How To Deal With The Guilt Of Euthanizing A Pet


Banner of a person crying and feeling guilty
Feeling guilty after you put your pet down is normal. You are not alone!

Firstable my deep condolences for your loss, and I am sorry you are having to research this topic. Putting our furry friends down is never easy.

I went through the same heartache you are going through, when I had to put down my beloved springadol, Pancho. I have seen and experienced firsthand the heartbreaking moment when that injection is administered to our beloved furry friends.

Often we wonder if we have done the right thing. The truth is that if you and your vet came to the conclusion that your furry friend needed to be put down, the likelihood is that his/her quality of life is not great. So yes, you have done the right thing.

But you probably already know this, and yet you are still feeling guilty. So, how to deal with the guilt of putting down your pet?

  • Acknowledge your grief
  • Realize you cannot change the past
  • Spend time with your thoughts
  • Chose to have positive thoughts
  • Give your brain a distraction
  • Your guilt is a sign of how much you cared 
  • Forgive yourself
  • Talk about your feelings
  • Remember the great times 
  • Memorialize your pet
  • Understand your pet’s disease or condition 
  • Realize that your decision was the best for your furry friend
  • Realize that you had given your pet the best life you possible could
  • Seek out other people who have also had to euthanize their pet
  • Give your love to another animal in your pet’s memory
  • Do not focus on the event that led to your companion’s death
  • Focus on your good intent
  • Quality of life over quantity
  • Understand that we do not know why. 
  • Take time to grieve.

Coping with guilt and grief is difficult and can be overwhelming, below I go in more depth in each of the points I believe can help you deal with the guilt. Most of them I follow myself when I was grieving for my Pancho.

How To Deal With the Guilt of Euthanizing a Pet

A lot of what you are feeling is part of the grieving process.

The overwhelming pain, anger, and guiltless feelings are all normal, but keep in mind that one day, they will subside. 

Below I give you 20 tips to help you cope with those overwhelming guilt feelings.  

Acknowledge Your Grief

A man acknowledging his grief
To acknowledge your grief, let yourself cry when you need it, allow yourself to shout when you need it, and talk when you need it

Everybody experiences grief differently.

There are people that grieve in stages, having feelings such as anger, denial, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution. Others, experience grief in wave cycles with very low moments followed by flat or even high moments (source: HelpGuide). 

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

The length of grief also varies from person to person. Some people grieve for weeks, others months and some will grieve for years.

To acknowledge your grief, let yourself cry when you need it, allow yourself to shout when you need it, and talk, talk, talk (each “talk” has a link to a helpful resource that will give you someone to talk with if you need to). 

Talking to those close to you, a professional therapist, or an agency dedicated to listening to those grieving, should help you avoid bottling up your feelings.

This is important because, bottling up the overwhelming feelings that you will experience at one point or another while grieving, may send you into a path of depression, anxiety, drug abuse and/or health problems.

Acknowledging your grief doesn’t make you any less strong, but instead allows you to gain a balance, and that is the end goal. To balance your life again and learn to live on a day to day basis without your beloved companion.

Realize You Cannot Change The Past

nothing can change the past
You did it to help your furry companion

You may be thinking that you should have done something differently or tried a different treatment and that this may have kept your pet here with you for longer.  

You may be dealing with the guilt of past decisions. That is normal, and it is part of the grieving process.

However, remember why you did it. It may be that the quality of your pet’s life had deteriorated so much that you couldn’t bear seeing them in pain anymore. Or it may be that you had no option as they had already suffered irreparable damage from whatever illness they were suffering. 

Whatever your reason was for putting your beloved furry friend down, if their quality of life was compromised you did the right thing and nothing would have kept your pet with you longer.

Spend Time With Your Thoughts

A banner with Pancho and the words "spend some time with your thoughts
Pancho spending some time with his thoughts

After you leave your vets office without your companion; you may feel like you need some time alone to think about everything that you have gone through. To gather your thoughts, to grieve, to reflect.

That is exactly what I wanted to do. I felt so uneasy, that I needed some time without any noise, so I went for a walk with my 2-year-old. I just walked and walked; remembering, sobbing, and reflecting.

If you are anything like me, this is the perfect time to recharge batteries and come to terms with what has happened. But remember that if you start to feel overwhelmed there are pet loss hotlines dedicated to help you at this difficult time.  

For those in the USA, these are two popular pet support helplines that you can contact: 

  1. ASPCA: (877) GRIEF-10 or 
  2. Lap of Love (855) 955-5683

Do not let your grieve drown you. Your pet would not have liked that!

