The loss of a pet is devastating. As an adult making the decision to euthanase a pet we can experience huge emotions, grief and distress. As someone who has supported many owners on this journey of loss, I have experienced the vast array of emotions that grief can cause – great sadness, denial, distress, anxiety. Something that is commonly spoken about is ‘how am I going to tell the kids?’

Sometimes, our pets cannot wait and we have to make the decision to euthanase promptly to relieve suffering. This is common in acute illness, sudden deterioration, emergencies or trauma cases. In this case we often do not have the chance to decide who is present; it isn’t planned and we have to support our beloved pet as they pass away.

However, sometimes euthanasia is planned in advance – whether that be hours or days. At this point we do have the chance to take time to understand the process, ask the questions we need to about what we are doing afterwards, and who will be present. At this point you may need to consider if you think it is appropriate to have your child present.

Your child is unique

Here is the key point. The decision for your child to be present is down to the individual case and that individual child. I cannot tell you what is right for your family and your child. Every child is unique, at different ages different children will react to situations differently. Some will be able to understand and comprehend what is happening, others will not. It is up to you to decide what is most appropriate. But I am going to write a few pointers that I would consider as a parent, from my personal experience of working for 10 + years with grieving families. 


Something I personally believe, to avoid confusion is to be truthful to children but to pitch it at a level that they can understand.

For example, in the past using the term ‘put to sleep’ has been known to cause children a fear of sleeping because they didn’t understand that term. So, in my opinion, the best thing to do is to be clear and truthful. 

The process

If your child understands the concept then you may want to discuss with them about the process of euthanasia. But how can you do that if you yourself have never experienced it? Make sure to ask for the support and compassionate guidance of your veterinary team. I am very happy to support my client’s anxiety by explaining how we perform euthanasia.

It does depend on the animal’s species but typically it is an overdose of anaesthetic agent into a vein, the animal falls unconscious before its heart stops. So, inevitably this does involve a needle or catheter. Think about how your child copes in medical settings – are they needle phobic? Could this negatively impact them in future?

Remember that sometimes when animals pass away their eyes may remain open, and they may have involuntary muscle movements or twitches. They may lose bowel function and may do something called ‘agonal breathing’ which are very deep breaths. This is all normal things to happen after an animal dies and their nerves and body systems stop. However, these can all be very shocking for adults, never mind a child. It is best that a child understands this first so they are not scared if/when they do occur. 


If your child understands and is getting extremely distressed then we must also consider the welfare of the patient, our beloved pet. The veterinary team want a euthanasia to be as calm as possible and if your child is causing the animal to become agitated or upset then it may be best for the child to spend time at home with them to say goodbye before bringing them alone so that the pets last few minutes are in a more tranquil environment.

Equally, if we have a toddler who does not perhaps understand the situation, they may be 1) running around a veterinary consult room with potential hazardous medications present and 2) they may also get confused and distressed if you start becoming upset as your pet passes away. If this is the case it may be worth asking friends or family to watch your little one while you get to spend some quality time with your pet and say goodbye without distraction.

If they are present

…my main tips are:

  • Be truthful about what is happening
  • Make sure they have understood fully – ask them if they understand
  • Answer any questions they have
  • Ask them if they wish to be present or if they would like to have some time to say goodbye and then leave
  • Explain the process of what is about to happen
  • Support them afterwards 
  • Validate their feelings of grief – grief is normal and has NO time limit
  • Allow them to make memories if it will help – a collar, a paw print, a photo to take about the pet and how special they were

If they are not present

If you decide that being present for the actual euthanasia then here are my tips:

  • Still tell the truth and explain where the pet is going 
  • Make sure they understand what is happening when you leave
  • Answer any questions they have
  • Give them time to say goodbye in their own way at home
  • Allow them to make memories if it will help – a collar, a paw print, a photo to take about the pet and how special they were
  • Validate their feelings of grief – grief is normal and has NO time limit
  • Support them afterwards

If needed seek the advice of trained bereavement counsellors for your child, there are also some great resources available that can help you and your children navigate the loss of a pet together.

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