Should a child be present when a pet is euthanised?

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
September 26, 2023

In a world where pets are considered cherished family members, the difficult decision of euthanising a beloved animal can be emotionally overwhelming. And there’s an extra struggle when kids are involved; not only are you working through your own grief, you need to decide how much of the process you want your child to be involved in. 

Many pet owners grapple with whether or not to involve their children in this heartbreaking process, especially when often the kids have developed strong bonds with their pets. This article explores the pros and cons of having a child present when a pet is euthanised, offering insights and considerations to help families make the best choice for their unique circumstances.

Understanding euthanasia.

Euthanasia, in the context of pets, is a humane and compassionate choice to end an animal's suffering when their quality of life has deteriorated beyond improvement. It is typically carried out by a licensed veterinarian who administers a painless injection, leading to a peaceful passing. 

The emotional impact on children.

Children can form strong attachments to their furry friends, and the loss of a pet can be their first encounter with death. The emotional impact can vary greatly depending on the child's age, temperament, and understanding of death. Have they experienced the loss of a pet or loved one before? Do they understand death and its finality?

In an interview with the ABC, Sydney Vet Dr Sandra Nguyen said having your child present should be decided on a case-by-case basis. “Some parents don’t want their kids’ last memories to be of their pet dying.”

Dr Nguyen also prepares parents for how children might react. “I’ve seen kids absolutely sobbing … but as they are leaving the pet hospital they will turn to Mum and Dad and ask for a new puppy.”

Read: How to help kids understand death when they lose a pet.

Advantages of having a child present.

Closure and understanding.

Allowing a child to witness the process can provide closure and help them understand that their pet is no longer in pain or suffering.

Support and comfort.

Being present allows the child to offer comfort and support to their pet during their final moments, which can be incredibly beautiful for both your pet in their last moments, and your child being able to say goodbye.

Creating lasting memories.

Some children find comfort in being part of their pet's peaceful farewell, creating lasting memories of love and togetherness despite the pain of the loss.

Disadvantages of having a child present.

It could be a traumatic experience.

Witnessing euthanasia can be traumatic for a child, potentially leading to nightmares, anxiety, or long-lasting emotional distress, especially if the death is described as “going to sleep”.

Younger children may not fully comprehend the finality of death, leading to confusion, unanswered questions and potential fear of sleeping or dying.

Overwhelming emotions.

Some children may not be emotionally prepared to handle the intensity of the situation, and their presence could hinder the process.

Age-appropriate conversations.

Before making a decision, it's crucial to have age-appropriate conversations with your child about euthanasia and death. Gauge their understanding and emotional maturity to determine if they can handle being present.

Preparing your child for being present.

If you decide to have your child present, prepare them by explaining the process in simple, gentle terms, but be clear about death and do not use euphemisms. Encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings. If you can, talk to your veterinarian before the appointment without the child present to let them know and ask for any advice.

The role of a veterinarian.

A compassionate veterinarian can play a pivotal role in guiding families through this challenging process. Due to their vast experience, they can offer advice on whether a child should be present based on the pet's condition, however at the end of the day it is the choice of you, the parent.

Alternatives to children being present.

If having your child present is not the best option, you can consider having an afternoon or day for them to say goodbye, then taking them to the vet. If you’re having the euthanasia at home, consider asking a friend or relative to take your kids out for the duration of the appointment, or organise the appointment during school hours. 

Healing and coping through grief.

After the euthanasia, focus on healing and coping as a family. Talk about your loss openly and share your favourite stories about your pet; there are probably many previous memories worth remembering. 

Be attentive to your child's emotions in the days and weeks following the loss. Encourage them to express their feelings and offer support as needed. If you notice a significant change in your child’s behaviour or demeanour after the loss, consider talking to a child psychologist or grief specialist.

Click here to read more about how to help your child through the loss of a pet.

The power of goodbye rituals.

Engaging in meaningful rituals, such as planting a tree or making a memory book, can help both children and adults process their grief and find closure. You may decide to hold a memorial or funeral with your pet’s ashes, or create a shrine at home filled with photos and their favourite toys.

Final thoughts on having a child present during euthanasia.

The decision of whether to have a child present when a pet is euthanised is a deeply personal one. It depends on the child's age, emotional maturity, and the family's values. Whatever choice is made, the most crucial aspect is ensuring that the pet's passing is as peaceful and painless as possible.

In this difficult time, it's essential to prioritise the emotional well-being of both your child and your pet. Whether you choose to have your child present or not, the most important thing is to ensure that your pet's final moments are filled with love and compassion.

At Goodbye Good Boy, we provide home euthanasia services to support loving owners in providing a peaceful passing for their beloved pets.

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this difficult time by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give our team of passionate pet lovers a call on 1800 953 619.