Should Children Be Present During a Euthanasia?

Compassionate Heart is dedicated to the provision of gentle and peaceful euthanasia at home. Performing our services within the comforts of a family’s home often means more friends, pets and family members, including children, will be present for the euthanasia. So, this begs the questions: Should children be present? How can knowing about euthanasia be helpful for them?

Should children be present during a euthanasia? It depends. If the child is well supported and wants to be present. Then the resounding answer is “yes”. Educating them on what will happen before, during and after the visit with the veterinarian will provide a solid foundation for their experience. An honest explanation of euthanasia will keep the confusion at bay. Using euphemisms like “put to sleep” can be very confusing for children because young children are so literal. Also, young children have very short attention spans and grieve in short bursts. So, it’s a great idea to have another person available to care for any younger children so that the older children and adults can focus on their companion animal’s transition.

How can knowing about euthanasia be helpful for them? For many children, losing a furry family member can be their first experience with grief. What an important life experience and lesson this can be for them, if supported and educated through the process. Being as open and honest about what is happening and what will happen, in an age appropriate manner, helps them understand, thereby helps them to accept. Honesty is key: “Lucky is so very sick and can’t get better. Because we love him and don’t want him to suffer, we are going to help him die with comfort.” Until the age of seven  or eight, children have an untainted view of death and don’t really understand it’s permanence. They may ask repeat ghoulish questions about the circumstances surrounding Lucky’s illness, euthanasia and body care. Asking these questions, helps them understand. In addition to helping them understand death, the euthanasia experience can also provide a great opportunity to introduce tools that allow them to nurture and express their grief. Creating a beautiful burial shroud, planting a tree, creating a memorial scrapbook or writing a letter are just a few ways children can memorialize their furry friend.

The death of a family companion animal provides an unforgettable experience for children. We have the ability to shape that experience into one in which they learn about the cycle of life and how to process grief effectively.