Life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers

The decision to have a pet ‘put to sleep’, to choose euthanasia to end their life, is one of the hardest decisions a pet carer may ever have to make.

Even when an animal is suffering and has no hope of recovery, the decision is rarely as clear cut as you might expect. Will tomorrow be a better day? Is it too soon? Have I left it too late? Will they think I’ve given up on them? Will I be able to be strong for them?

These thoughts are all common.

If you’re faced with this heart-breaking decision, we have a number of pages dedicated to information about euthanasia on The Ralph Site. We’d recommend these if you’re worried about what to expect, whether or not you should be present or the aftercare of your pet.

In this blog, however, we wanted to take a look at life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers. It might be helpful to know that, whatever your thoughts and feelings, you’re not alone.

Common feelings after euthanasia

Some people experience a strong sense of peace, of having chosen a final kindness for their pet after euthanasia. We often talk about putting an animal ‘out of their misery’ and this can be the case when a pet has been very unwell or badly hurt.

But, for others, euthanasia can raise a whole host of difficult thoughts and feelings that are extremely traumatic for the bereaved pet carer. This is something that comes up a lot in The Ralph Site Facebook group.

Common feelings after euthanasia include:

  • Guilt (“I shouldn’t have given up”, “I should have noticed something was wrong sooner”, “I should have asked for a second opinion”)
  • Worry that it was too soon or too late
  • Repetitive thoughts about the pet being stressed and scared at the end
  • Fear that the pet wanted to live and their trust in us was betrayed
  • Worry that there might have been a different, unexplored avenue of treatment that was overlooked

So often, people worry that if they’d have done something different, their pet might still be alive. In the pain and fog of grief, it can be hard to reflect objectively on the reasons for choosing euthanasia.

Also, if your pet became ill or injured unexpectedly, you may feel that you didn’t have time to think about what to do. If you followed your vet’s advice, you may question whether it was the right course of action.

Many people in The Ralph Site Facebook group also talk about replaying their pet’s final moments in their mind over and over again. This can be relentless at first or even for some time afterwards. They can worry that they’ll never be able to remember the good times again.

Every person is different but many of us experience emotional or behavioural responses to having a pet put to sleep.

Other feelings you may find yourself experiencing include:

  • Denial
  • Disorientation
  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger
  • Regret

Many people talk about feeling like they’re ‘going crazy’ or that they’ll never be the same again. It’s usual too to focus on all the lost moments you will never share with your pet.

You may have a disconnected feeling where you emerge from the moments after your pet has died to find that the world is carrying on with no understanding of what you’ve just lost. This can be even more pronounced with euthanasia.

Grief can affect how we behave. Some people find they can’t move their pet’s possessions – water in a bowl is left to evaporate, blankets in a bed stay tangled from the last sleep, toys are scattered around the house – while other people pack everything away immediately, feeling that they can’t bear the constant reminders of their loved one.

Some people struggle to sleep in the bed without their pet snuggled by their side, while others just want to sleep every day away.

You may feel a compulsion to talk about your pet, to memorialise them or to recount the details of their death as much as possible. Equally, you may find yourself withdrawing from people because you don’t feel anyone can understand your loss.

People may reassure you that euthanasia was the last gift and kindness you had to give your pet but you may feel like it was less of a gift and more of a poison chalice.

My point in discussing these thoughts and feelings is to reassure you that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ response to euthanasia or bereavement. Every feeling I’ve mentioned here has been experienced many times over. You are not alone.

The most important thing to remember is that, whatever led you to the decision that euthanasia was the best option for your pet, you were trying to do the right thing for them. Vets do not recommend euthanasia lightly and will always advocate for an animal if they think there is an alternative. You knew your pet best and did not want them to suffer. Letting them go is a selfless act when forever wouldn’t be long enough together.

Many people wish that their pet could give them forgiveness or send them a sign that they understand why euthanasia was necessary. In the potential absence of this, the forgiveness has to come from within and that can take time.