Choose To Have Positive Thoughts

A banner with the words Think Positive
Decide to have good thoughts and not negative feelings“. The words of the vet after we lost Pancho

“Decide to have good thoughts and not negative feelings about your experience. Realizing that you cannot change the past and look toward making the future better will help you deal with the guilt of having to put your pet down to sleep”. 

Ok, those were the words of the vet as we were about to leave our beloved springadol’s body behind. I remember thinking: ‘sure easy for you to say that. You are not feeling the intense pain I am feeling, you didn’t even know my Pancho and the void he has left in my heart. What do you know?’

Well, it turns out she knew more than I gave her credit for. Making an effort to have positive thoughts helped me not to get consumed by the overwhelming sadness and grief I was experiencing.

Some steps you can take to help you have positive thoughts are:

  1. Begin each day with positive affirmation
  2. Focus on only good things no matter how small they are
  3. Try to find humor throughout the day
  4. Focus on the present
  5. Find positive friends and coworkers

Remember The Great Times

A collage of Pancho's pictures with the family
Pancho and the family creating memories

“REMEMBER THE GREAT TIMES”

It is a cliche phrase, I know. We hear this phrase over and over. But the truth is that it works. This is part of having those positive thoughts.

Remembering all the great times we had with our beloved pets help us deal with our guilt. 

In the beginning, after we lost Pancho, all I could think about was on the last few days of his life. On the pain he endured, on the seizure he had that ultimately killed him, on the vomiting and disorientation he started to suffer as the bacteria spread through his brain.

My guilt for not being able to pick up the seriousness of the situation on time, my guilt for not cuddling him more, or not having been there when he had the seizure was consuming me.

My friends and family saw my despair, and so I started to receive some beautiful pictures of Pancho enjoying life, running around, causing mayhem with other doggies.

With time I started to feel ready to see photos of Pancho, to remember the many great times by the river, the many great times playing ball, the many great times playing hide and seek, (he used to love when we hid and started to call him to find us. his tails started to wag so fast, but the best part was when he found us. We got so many leaks. Sigh – oh man how I loved that dog, and how he helped my family!)

Don’t get me wrong, at the beginning every time I saw the pictures I started to get upset, but the more I did this, the more my brain focused on the great times we had together with him, and the less it focussed on the last days of his life.

So, spend some time thinking of the fun things that you and your pet would do as well as the funny moments you may have had with your friend. 

Being able to take some time and reflect on the past years you spent with them, and all the joy and excitement that you brought to their life may help you feel less guilty.

Remember the wonderful life, and the great memories you created with your furry companion, this will help you heal.

Give Your Brain a Distraction

A picture of Pancho running
Pancho Running chasing the ball. His favourite past time

Your routine will inevitably change. As a pet owner, this is when we feel the loss of our pets the strongest.

In the 1980s Quackenbush and Glickman surveyed 138 pet owners experiencing pet loss. 93% of the pet owners surveyed reported some disruption in their daily routines, with 70% of those surveyed reporting a decrease in social life (source: Voice of Bereavement).

This abrupt change will send you into a spiral of despair. To help you cope with that absence, try to give your brain something else to think about. This may be:

  1. Volunteer at an animal shelter,
  2. Start a hobby, or
  3. Start to do exercise. I found running helpful when I need to clear my head.

Your Guilt Is A Sign of How Much You Cared

A picture of a woman feeling guitly
That guilt feeling that keeps you awake at night is natural, but it can get very overwhelming, very quick. Don’t let it take over, you did what you did because you and your vet decided it was time!

If you are feeling guilty about having to put your pet to sleep, realize that this is normal and it is one of the signs that show how much you actually cared.

Be kind to yourself, and remember that you did what was needed to ensure your pet did not suffer!  

Forgive Yourself

A blog banner with the words "Our sorrow and wounds are only healed when we touch them with compassion"
Forgiving yourself will be the first step to stop aching so much!

You may be feeling guilty because you could not afford everything possible or you think that you should have been able to do something more.

I know when I was on my walked, the day Pancho died, I started to feel so guilty.

There was question after question coming into my head “How come I didn’t push the vets for more tests? Why didn’t I see how sick he was getting? I should have taking him to another vet!” the thoughts went on and on. I felt I had failed him.

But the truth is I did what I could.

So, realize that you did the best that you could for your pet and forgive yourself for any guilt that you may have because the situation was not exactly how you wanted it.  

Talk About Your Feelings

A picture of 2 people talking
Talk, talk, talk to help you heal

Feeling guilty for putting your pet down is normal.

However, when these feelings become overwhelming, and your thoughts are clouded with fear and/or suicide. Your guiltiness is taking you too far and you need to talk with someone.

Talk to your friend, spouse, or even the staff at your vet clinic. Many of them may have had to also put a pet down to sleep, and may have had some of the same struggles with guilt.  

