Allowing Children to Help Care for a Sick Animal

One wise individual said, “If you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve.”  Learning of a pet’s illness impacts the entire family, especially young children.  They immediately want the role of caregiver, ensuring their four-legged friend has a quality life even in those final weeks or days.  Caring for a fragile pet is much different than the act of placing gauze and tape on a stuffed animal’s boo-boo. While parents might feel hesitant to allow their child the opportunity to help, the moment presents an emotional connection to instill the values of compassion and kindness towards a sweet friend.   

Help with Grooming 

Most animals, when feeling poorly, do not have the energy to groom themselves. Start with the act of petting before offering a brush to a child.  Point out sensitive areas and model using the tool first.  In lieu of baths, use a damp cloth. Cotton balls are helpful in cleaning waxy ears.    


When animals no longer seek comfort of familiar locations, it’s time to start searching.  Usually, animals will want to hide.  Explain to young children how similarly animals act when compared to humans.  When the body feels bad, it’s okay to seek a quiet environment, such as a bedroom with a comfortable bed, and sleep.  

Together, you can check on your sweet pet or consider lying on the floor at a distance to build reassurance. 

The Rule of Absorbent Pads or Pet Diapers 

Children are good observers and will be eager to inform their parents or babysitter of notable changes, both positive and negative.  Pets suffering from cancer may leak fluids, such as mucus or blood. It should be a household rule never to admonish a pet for accidents, and only adults should remove bedding or diapers from bed-bound animals.  

Tip:  Animals can contract bedsores, too.  Only adults can help ailing animals change their position.  

Tip:  For an animal’s stiff joints, consider adding extra blankets underneath absorbent pads.  The goal is plush comfort. 

Tip:  Hydration is vital to health.  Keep a water bowl close to the bed.  

Changes in Food and Feeding 

A turned away nose or skipping meals is an immediate sign your animal requires an alternative diet.  Start researching various foods and combinations to ensure your four-legged friend, for instance, can eat without repercussions of stomach upset, which may include gas, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea.  

The best meals for dogs include:  

  • boneless and skinless chicken breasts, shredded, with rice
  • unseasoned, boiled, shredded chicken
  • pumpkin, an easily digested food high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals
  • bone broth, an ideal liquid for dogs with reduced appetite 

The best options for cats include: 

  • wet canned food, including a seafood-based variety
  • pouring a low-sodium, warmed chicken broth or tuna juice over the food.  Avoid broths containing onion powder, onions, garlic, or chives, all toxic to cats. 

For both dogs and cats: 

  • stage-two baby food, especially meat-based meals that do not contain garlic or onion powder. 

Young children can assist in making small-portioned meals while offering positive praise.  Parents can encourage hand-feeding, which usually is well received.  

Tip:  Avoid trying to hide a pill in food.  It will cause disinterest in meals; instead, consider popping the pill directly down their throat and adding a syringe of water afterward. 

Open Dialogue and Reading Books 

Children will continue to have a lot of questions concerning their ailing pet. Since the words may not always come easily, consider using a book or two.  

Consider reading titles such as: 

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, 
  • Ida, Always by Caron Levis, 
  • Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant, 
  • and The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside 

Through a presentation of words and illustrations, each page can ease excessive worry and provide comfort.  Talking about life without the family dog or cat presents strong emotions, but together you can heal and love again! 


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