What Do I Tell My Kids?

Five Ways to Support Children When a Pet Dies

Pet Loss Grief Book for Children

Pet Loss Grief Book for Children

Your pet’s death may be your children’s first experience with loss and feelings of grief. This experience presents an opportunity for you to teach your children to express grief in emotionally healthy ways, free of shame or embarrassment.

Many grief specialists believe that children can learn and grow from the grief if the adults in their lives follow a few key guidelines:

1. Be as honest as possible 

It’s tempting to try to protect children from any kind of emotional pain. Yet, attempting to “soften the blow” by telling children that a pet ‘ran away’ or ‘went to live with someone else’ only creates a different kind of pain. Losing a pet under any circumstances will cause children to grieve and thinking that a family pet ran away may add feelings of abandonment and rejection.

2. Encourage children to view a pet’s body and to say good-bye 

If a pet dies suddenly, it can be beneficial for your child to see the pet’s body and be able to say good-bye in whatever way they are comfortable. This may include touching the pet, holding and hugging the pet, and even spending time alone with the pet’s body. Depending on where the pet’s death occurs, either you or your veterinarian can clean the pet’s fur of any blood, remove any medical equipment or supplies (catheters, tape, etc.) and position the body so it is soothing to see, perhaps curled into a pet bed or nestled into a container that has been lined with a soft blanket.

3. Involve children in the euthanasia process

The key to a comforting good-bye process for children is how well they are prepared to face their pet’s death. Speak with your veterinarian before your pet is euthanized so you are well informed about the procedures your child will witness and about the level of emotional support you and your child can expect to receive.

Children who are well prepared can usually handle the intense emotions that are part of euthanasia. Research, along with clinical experience, shows that it is beneficial for children to say a personal good-bye to a loved one who has died.

4. Allow children to make their own choices 

Children should be allowed to make their own choices about how much they wish to be involved with the process of saying good-bye to a pet. Older children may choose to be with a pet when the euthanasia is performed, while younger children may choose to say good-bye while their pet is still alive. Other children may choose to view a pet’s body only after death has occurred, reassuring themselves that their beloved pet has really died.

Very young children don’t really understand death and have short attention spans. If your young child wants to be included, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to be with your family when your pet dies, so he or she can take care of your young child. This allows you and your older children uninterrupted time to say your own good-byes.

5. Allow time for grief

Since children have shorter attention spans than adults and because they express their grief differently, be aware that your children may grieve the loss in “short bursts.” Children are unable to sustain intense grief emotions for long periods of time. Therefore, it is normal for children to go from crying and being very upset one minute, to wanting to go and play the next. This is not a sign of indifference or poor coping; it is simply they way in which they need to work through their grief.

As a caring parent, it may be tempting for you to try to “cheer up” your grieving children by immediately adopting a new pet. Sometimes this works and it is often at the children’s own request.  However, while some people are able to bond with a new pet and grieve for the one who died at the same time, there’s no “right” time to adopt a new pet. You want to be sure that your children don’t get the message that a family member who dies is easily replaceable.

While adopting a new pet may help your whole family feel better, grieving together can also bring you closer together. Then, when everyone feels ready, a new pet can join you and find his or her own joyful place in your family.

from Dana Durrance, M.A. Veterinary Grief Specialist and Consultant 

Does The Mobile Vet Handle Body Care?

What do I do with my pet’s body?

Options are home burial or cremation. You may handle burial in your yard if legal for your property. The mobile veterinarian is equipped to handle body care and cremation arrangements. Consider individual cremation with ashes returned or group cremation with no ashes returned. Some people want to save the ashes and others feel it is not necessary to have anything back. Some families are most reassured by bringing their pet’s body to a pet cremation facility themselves. You have the option to witness the cremation or not. If you can’t decide which type of cremation to choose, the mobile vet can take the body to cold storage as undecided and you can wait to see how you feel. After a few days pass, you may be more clear if having ashes back would be helpful or not.

How is my pet transported for cremation?

