Preparing your kids when letting the family dog go

Hi all.

I’m looking for some advice or shared experiences about how others handled things with your kids when it was time to put a really beloved family dog down.

My family has a 14 yr old Labrador. We got her when she was 1, and my son was 1. My daughter came along 1.5 years later. So the kids are now 14 and 11.5, respectively. They know that we are approaching the end of the road with our dog. I’ve been talking to them about it generally for the last 2 weeks. And I have talked to them in very general terms about our responsibility to our pets over the last 6 months, and how we need to enjoy the little things with our old girl, because or time left is limited. So they’ve been helping with taking her for short walks, giving her extra small low calorie biscuits, etc.

My husband and I are taking the dog into the vet today to get an evaluation of ongoing breathing issues that seem to be getting worse, and an obvious progression of neurological looking weakness in her hind end. I think it’s all pointing to GOLPP… but we will see. I do think a decision is imminent, as the dog’s quality of life has really declined. She seems quietly anxious most of the time, with a drooping tail, and prefers to just stay in her crate all day except when she needs to go out to pee or poop, or eat. When we go on walks on a leash, she gasps for breath if she gets too active. She’s having a hard time holding a squat when eliminating now, and poops and pees while slowly walking. She does leak a lot when sleeping as well. There’s a definite and significant loss of muscle mass throughout her hind end. And the dog avoids going down any stairs now… even just the three or four steps out from the mud room through the garage… she seems worried about her loss of coordination. We are fortunate to have a front door option involving only one step.

I know in my gut it’s time, unless there is a non invasive, low stress medication that might give us a few more weeks or months with her, and make her feel a lot better during that time. But the issues involved aren’t arthritis… they seem to be neurological and more and more breathing issues lately.

I’ve been preparing myself and my husband for the last week that the vet will probably tell us today that peacefully letting her go is an appropriate course of action at this time. And then I guess we will schedule it. For us, I feel taking our sweet girl back to the vet’s office will be the right choice, and getting her cremated afterwards makes sense.

My main worry right now is how to handle this with my kids. Should my husband and I tell them before we take the dog in? I am struggling with that. I don’t want to lie to my kids… but I don’t want to send them off to school for the day, when they know what is happening, and will be in tears and heartsick at school all day. I also don’t know about bringing the kids with us… I think that would be too much and too hard for them right now at their ages, and given that they are both pretty sensitive kids. So if the vet tells my husband and I today that it’s time… I am considering telling the kids an appointment is scheduled for the end of next week, and allowing them to cry some and process some, and spend some time with our dog. Then on Thursday or Friday, or next Monday… sending the kids to school, and then taking the dog back in to the vet with my husband, and peacefully letting her go. When the kids get home from school later the same day, we could then tell them that the dog seemed to be in little extra distress that day, and we felt it was the right thing for her to take her in. And that way, the kids will have an entire evening to cry at home privately with us about it, and process it.

I don’t know. Maybe there is a different way to go about this. But that’s my thought right now on how to go about this. Does anyone else have an experience to share on how they handled this situation with their kids and a beloved family dog?

I’m so sorry about your sweet girl. It’s always such a difficult, painful decision even when we know it’s the right one. I think your plan sounds good, except to talk with your vet about the chances of your dog declining into a really bad situation overnight, especially if an emergency vet clinic is a long distance away. Unfortunately, I’ve had that happen and it’s even more horrible to have to watch them suffer while you’re having to make a long drive in the middle of the night, or even worse just have to let them suffer until morning. I would take your vet’s advise on whether it’s better to go ahead and let her go today or if it would be all right to try to make it a few more days.

I hope it will some comfort to you and your family to know that your sweet girl has had a long, happy life and that you’re doing right by her now.

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Thank you so much. I have had it in the back of my mind that maybe it will be best to just let her go today. In some ways… that really seems like the right thing to do.

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You’re welcome. I’ll be thinking of you all today!

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I don’t know if there is a ‘good’ way to do this -

But what I can tell you is that my parents shielded me from most of this when I was growing up. Any animals that had to be put to sleep, were put to sleep w/o me being there, and that was hard on me later, when I was the one having to make those choices.

Maybe you need to ask your kids if they want to be there for your dog. They may say no, but it seems like they’re probably old enough to make that choice for themselves.

OTOH, letting her go today may not be the worst idea, either. I can tell you from experience that scheduling that event, and then having to wait for it to arrive, is the WORST thing in the world. Waiting for my own execution might be easier.

