it can be hard to hear the truth.
So back to the topic – is it a good idea for kids to witness a pet die, either naturally or through euthanasia? Well, every situation is different and in my opinion, it really depends on the child. Even then, it can be a very traumatic lesson indeed.
For example, when I was just out of veterinary school one of my first duties was to euthanize a very old dog. The owner had a 3-year-old and insisted that her child be present during the procedure. I was hesitant but the parent knows best, right? The owner explained what was happening by telling the little girl that their dog was “going to sleep.” Two weeks later the client called me for help; her daughter was now crying and crying when it was bedtime because she didn’t want to “go to sleep” and never wake up. I felt so bad for the little girl and for her mother too.
In hindsight, it is clear that the little girl was too young to understand what was happening and should not have been present. In general, I think kids under the age of 12 can find death and euthanasia disturbing even if they understand the concept. (Some vets say 14 years is a better age.) This will depend on the child’s maturity level as well. No matter what age you decide is right, I think an honest and open discussion is the best approach. It’s best not to use words like “going to sleep”; even though it can be difficult to talk about a beloved pet’s death so frankly, unclear wording can confuse children.
What age do you think is appropriate to allow a child to witness euthanasia? I want to know what you think. Send us your comments @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Final Thoughts on Whether Pet Death or Euthanasia Teaches Kids Life Lessons
I think that seeing all phases of life and death can help a child understand the world and prepare them for the future. The first time that they encounter death can be very upsetting, especially if it involves a pet that they love very much.
Does witnessing death, particularly euthanasia, help children? Depending on how it’s presented as well as their age and maturity, I think it can. I don’t think it should be the first time that they discuss or encounter death but it’s not a perfect world and things don’t always happen as we want.
I definitely don’t think that very young children should be in the room when an animal dies though. It’s just too upsetting for them and they often don’t really understand what’s happening. Some people think that kids can only understand death by seeing it happen but I totally disagree. If you believe that do you think all kids should be marched through prison so they can understand crime and punishment? It just doesn’t seem right.
Tell us your thoughts. Did you witness a pet’s death as a child or as a parent? Take our poll. If you have comments please leave them below in the article.
If you are struggling to find the best way to discuss euthanasia with your child, www.petplace.com has articles, which can help. We have been the #1 leader in pet health information for over 20 years now with over 11,000 articles.
- How to Help Children Understand Pet Death
- Helping Kids Say Goodbye to a Dog
- How to Ensure Your Pet’s Care After Your Death
- How to Explain a Pet’s Death to Another Pet
- Should Dog Housemates be Present for Euthanasia
- 12 Things You May Not Know About Pet Death
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**The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com. The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t always say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.**