You can transport the body yourself to a pet cremation facility or your vet clinic. Or you can have the mobile vet handle transport for you. Please set aside two large towels and a blanket or bed sheet that the vet can keep. Think about sending a special toy or blanket or drawing or love note or flowers. The mobile vet will gently wrap your pet’s body. They are equipped with several sized stretchers and baskets. They work alone and do need your help lifting the stretcher to their vehicle. Small pets nestle in the front passenger seat and larger pets rest on a padded dog bed in the back cargo area of an SUV or minivan. There may be enough time for the vet to go directly from your home to the crematorium. If time is limited, the vet has a freezer in their home garage for temporary cold storage. The mobile vet will make arrangements to return the ashes back to you if selected. Ashes can be delivered to you by the vet personally or shipping from the crematory is commonly done. You could arrange with the mobile vet to pick up the ashes from your regular vet clinic or emergency clinic. Or delivery to a friend or neighbor can work. Deliveries are coordinated with when the mobile vet is called to your area again (few days to 1-2 weeks). Please let the vet know if you’d like a special trip in order for your reunion to be as soon as possible.

How do I know that I am really getting only my pet’s ashes back?

Many people have this concern. You may be most reassured by taking your pet’s body to the crematory yourself. Other families don’t want anything to do with cremation transport or process. It’s your choice and it’s good to discuss options and preferences. Google “pet cremation + your city” and call/visit the pet cremation facilities in your area. Individual cremation means your pet’s body is separated from others and ashes are saved for you. A less expensive option is group cremation: bodies are laid quite close together and ashes are not separated and not saved. Mixed ashes that are not saved may be buried in landfills (which can handle the sheer volume of cremains produced annually). Few crematoriums own enough land to accommodate spreading the ashes on their property. This spreading area may be private/not accessible or it may be designed as a memory garden with walking trails.

Body Care Arrangements: Burial or Cremation

Thinking about options ahead of time will give you and your family the opportunity to discuss how you would like to memorialize your beloved pet.

Burial options:

  • Home
  • Family or friend’s cabin or farm or property
  • Pet cemetery

Factors to consider:

  • Will the city/county/development allow pet burials? Check local ordinances.
  • Is it winter? Is the ground is frozen? Could you bury ashes in the spring?
  • Will you always live in the area or have access to the burial ground?
  • What will you surround the body with: special blankets or a handmade wood box or a cardboard box or a biodegradable casket? Include a special toy or note or flower? Keep collar with you or on the pet’s body?

Body transport & cremation options:

Consider which option gives you the best peace of mind for your body care concerns. Think about how much time you may need with your pet’s body to process the shock of the loss. Minutes, hours, days? The choice is yours. There are no right or wrong answers. Everyone is different.

  • Do you wish to take your pet’s body to the cremation facility or vet clinic yourself? (Line your vehicle or box with plastic, then towels and blankets to contain leaking urine.) Do you want to go there the same day or the next day? Do you need help lifting? Do you wish to be present for the cremation? View the cremation?
  • Less involvement in the cremation process may be desirable: (1) The crematory can pick up your pet’s body from your home the same day or the next day. Are you OK with meeting another service at your home during your private time of grief? (2) Your mobile veterinarian can transport your pet’s body for you after giving you time with the body following the home euthanasia. Most home visits last 30-60 minutes. Mobile vets use a home freezer system similar to a vet clinic for temporary cold storage while awaiting cremation pick up. Are you OK with this system? Set aside two large towels and a blanket or bed sheet that the vet can keep for gently wrapping the body.
  • How do I know that my pet’s remains are treated respectfully and that I am really getting only my pet’s ashes back? You may be best reassured by bringing your pet’s body to the crematorium yourself. You can visit and interview the pet cremation facilities in your area beforehand to choose the most comfortable facility for your needs. Google “pet+cremation+your city”.

