Children and the loss of a Pet

saying goodbye to a petAs a veterinarian I am frequently asked for guidance as families and individuals make end-of-life decisions for their pets.  The questions that often arise when families are faced with the decision to say goodbye include: What is the best way to help their children cope with the death of a pet?  How much involvement should the children have in the decision to euthanize the pet and what are the lasting implications for the children as they deal with this very significant loss in their family? These are difficult questions. According to a recent study by American Humane Association’s Animal Welfare Research Institute, we know that the experience a child has with a pet’s death can have a lasting impact on that child as an adult and his or her future ability to deal with owning a pet. It is important for a parent to acknowledge their children’s need to say goodbye and to grieve.

A recent article in Animal Health Brief Newsletter addresses these issues and provides a good summary of the American Humane Association’s study. The author emphasizes the importance of honesty when dealing with the loss of a pet whether it is through death, euthanasia, loss or divorce.  How you handle this decision and event may have a lasting impact on your child. According to the article, 40 percent of respondents to the survey pointed out that the loss of a pet as a child affected them as adults.  Respondents in the survey said their memories of their pet’s loss were impacted by how and whether or not their parents shared the loss with them.   For the full article read: “With children, dealing with pet’s death honesty is best”.

Veterinarians are often faced with questions about end-of-life decisions.  While we are trained to recognize when it is in the best interest of the pet to humanely end its life, we are not always prepared to deal with the human loss and grief that accompanies that decision.  What we do have as veterinary professionals is a great deal of empathy and experience in facilitating the euthanasia process.  If handled in a loving and caring manner, euthanasia can bring relief and closure to the family.

For more information and resources on end of life decisions for your pet visit our website.  There you will find links to articles, websites, support groups and other information in coping with the loss of a pet.  If you or someone you know is having problems dealing with the grief from the loss of a pet, contact your family physician for advice on professional grief counseling.

Dr. Ginger GarlieDr. Ginger Garlie