GUILTY – My Epiphany on Guilt and Pet Euthanasia

My Epiphany on Guilt and Pet Euthanasia

by Dr. Kari Trotsky
Peaceful Endings for Pets

One of the main components that goes into end of life care is guilt. Guilt can invade almost any thought process we have about the subject and I’m here to tell you that it’s normal and necessary. No one can avoid it, but once you recognize it, you can let it go.LabBoyGrief

Why do people have guilt? Let me count the ways! First, once you decide on euthanasia and set up an appointment to have it done, guilt can start to set in. Some people feel that they are almost acting like God when they set a time for a pet’s death. Others feel that they failed their pet by getting to the point of euthanasia. If only they did one more thing, or if they did something differently, there would be a better outcome. Another reason can be financial. If people don’t have the financial means to run tests and provide treatment (even if those tests end up showing that there’s nothing that can be done anyway), they feel guilty by letting money get in the way of caring for their pet. And, a big one is deciding when is the right time. If they have euthanasia done too soon, are they cutting their pet’s life short? Or, have they waited too long and their pet is needlessly suffering? And to make matters worse, people can have several of these issues going on in their head simultaneously, leading to even more guilt.

My answer to this is to recognize guilt’s presence, feel it, realize it’s normal and necessary, then let it go. Easier said than done. But, if you are feeling any guilt at all, it’s only because you love your pet so much that you want everything to be black and white and perfect in your decision making. But, it’s never black in white. In fact, the whole thing is gray. There’s no right or wrong time to set up a euthanasia appointment, it is a gray area. For many pets, there is a window of when euthanasia is not wrong. Some people choose euthanasia at the outset of this window, which isn’t wrong, and some people decide to hang on a little longer, and that is not wrong either. It depends on a multitude of factors such as your beliefs, your financial situation, your ability to provide home care for your pet, your pet’s condition, your pet’s comfort, etc.

In addition, it’s okay not to be able to pay $3,000 for an MRI, or $6,000 for surgery. Not everyone has the means to do everything and that’s just a fact of life. Sometimes, there are things that CAN be done medically, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you or your pet. Veterinarians went to school to heal and cure pets. So, it’s in our nature to want to fight and do everything medically possible for your pet. But, ultimately, it’s your decision to let your veterinarian know when you decide not to go further with diagnostics or treatment.

But, the real reason why I say guilt is normal, is because I felt it, too! I know better because I counsel people on it. I tell people when nothing more, medically, can be done. I let them know they did everything they could. I mention that we all must go at some point. But when it came time to euthanize my own pets, I found myself telling them, “I’m sorry.” That was an epiphany to me!  And, after much thought, I believe that I said I was sorry simply because it was time for them to leave me. And, if there was anything I could have done, or didn’t do, I just wanted them to know I was sorry. But, deep down I knew that my pets loved me unconditionally and knew I would do anything possible for them, so there was no need to say sorry.  But, our emotions are not always rational. Guilt does nothing but eat away at us and cloud our great memories of a lifetime of love shared together. But, as long as you made the decision to euthanize with love in your heart for them, then the decision was right. You can release the guilt and move through to the next part of grief – missing them so much that it hurts.

If you find that you are having a really hard time moving through your grief, reach out to a support group, whether it’s in person or online, read a book on the subject, have a memorial ceremony with friends and family, or find a therapist that specializes in pet grief specifically (not all therapists do). I have information on my website under Pet Grief Resources. Pet grief is real and it is okay to seek help. Other animal lovers get it and understand it.

10 Responses to “GUILTY – My Epiphany on Guilt and Pet Euthanasia”

  1. Max JonesMay 10, 2017 at 5:44 pm #

    I’m glad that pet euthanasia guilt is normal like you said. My family is likely going to have to put down our dog of 6 years after he was hit by a car, and even though pet euthanasia would end his suffering, we don’t want him to go. I’m hoping we can come to terms that he’s uncomfortable and euthanasia is going to help him. Thank you for the article.

  2. Diana KirkseySeptember 17, 2017 at 3:04 am #

    I just put my beloved Pug Sophie to sleep 2 days ago and I’m agonizing over every detail wondering if I did it too soon.
    2 weeks prior she fell to her side and could not walk, her head tilted to the side. We took her to the emergency and the vet did blood tests and observed her for a few hours before saying we would try predihisone and ear meds in case it was swelling from an inner ear infection. She was doubtful but wanted to try this.
    Sophie got better but continued to pant terribly (the panting had been getting worse the past few months) and was able to walk albeit wobbly and still slightly tilted. The steroids were being tapered down for 3 or so days when Sophie suddenly did not want to move and acted like it was hard for her to get up. She just wanted to sleep and when she was awake she was panting and seemed miserable. I took her back to the vet and the vet said since the tilt and other symptoms, albeit better, were still there and she was now getting where she didn’t want to drink and eat that it was time to think about quality of life as the symptoms pointed towards a brain issue (most likely tumor). Sophie did not seem very responsive by this time either.
    After agonizing over this I did hold her as she was put to her final sleep but now the guilt is just horrendous wondering if I should have waited, or did something differently.
    I mostly write this as I needed to talk about it with people who may have been in this type of situation before.