Keepsake options:

  • Do you want a fur clipping? Consider what areas you would like fur from. Set aside a plastic or cellophane bag or ribbon to tie longer locks of fur.
  • Do you want a clay paw print impression?
  • You may not need any ashes returned. This is called group or communal cremation. Your pet will be cremated close together with other pets and their mixed ashes will be scattered in a designated area or landfill if the crematory does not have enough property for spreading. Does your crematory have a public walking area and allow visiting the scatter area or is the scatter area private/not designed for public access?
  • Yes, I do want ashes returned. Do you need ashes back ASAP or in a week or two? Are you comfortable with ashes being shipped to your home from the crematory? Do you prefer hand delivery from the mobile vet? Where is the best place for shipping or delivery: home, work, friend, family, pick up at regular vet clinic or emergency clinic?

Memorial Service Options: 

Some families may want to have time with their pet after death. You may want the support of friends, family members, and other pets in the household. Consider where you wish to gather: at home, at a special location, at the cremation facility? When will you all be together? Meet at the home euthanasia visit or at a later time? You may want to plan a gathering that does not involve the body of the pet. Think about incorporating important family or religious rituals:

  • Read a special poem, remembrance, or scripture
  • Display memorial items (a drawing, children’s memorial artwork, note to the pet, handmade box, collar, fur clipping, photos, toys, blankets, clay paw print)
  • Plant a tree/flower/bush (PetTree.com or MyEternalFamilyTree.com)
  • Light candles as a tribute
  • Share stories and videos of the pet and your family

Memorialization Options (more info under Grief Resources tab):

  • Rock, garden stone, burial marker
  • Various wood, metal, or photo urn options (BestFriendServices.com)
  • Bury ashes in a special location
  • A piece of art done to depict your pet’s personality (Pet Portraits By Bethany or The Pet Sketcher)
  • A box to hold your pet’s paw print or a ribbon tied around a fur clipping
  • Locket jewelry to hold a bit of the pet’s ashes or fur (EternallyWithMe.com)
  • Inscription ideas: Nicknames? A saying: “Our Beautiful Beau” “Forever In Our Hearts” “Our Beloved Maggie” “Until We Meet Again At The Rainbow Bridge” Dates: birth date/adoption date to death date

 

How Does Pet Euthanasia Work?

How does pet euthanasia work? What to expect? How do I prepare? How long does it take?

Pet euthanasia is a massive overdose of anesthesia. A tired, relaxing, falling asleep feeling is what your pet experiences. First, a calming sedative is given carefully under the skin with a tiny needle (it can be helpful to distract your pet with food during the sedation injection). Peaceful relaxation and full unconsciousness sets in over 5-15 minutes. Next, a vein injection is given. As the anesthesia overwhelms the brain and shuts it down, the breathing quickens and stops within 30 seconds, followed by the heart slowing and stopping over 1-3 minutes. Faster breathing is the primary change to expect. You may also see that the eyes remain slightly open, the skin may twitch, and the tongue may relax out a little. Occasionally, one to three sudden deep breaths occur. Home visits typically last 30-60 minutes.

Things to do ahead of time:

  • Set aside a large dry towel and a blanket or bed sheet that we can keep.
  • If your pet is still eating, set aside some extra-tasty food like lunchmeat (or even milk/tuna for cats) for hand-feeding during sedation. There are no food restrictions before or during our visit.
  • Consider lighting candles, playing relaxing music, laying out blankets and pillows, reading a poem or prayer.
  • Would a special location be appropriate: in the yard, at a park or meaningful beach?
  • Who wants to be there?
  • Do you want fur clippings or clay paw print?
  • Is there a special toy or blanket or drawing or letter or photo or flowers that can be sent with to be included in the cremation?

Should Children Be Present?

How Do I Talk To My Kids About Euthanasia? How Do I Support Them Through Pet Loss Grief?

By Jeannine Moga, MSW, LICSW

Guiding children through the death of a pet can be both tricky and tremendously rewarding. While many parents struggle with decisions around how (and how much) to talk about death with their kids, not talking about the death of a loved one can actually make the grieving process more difficult for children and adults alike. This is especially true when the death of a pet is a child’s first experience with loss.