And it’s very possible that the vet will tell you today that the time has come. In that case, putting her to sleep then and there, and telling the kids when they come home, is not disingenuous; it’s doing what was best for their beloved pet. I’ve never had a vet tell me the time had come, and then want me to schedule it for later; they will give me time with the animal, then come back into the room. And as long as your kids know that this is a possibility, they won’t be totally blindsided by it.

Hope at least some of that made sense . . .

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I don’t know if this is an option with your vet but whenever possible I have done home euthanasia. I married for the second time many years ago and stepsons were part of that package and my husband and myself each had young dogs. Fast forward many years (kids were early teens) and one of the dogs was failing. We told them we were scheduling a home euthanasia, answered many questions and gave them the option of being present at the time or not. One was present and the other opted to go to school. Son that stayed disappeared to his room when the vet first arrived (the hit of ‘this is really happening’) but came back out and was with us for the final passing. He said he was glad he made that choice and was also very appreciative of the fact it was done at home in an environment he felt comfortable in and had the option of being able to disappear (as he did briefly) when he was struggling with it.

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Sadly, these decisions are part of life, owning pets, livestock and will get into the human side of life. Sounding a bit harsh, but kids knowing the pet is going soon will start them learning “dealing methods” to cope with losses that will serve them as they get older. Talking about good times with the dog, writing out their feelings, working off anger by getting truly tired, may be helpful ideas for them.

Living on a farm, unfortunately my kids had to deal with pet death at even younger ages. Then there were losses of people they knew in school with accidents, family losses. We tried to keep it simple, told them when it was going to happen, so pet got lots af extra loving, grooming beforehand. They could see the problems pet had for us to make this choice. How the pet was hurting or unable to do things. Kids were not present for the Vet or burying.

Perhaps checking with your local library could net some books on the topic of pet loss. Sesame St did a show about loss and feelings when a cast member died. Mr Rogers might also have done something about death as well. A bit young for your age kids, but still useful, plain speaking for better understanding. Telling kids as much as you can should help them work thru their feelings, let the pain of loss ease in time.

And for me, having a new puppy on hand provides a distraction with their antics. No, this puppy will never be another Spot. He is a different, new dog to love, enjoy his differences.

I am really sorry for OP. This is so terribly hard to do. But you have to when dog is deteriorating like this. We lost two last May, both 9yrs old. Both had brain issues, let them go together. Was a very bad day and we are adults!! My sympathies.

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I was also going to suggest home euthanasia, schedule it and have the kids be there with you, even if it means missing a school day. That will be less stress for you and the dog and allow your family to be together to say goodbye.

I’m sorry for your upcoming loss - it’s never easy.

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Please do. Let them say goodbye while she is still alive and know exactly what is going to happen.
When we are upfront and truthful with our kids they ( usually) handle these things better than we think.

Coming home to suddenly find the dog gone forever is horrible for anyone child or adult.

We had a 9 year old beloved husky mix that got ill suddenly and went downhill overnight. My kids helped me get him into the car. They loved on him and cried over him and knew he wasn’t coming home. They got to say goodbye and had closure. I think we all need that.

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I vote for not shielding kids from death. It’s a part of life and experiencing it in smaller, more distanced doses is better than dealing with it for the first time with someone close.

The first funeral I went to was in first or second grade at school. Somebody got a whole school send off, I have no idea who. It wasn’t any thing traumatic or scary about it since I had no idea who it was.

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"WE’ need to ‘know’ - as children and adults - not being able to pre-grieve nor say “Good-bye” haunted me my entire life - until I begged my mother for the truth/details. :cry:

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Very sorry for what you’re going through Virginia_Horse_Mom.

I can’t recall a situation where I’ve decided later is better than sooner with any of our elderly and failing, much loved animals. We just went through it a few weeks ago. Our kids are much older than yours but live nearby and grew up with our old friend.

We’ve handled it the same way over the years it seems; let the family know that the dog’s quality of life has declined such that it’s time for them to go peacefully. We don’t draw it out in order to give anyone more time with the them, in fact I’d prefer doggo not be subjected to such ongoing sadness by his loved ones for a prolonged period. A day or so to say goodbye has been enough.

Kids who have the situation explained to them can handle the loss, sorrowful as it is.

Afterwards when together we also end up telling lots of great stories about the dog. It’s funny, especially when living on a farm, how each of us has some quirky tale that the rest didn’t know and there’s lots of warm laughter. For instance when our daughter invited our little trooper up on the bed on occasion (no dogs allowed on beds lol), he would sleep with his face right up to hers and loudly breath on her all night within inches of her nose. A show of appreciation is my guess. She’d put him out of the room before dawn and it was their little secret.