    Thank you for your time


    • Dr. Kari Trotsky
      Dr. Kari TrotskyJuly 2, 2018 at 2:02 am #

      Diana, I’m so sorry for your loss. Please know there doesn’t seem to be anything else you could have done. Hopefully, after time has passed, you are feeling ok. Take care.

  3. RupaOctober 23, 2017 at 3:21 am #

    Thank you for this article. My wife and I are experiencing horrible feelings of guilt over having to put our cat to sleep. We had him for 6 years and he was the sweetest thing ever. It has only been one day since we let him go so the feelings are very raw and painful. It is small comfort to know that this is normal and only means that we made a difficult decision and loved him so much. Thank you

  4. Robyn AthertonFebruary 9, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

    I recently decided to put my dog to sleep. She had bone cancer in her back right leg and was limping/crying all the time. She was still capable of eating – yet she wasnt as lively as normal. She is 11 years old ans going through chemo/amputation would just cause her last few years/months to be horrible. The vet put her on pain meds in hopes she’d cope with it. She started to vomit out her pain medicine for the cancer, and when I took her to the vet, I decided to euthanize her instead of prolonge the pain or cause her to go through the pain. When the vet was putting in the injection to make her sleep, my dog looked so lively and excited. Her tail was wagging and she even kissed the vet.
    I feel so guilty now. I wonder if I put her down too soon. I love her so much and I feel incredibly guilty. I cant help but wonder if I could have done something else. Can anyone give me reassurance that I did the right thing or give me advice on how to handle this?

    • Dr. Kari Trotsky
      Dr. Kari TrotskyJuly 2, 2018 at 1:54 am #

      Robyn, I’m so sorry for your loss. I believe there are factors beyond our knowledge for things like this. For example, I believe dogs don’t see death like we do. We sometimes see it as an ending, whereas I believe pets see it as a transition. It could be that your pet’s soul was happy to “go home”, knowing that she’ll see you again one day. Or, you could look at it another way. It would be better for her to transition in a happy state vs in pain and scared. I know you made the right decision because you made it out of love. There is no one right or wrong moment. It is a “gray zone” of when it is time for euthanasia. Put your guilt at ease. I don’t see anything wrong with your decisions regarding her medical care. Focus, instead, on the fun times you had together, as hard as it may be.

  5. CathleenFebruary 26, 2018 at 12:20 am #

    A wild girl who loved to run with her ears back and loved to play chase I miss her so much so very much.

    • Dr. Kari Trotsky
      Dr. Kari TrotskyJuly 2, 2018 at 1:44 am #

      I understand the pain you are in. It’s hard but try to focus on the great memories I’m sure you shared.

  6. AnastasiaJuly 3, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

    Just made this painful decision today , he’s name was Diablo a brindle Staffy , he was 14 and 8 months old. On the day after my birthday he suddenly collapsed and fell down a full flight of stairs at home , ( no broken bones and I managed to slow his fall down avoiding extra damage )he recoverd enough that we took him vets first thing next day and was advised to have a x-ray done , we did and on the same day was told he had heart disease , he started medication and I was very punctual with every dose , I also made low salt meals with fresh chicken , or a scrumbbled egg as a treat. He seemed to get better after 2 days , then he stared to have more what I later found to to be syncope fainting , so took him back in , was told not much could be done apart for going to a dog cardiologist , but I am unable to afford £600 I was quoted , also the vet said he would need more tests and that even then it might not help him , I was told he could stay on his meds but that they didn’t seem to help much at this point . He had so much love to give and still wanted to be around us but his heart and lungs made it painful for him .

    Today I put my fur-angel to sleep , I could not bare the thought of him suffering and wanted for him to die with no pain and with dignity , he looked so sad after he soiled himself during the fainting attacks , and his favorite thing was walkies time , he could no longer walk for more then 4 or 5 meters without being out of breath and gasping for air , he still liked to eat and wagged his tail so this made it even harder . My partner made the bravest decision and staid in the room through the whole process , I was hysterical so left as didn’t want to make my angel feel bad , I come back once he was at peace , this has been one of the most painful things in my life . I feel guilty that I didn’t do more .
    He was my best friend and I will never forget him , Rest in peace Diablo , 11/11/03 – 03/07/18

    • Dr. Kari Trotsky
      Dr. Kari TrotskyJuly 23, 2018 at 12:46 am #

      Cyber hugs ((Anastasia)). Syncope is very serious. And the fact that he couldn’t walk 4-5 meters without gasping for air makes me think his heart was near the end. Most likely the cardiologist wouldn’t have been able to do much more. Do not feel guilty. You did nothing wrong.

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