One of the most important things to remember is that children of all ages need simple, honest information about when a death has occurred and what death looks like. When discussing the death of a pet, use concrete words to describe what happens to the body during the process and avoid the use of jargon or “soft” terms. For instance, younger children may need to know that bodies stop working when they die (bodies can no longer hear, feel, see, or taste). Older children may need to know what condition led the body to stop working and why that condition could not be fixed by the veterinarian. Similarly, it is important to discuss euthanasia simply. Instead of using words like, “having Rocket put down” or “putting Princess to sleep” (which can leave kids confused about what it means to sleep or rest), it is preferable to explain euthanasia as something veterinarians do for pets who need help to die peacefully and without pain (or, for younger children, to help dying pets leave their bodies).

Additionally, there are a number of general guidelines for supporting children through the grieving process:

  • Offer to answer any question your child may have – even the silly, difficult, or complicated ones. These questions may pop up at any point before or after the death of a beloved pet. Be as open as possible about the details your child needs to know, as those details may help them to make sense out of what has happened. There are many books geared toward answering kids’ nitty-gritty questions about death (such as “what is cremation?” or “what happens after a body is buried?”). Visit the books section at Amazon.com and search “pet loss children”.
  • Give them choices about how they want to be involved. If your family is preparing for the death of a pet, either through euthanasia or an unassisted death, explain what that death may look like and ask your child how he/she wants the goodbye to look and feel. Likewise, children can be given choices about whether they want to visit with the body after death and how they want to be involved in burial or memorialization rituals.
  • Listen without judgment. There is no right way to grieve, and children may have any number of responses to loss (including tearfulness, nervousness, sleep disturbance, and impaired concentration at school). Invite your child to talk about the death of their pet, and make sure they know that their feelings are normal. Their pet was important to them, and it is okay to feel any number of ways when that pet is gone.
  • Support their grief, whatever the form. Some children, especially those with less developed verbal skills, benefit from having non-verbal opportunities to process grief. Creating a scrapbook, drawing pictures, taking clippings of fur, or making imprints of paws can give children an outlet for both their creativity and their feelings.
  • Make space for remembering. Encourage children to share favorite stories about their pet and to remember the happiest times with that pet. Those memories are part of the natural healing process and can provide great comfort months, and even years, after a pet’s death.
  • Balance the grief with laughter and joy. It is healthy to give ourselves a break from the deep sadness that comes from the death of a cherished pet. In fact, taking a break from grief to do something fun may actually help facilitate the grief process. Laughter is a wonderful healing salve, so make sure your child knows that being able to laugh and have fun does not mean they love their pet any less.
  • Embrace routine. The death of a loved one is often very disruptive to a child’s sense of safety and security. At such a difficult time, it can be comforting to know what to expect from each day. If your family has an established routine around mealtimes, bedtimes, chores, religious worship, and/or recreation, it will be important to maintain those routines now. It may even be helpful to integrate a ritual of remembrance into the daily routine. For instance, a family whose evening is spent around exercising or grooming a pet may choose to light a candle every evening in that pet’s memory.

What Does Home Pet Euthanasia Cost?

Cost of home pet euthanasia depends on which option you choose for body care afterwards. Extra time is the main reason why a home visit is more expensive than an appointment at a vet clinic. Our vets service extremely large areas and spend a lot of time driving very long distances back and forth. We are typically at the home for 30-60 minutes.

  •   $300-$400 Drive & home time, pet euthanasia.
  •   $400-$500 Drive & home time, pet euthanasia, group cremation, no ashes.
  •   $600-$700 Drive & home time, pet euthanasia, individual cremation, ashes returned to you.

*$50 more for cremation of giant breeds. Please request a quote. All our vets are independent contractors and fees vary.

Cash or check preferred (written out to vet’s name). Credit card available most areas.

Should my children be present for my pet’s euthanasia?