I hope that this helps and doesn’t sound opinionated. I just wanted to share a small bit about our way of managing these sad events. Warm hugs to you and your family.

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Thanks everyone for sharing your perspectives and experiences.

So we took her to the vet today around 1:00, and talked through symptoms, and the vet did a physical exam and x-rays. The laryngeal paralysis is still in an earlier phase, apparently. The bigger issue is that they found nodules all in her lungs on x-ray, and a large mass that is either in her spleen or liver. They also found arthritic changes in her spine, and the combination of the x-rays, and the dog’s painful reaction during the physical exam indicates that the spinal arthritis is causing her significant pain now. And possibly (likely?) the nodules and mass are metastatic tumors that are causing her pain as well… but it’s hard to know from an x-ray alone. The nodules are definitely reducing her lung capacity and making it harder for her to breathe.

I was in tears, and the conversation with the vet was not as clear or organized as I would have liked. The vet wouldn’t/couldn’t say if the mass and lung nodules are definitely malignant. But the lung nodules are definitely impacting breathing, along with the mild ‘lar par.’ We decided to schedule a follow up on Friday morning to do an ultrasound of her abdominal mass, and to try and get clarity on whether it is in the liver or the spleen or both. The vet said if the mass is in the spleen, there is a risk it will rupture at any time, and that the dog will bleed out internally and die. I don’t want to risk that, and told the vet so… but they couldn’t fit in the ultrasound today, tomorrow or Thursday. If the mass is in the liver… the vet says it might remain stable for a while even if it is cancerous. It’s hard to know.

I ruled out putting the dog under anesthesia to do an invasive biopsy. The vet mentioned that, and said it might be possible to do surgery on the mass at the same time. I don’t think either are the right thing to do to a 14 year old dog, who already is in pain, and has a very hard time breathing with nodules all in her lungs. The ultrasound will involve sedation… and might give a better indication of whether or not this is a cancerous mass, but it won’t be invasive.

The dog is on no meds right now, so the vet sent us home with an anti inflammatory, to see if she seems to respond to it and is more comfortable. I asked if the vet thought euthanasia was the right thing to do for our dog, as I do not want to prolong her life if she is in significant pain, nor do I want her to suffer a ruptured spleen. The vet said she thought we should try the anti inflammatory first and see if the dog responds. My husband wanted to defer to the vet… so I agreed, and we brought our girl home and are going to watch her closely until Friday and see if there is any indication she feels better on the meds.

But at this point… I feel in my gut it is time. I talked through this with my husband, and explained that I think it is right to euthanize the dog on Friday after the ultrasound if the tumor is in the spleen. I do not want her to suffer a rupture and die a horrible death. Frankly I don’t even want to wait longer to do the ultrasound, but neither our vet nor two others I called can fit us in earlier.

We are going to talk to the kids later tonight, or tomorrow night, and tell them about the ultrasound on Friday, and that there is a significant chance we will put the dog to sleep then. We are going to emphasize that it is our duty to our dog to make choices that prioritize her quality of life, and make sure she has a peaceful and pain free end, if possible. Even if we want more time with the dog… we have to choose what is least painful for the dog.

Deep breath. I don’t know. I’m feeling very anxious and uncertain and it’s hard. My gut has been telling me “it’s time” for the better part of the last month. But my husband isn’t quite on the same page, and the vet seemed like they were expecting us to pursue any number of options to prolong life if possible… and like she was surprised I was so quick to rule out anesthesia, biopsy, and surgery on the mass. I don’t know. Maybe I am just feeling defensive. But I know my dog, and surgery is not the right choice for her.

So now we wait and watch how she does on anti inflammatory meds and talk to the kids, and hope nothing awful happens with the spleen between now and Friday. And I might try calling a third practice about 45 minutes away to see if they can fit the ultrasound in earlier.

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Being realistic and pragmatic, you are at the point when it is a one way street. Don’t put your needs first. There is the final shut down phase and you wrote that your dog was withdrawing and spending the time in the crate. And there is obvious pain. This is not where miracles happen.

I wish you well but I don’t see the point of buying more time.

Vets probably try not to influence, some run up the bill. It won’t change for the dog.

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((hugs)) - trust your gut - you know your dog - Jingles the anti-inflammatory drug offers some pain relief.