If you do not have anyone to talk with or want a professional to help you, or it is late at night and no one is available to talk, there are pet loss hotlines that you can contact. Many of these are open very late and can talk with you at any time.  

For those in the USA, these are two popular pet support helplines that you can contact: 

  1. ASPCA: (877) GRIEF-10 or 
  2. Lap of Love (855) 955-5683

Memorialise Your Pet

This is the plant I got to memorialize my Pancho!

A great way to help with the guilt of having to put your pet down is by memorializing them.  

A memorial action for your pet can come in many different ways. 

  1. You can create a memorial spot in your garden. Somewhere you can reflect and remember the good times. This is the one I did, and I love it. I love sitting on a morning summer in my memorial garden with a cup of tea.

If you choose this option, check out my “Best Garden Plants For Pet Memorial” article. This is a guide on what spot to choose, depending on sun, shade, soil, temperature, etc… and gives you ideas of some beautiful plants you can use to create a great memorial spot!

  1. You may want to have a small memorial ceremony. This is particularly great for families with young children. Include the child as much as possible. This way they get to say goodbye to their best friend. 
  1. Some people choose to have their pets cremated and their ashes spread in a special location. Just be careful where you spread the ashes, as ashes can harm plants. Why not consider putting the ashes in a biodegradable urn and let the ashes incorporate with mother earth in time and carefully. This way no plants are harmed.
  1. Some people may choose to keep the cremated remains in an urn at home, and create a special memorial spot for them in the house.

Above are only a few ideas on how to memorialize your pet. For more ideas check this article.

Whatever you choose to do ensure it is a day you do as you feel. If during the creation of your memorial garden you need to cry, just do so. If during the memorial ceremony you need to laugh, that is ok too. Do not withhold your feelings. You are grieving and all feelings are right!

Understand Your Pet’s Disease or Condition 

Understanding that there was nothing you could have done; may help you regulate that guilt feeling!

This is not for everyone. But sometimes it can help.

This is one I did. One of the things I struggled with the most after Pancho died was how little I felt I did for him. So I needed to learn all I could about meningities.

This helped me enormously as it helped me realise that it was not much I could have done for him.

Meningitis, although uncommon, is a disease that develops very fast. Often, by the time we noticed that this is the problem, the bacteria has got hold of the brain to such an extent that is not much anyone can do!

Understanding what caused the final decision, helped me agonize less on what could have been done to change the outcome.

The reality is that if your pet was put down due to an injury, a disease, or old age; the likelihood is that no matter what you have done, the outcome was going to be the same.

Understanding this may help you come to terms with what has happened. It helped me!

Talk to your vet and do a little research on the disease that your pet had. Your vet can easily explain your pet’s condition and the prognosis that your beloved furry friend may have been experiencing. 

Connect with groups on Facebook or other social media platforms.

Talking with people that have gone through the same thing you are going through, may give you some insight on what to expect with your pet’s condition.

Realize That Your Decision Was The Best For Your Pet

Some people may feel guilty because they do not think that they made the right decision.

They may think that they have put their pet down too early or waited too long. 

Thinking with hindsight will always make us doubt what we did and the steps we took.

The truth is that no vet will put a pet down if there are other options, or will allow a pet to go on in agony for a long time without talking to you first.

So, if you and your veterinarian came to the conclusion of putting your beloved furry friend down, the likelihood is that, it was the perfect time. Not too early, not too late, just the right time. 

Realize That You Have Given Your Pet the Best Life You Possibly Could

All your beloved companion ever wanted was love, companionship, attention, food, shelter, play, and pats. 

Realizing that you have given your pet everything possible for them to be happy, healthy, and comfortable, will help you deal with your guilt. 

The likelihood is that you planned your life around them, to make sure that they were cared for.

I know I did. There were times I would cancel family holidays because I couldn’t find the right person to look after Pancho. There were also times where I would come home for lunch so that Pancho wasn’t alone for too long.

Whatever crazy thing you did to make your beloved furry friend feel love, and comfortable; take comfort in the fact that you did everything you could to make sure that your furry companion had the best life you could possibly give them. 

Seek Out Other People Who Have Also Had To Euthanize a Dog

Talk, talk, talk

As an extroverted this is something that really helped me.

Talking to people that have gone through the same thing I was going through but were further along the grieving journey; helped me to feel less lonely and put things into perspective.

You most likely have a friend or family that also had to put down a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a guinea pig, or any other pet. 

They can help you as you go through your guilt.  They can listen to you talk and give you advice on things that they did to help them deal with any guilt. 