Honesty is what kids deserve while discussing when to put a pet to sleep. When children know how and why their pet died, it eliminates years of asking questions. Include your children in family discussions: focus on how lucky we are to relieve our pet’s suffering through euthanasia. The entire family should be there, supporting the pet and each other. Most kids need and want to say goodbye. Even very young children can be present while their pet is being put down. The family can cry and grieve together.

How do I decide when to euthanize my pet? How do I know when it’s time? Where do I get advice?

Because our pets cannot clearly express to us their level of pain or frustration or suffering, it can often be difficult to know when it’s time help them move on. It is up to us to determine their quality of life and decide when to euthanize. Getting advice about signs of pain can be helpful: panting, falling, difficulty getting up or lying down, and eliminating in the house. Many pets suffering from significant arthritis pain continue to eat well, wag their tail, and still have that sparkle in their eyes. Their innate drive to push on prevents us from seeing that they really are suffering. Unfortunately, lack of muscle caused by old age makes arthritis pain worse. Your pet may feel like they are trapped in a constantly aching body. Sometimes, they need relief more than we may realize. Our experienced and compassionate mobile vets are good listeners and can help you assess your individual situation by phone, email, or in a personal visit. Reading the blog posts listed on the right side of this website can help as well: click here to read an article about signs of suffering. Read (and/or purchase) our 16 page Euthanasia Guidebook For Pet Owners (download immediately and print yourself) by clicking here.

How does pet euthanasia work? What can I expect? How do I prepare?

Pet euthanasia works by administering a massive overdose of highly-concentrated anesthesia specially formulated for euthanasia only. A tired, relaxing, falling asleep feeling is what your pet experiences. First, a calming sedative is given carefully under the skin with a tiny needle. Peaceful relaxation and often full unconsciousness sets in over 5-15 minutes. Next, a vein injection is given below the knee while the family is gathered near the pet’s head. As the super-concentrated anesthesia overwhelms the brain and shuts it down, the breathing quickens and stops within 30 seconds, followed by the heart slowing and stopping over 1-3 minutes. Faster breathing is the primary change to expect. You may also see that the eyes will remain open, the skin may twitch, and the diaphragm may spasm causing one to three sudden deep breaths. Pets with Addison’s Disease or elevated potassium levels may have muscle spasms. Seizures are rarely seen. Most visits last 30 minutes or as long as an hour if you need to talk things through and prepare yourself for your pet’s euthanasia. Set aside two large dry towels for urine leakage and a blanket or bed sheet used as a gentle wrap. If your pet is still eating, hand feed some extra-tasty food like lunchmeat during and after the sedative injection. There are no food restrictions before or during our visit.

How is my pet transported for cremation?

Small pets nestle in the front passenger seat and larger pets rest in the back cargo area of an SUV or minivan. Your pet’s gently wrapped body is transported directly from your home to the crematorium. Our vets have a freezer in their home garage for times when logistics prevent them from achieving transport to the crematorium directly. If you feel that having your pet’s ashes returned would be comforting, our vet can arrange return. Ashes can be delivered back to you by our vet, via shipping from crematorium, or pick up at a vet clinic or ER clinic. Deliveries are coordinated with when we are called to your area again. Please let us know if you’d like us to make a special trip in order for your reunion to be as soon as possible.

How do I know that my pet’s remains are treated respectfully and that I am really getting only my pet’s ashes back?

Many people have this concern. We interview every cremation service and are very attentive to word of mouth. Because euthanasia is our specialty, we are in the cremation facility almost every day helping with gentle handling of pets. Private cremation means your pet’s body is completely separated from others, thus their ashes alone are saved for you. For those who prefer to keep photos and memories, pets are cremated in a group and their ashes are buried in landfills which, by law, can handle the sheer volume of cremains produced annually.

Written by Dr. Karen Twyning, DVM, founder of Pet Loss At Home, a respected and growing national network of compassionate veterinarians dedicated to providing private pet euthanasia in the comfort of home.