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Thanks for your feedback. I couldn’t tell what was going on with the vet today… if she was trying not to influence us, or what. We don’t know this vet very well… it’s a relatively new practice for our pets. But maybe that was the reason behind her approach- she didn’t want to influence us.

I have another call into the vet to bring up that we are leaning toward euthanizing, and asking about how that would work on Friday, if we give the dog sedation then in order to do the ultrasound. I just want to prepare. I do think it’s worth it to us (my husband and I) to do the ultrasound regardless… I guess I just don’t want unanswered questions and don’t mind paying for that. Especially if we can quietly let our girl go right afterwards. I don’t know. It’s hard.

I appreciate everyone’s feedback about the kids. It’s going to be hard to talk with them, and hard yo have this hanging over the household all week, but maybe having the extra time right now will help us all to let go some.

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I think you’re taking the best possible approach. I’ve never had to discuss euthanasia with kids but growing up in a household full of kids and pets, I certainly was a participant in those discussions when I was young. I think having my parents explain what was going on and why helped a lot. And it taught me the value of quality of life, and appreciating what amazing animals I’ve been lucky enough to have had in my life over the years.

I’m sorry you’re going through this with your girl. Losing a beloved animal, whether it’s now or later, is one of the harder things your family will experience, but the joy they bring are worth it. ((hugs))

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This is harsh, but ask about costs before doing things to the elderly dog. I expect the biopsy is going to be costly and it will just be another thing you know is failing. Your list from today’s visit is bad, any one is reason to just let the dog go. All are painful, she is having visible physical pain.

With my one little dog, his left eye suddenly was looking left, not frontwards. Went into emergency Vet, spent 5 hours waiting for a Dr. Then they could tell me nothing after an Xray, testing various responses. $500 please! They suggested scheduling a CAT scan or MRI at the College Vet Clinic for $500 to $1500 more, just diagnosing.

I went home at 12A. I called our local Vet the next day, got an appt. He said after the exam, that it was “probably” a brain tumor. There was a specialty clinic in X town, where they could do an MRI for $1000, then surgery costs. He explained that surgery was a 50-50 chance of survival after tumor removal. Could all be money down the drain if dog died. Dr explained that if it was a tumor it would continue to grow, making dog’s head mis-shaped in time. Might affect his personality, depending on pressure on various parts of the brain. Otherwise, dog did not seem to be in any pain, motor skills were fine, he could be fine for a while.

We did not do anything extraordinary after that. He got a daily pill from the Vet, with pain pills on hand if needed. Dog himself did not seem to notice anything wrong. Ran and played with the other dog, ate, acted like himself. His head slowly got lumpy as tumor grew, finally invading his nose. That caused breathing issues so he was having more difficulty getting around. I did locate a puppy who seemed to cheer him up as they played and slept together. As spring advanced I got a second puppy, and they all played together, with older dog showing the puppies the ropes about barking at strangers, how to sneak up on squirrels, the best yard bushes to lay under. We had the Vet out to put him down, along with my daughter’s dog, who was his “sister dog” that was also having brain issues. A very sad day.

I did not spend the thousands needed to try fixing him with the low odds of success. His age of nine was a factor. Surgery is harder on older dogs, lowers success rates even more. I don’t have that kind of money to just learn what were the specific problems. We know people who did spend, do tests, surgery, then dog or horse dies anyway. Some could afford it, others went into debt over it and were sorry. Reasonable decisions are hard to make in the heat of the moment. Been pressured like that myself when everyone is LOOKING at you! Your husband is not helping, nothing can be “fixed” by the Vet.

We got to enjoy him for another 6 month, he was quite cheerful until right at the end. I would have felt terrible making those last days hurt with testing.

I would let her go Friday, forget anymore testing. Tell the kids and go forward with this plan if possible.

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I am another vote for being brutally honest with the kids and letting them make decisions about their involvement. If I hadn’t been allowed to voice my opinion on wanting to be there when our first dog was euthanized, it would have haunted me. My sister on the other hand, said goodbye to her at the house and watched us go off to the vet.

I was a little older than your kids are, and had been exposed to the death of family and other peoples pets so I was a little prepared, but seeing my best friend off was so crucial to me.

I am very sorry to hear about your dog, and the sad times ahead. But you are doing the right thing.

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when-a-pet-dies. by-fred-rogers

This is a great book. It was even helpful to me as an adult when we suddenly lost our 18mo girl to an aggressive and rare cancer.

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