Give Your Loved To Another Animal On Your Pet’s Memory 

Ok this is not for everyone and please do thread carefully here. Really consider your options.

A lot of the advise I received after we lost Pancho was to get another dog. But we never did, and I am glad.

At the time, I wasn’t ready to let another doggy into Pancho’s home. Into Pancho’s territory. Even when my friends came to visit me with their dogs, I felt even more guilty. I felt like I was cheating on Pancho.

That is not to say that all the love and grief that I was feeling couldn’t benefit other animals in need of some affection. 

So instead of rushing to get another dog when I was not ready, I volunteer in an animal shelter. This way I was giving love to another animal, without the guilt of putting them in Pancho’s home.

It made me feel great, and it really helped me heal giving love to an animal in need of some love.

Do Not Focus on the Event That Led To Your Dog’s Death

Don’t focus on the events that lead to your pet’s death.

Especially if these events were from an accident or something suddenly.

Instead, think of all the great times that you shared with them and the wonderful memories that you created with them.  

Focus on Your Intent. 

Remember the love you had for your pet, and that your actions were never done with the intent to harm them.

You only wanted your beloved companion to be happy and healthy.

The likelihood is that the actions that led you to put your pet to sleep were extreme pain and suffering, therefore your only option was euthanizing them.

Remember that your intent was for them to never have pain or have to suffer. 

Quality of Life Over Quantity. 

A short good quality of life is better than a long life full of suffering!

Remember that with anything we do there is always some risk involved. 

You want your dog to have a great quality of life, to have fun, to enjoy themselves. Your pet would never have fun sitting in a cage where they can never get hurt or sick.  

A great quality of life for a dog is one where they can run and play.

A great quality of life for a cat is one where they can go roaming the neighborhood and playing with other people.

A great quality of life for a rabbit is one where they can hop around exploring the indoors and outdoors. You get my rift!!!!

Sometimes these freedoms get our pets into trouble.

They may have an accident or develop an illness where they have to be put down.

But it is not to be forgotten that the quality of life that you gave your pet fulfilled them, made them happy, gave them a life full of love and adventure. 

Understand That We Do Not Know Why 

They “why” will consume you if you let it!

Not all illnesses are able to be diagnosed, or sometimes we do not have the funds to explore expensive treatments, or it may be that the tests are so expensive that we cannot afford them and this leads to poor diagnosis.

Whatever has happened that led to your pets’ death, the truth is that often no matter the money we have thrown to help them out, the outcome would have been the same.

But at this time it is not worth you concentrating all your energy on something you cannot change.

Finding the why or going over and over in your head to try and understand “the why”; will not help you come to terms with what has happened, will not help you heal.

Take Time To Grief:

Take your time and do what you feel. Grieving take us all into different paths!

Euthanizing your beloved pet is not an easy decision, but you and your vet arrived at the conclusion that they needed to be put down most likely because their quality of life had deteriorated.

Taking the time to acknowledge your grief, to accept your new reality, to take care of yourself, will help you see things more clearly and accept that you had no option.

Some of the things you can do to help you grief are:

  • See friends or family that understand and are sympathetic to your feelings. Talking about what you are going through will help you deal with your grief.
  • Take some time during the day to sit down with a cup of herbal tea and some music. This is the perfect opportunity to do what you have tried to suppress all day: cry, laugh, shout. There is no right or wrong action here. Simply take the time to acknowledge your grief. Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or even caffeine. These will not help you deal with the overwhelming sensation you are feeling at the moment. They may make you feel worse.

There is not a timeline for grieving. Everyone experiences this differently. Some people’s grief may last a few weeks, some a few months some years. But taking one day at a time, one step at a time will help you heal.

My grief of losing pancho never went away, and I doubt it will ever do.After all he was my baby. But it has changed. I no longer feel overwhelmed. I no longer have the need to cry every time his name is mentioned or I see a photo.

So keep in mind that with time your grief will change too. You will enjoy life again at some stage. For now take it easy!

Conclusion

Putting down a family member will always leave us heart broken, sad, and feeling guilty, that is called grief. 

When you notice that those guilt feelings start creeping in, remember why you did it.

If their quality of life had deteriorated and they were suffering, would it be fair to keep them with us? Will it be fair to prolong their pain and despair?

You did what you did because you loved them and wanted the best for them, and putting them down was ultimately the best thing to do at the time.

But if remembering that love you had for them is not enough, this post has given you 20 tips on how to deal with the guilt of putting down your pet.

Put them in practice, but most importantly give yourself time to grieve.

You have lost someone very special and feeling sad is part of the journey to healing.

Carolina

I'm Carolina and created this blog, to provide practical advice and emotional comfort for those dealing with pet loss.

Recent Posts