Dog Must Be Put Down

What should you tell your five-year-old when the family dog has to be put down?
Difficult Talk

I have a 5-year-old daughter who is very attached to my 12-year-old Rottweiler. The dog is sick and the vet says she may die and needs to be put to sleep soon. How do I explain to my daughter that the dog needs to be put to sleep? Should I get another dog immediately? What do I say to my daughter when the dog dies? I wanted to have the dog put to sleep at the vet's office. Should I take my daughter with me and the dog when I have her put to sleep? My mind is flooded with questions surrounding this matter. Got any advice?

The imminent death of your long-time companion is understandably causing you to feel many intense emotions. I would strongly suggest that you do not take your five year-old daughter with you to the vet's when she is put to sleep. This is not something she can handle emotionally or intellectually at her age and stage of development. I would also not use the term "put to sleep" when it comes to telling her what happened to your dog at the vet's. She could begin to associate being "put to sleep" with dying and this could give her unnecessary fears about her own bedtime and you and other loved ones going to sleep. She should be told that the dog was very old and became so sick that she died -- her body just couldn't work anymore. You could also mention that the vet and you helped her die without her being in pain.

There are many superb children's books that help kids your daughter's age move through the loss of a family pet. Ask your children's librarian and your vet for their recommendations. Books by Alan Wolfelt and Earl Grollman are good resources for these discussions. Encourage your daughter to express her sadness and confusion, while not being afraid to express your own sadness and sense of loss.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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