If you are struggling with life after euthanasia, please do reach out for support. There are some wonderful pet bereavement counsellors out there and many, many people within The Ralph Site community who understand your feelings.

Above all, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

 

17 thoughts on “Life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers

  1. Katherine Burton

    Thank you so much for this information. We had to have our 12 year old Shih Tzu put to sleep 3 weeks ago, after a short illness & I for one, have been struggling with most of the feelings you have listed. I’m trying to be strong for my daughter, who is also not dealing with it, her anxieties & stress are coming out physically in her body, eczema, stomach cramps, constant tiredness. Mine are exhibiting as constantly feeling guilty, wondering if I could have done things differently, crying daily & as you’ve mentioned, playing her final moments over in my head.
    It is reassuring to know that the way we are dealing with our loss is not unusual.

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  2. Karen

    My 16 1/2 year old little dog Bunty was euthanized four weeks ago today and I can relate to so many things in this article. So many things constantly go through my mind and I cry on a daily basis. She was my first dog and my heart dog. I know that helping the pass away is the kindest thing we can do as per owners but it’s also by far the hardest.

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    1. TheRalphSite Post author

      My condolences on your loss, Karen. You are so right that many pet carers struggle with this situation. Doing the kindest thing for our beloved companions brings with it much pain for many people. I hope that in time this will get easier for you. Shailen.

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  3. Cindy

    I feel so much guilt for euthanizing my 8yr old dog. He had cancer and once he wasn’t able to go potty, we made the decision. I regret it, but in the end, there was no cure for him.

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    1. Christine McCall

      It is 10 weeks today since I had to make the terrible decision to have my precious Charlie cat put to sleep. He was 1 month short of his 16th birthday. Not a day has passed when I don’t feel/think all those things. The last 3 days of his precious life were spent in the emergency vet hospital looked after by strangers. I was with him at the end and those three days and his final moments in my arms will haunt me for a long time 😿💔

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  4. Karin Baldwin

    thank you – my two ponies were euthanized together with me by their sides on 6th January and i cannot get passed the grief of missing them. I know i did the right thing and the vet was in agreement but i miss them so much and just cry every day. My world seems pointless although i am extremely lucky and have a wonderful husband dog and four cats.

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  5. Karla

    He said yes to us on the drive to the vet.
    He said yes when the doctor and vet tech came to the car
    and he didn’t lift his head, just looked up with tired eyes.
    He said yes when he laid his head in my hands.
    He raised it briefly with the poke of the needle
    and rested it in my hands again before the sedative.
    He was so tired. He was ready.
    We are never ready to let go of love.

    He said yes and we said yes, and our hearts broke open to infinity.

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  6. Barb

    I put my two GSD siblings down yesterday. They were 13 years old and both were struggling. My boy lost feeling in his back and was unable to walk, quit eating and drinking. My girl had been a cancer survivor twice but was panting excessively over the last few months and struggling to walk. They had never been separated since birth and did not do well if one was at an appointment or on a walk without the other. This has been rather most difficult and painful thing I’ve been through in years. They were my everything, my purpose. It has only been a day but the hole left in my heart hurts so bad. You don’t mention depression. Yes I’m grieving but when your pet(s) are nearly your everything, it’s like losing a mate.

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    1. cynthia

      I knew a neighbor who was sometimes very abrupt and not friendly, but who loves his Cocker Spaniel, Buddy. I’m an extrovert and always acknowledge people I encounter. I had not seen Roger for some time and one evening I saw him walking at night holding a leash but no Buddy. He told me that he had had to put Buddy to sleep, perhaps it had been cancer? He was concerned because he had also lost a brother but that the grief over losing Buddy was so much more. I’m not an especially wise woman and often wish I could retract sometihng I’ve said but I believe I helped Roger and hope it may help you. The relationship we have with our animals is so pure, unlike the complications with humans. Our animals love us without placing restrictions or conditions and we return that love. People, on the other hand, no matter how beloved are always a mixed bag. I have lost family and still cry for those losses, but the loss of my horses and dogs is an especially bitter pain because it is a decision I make for them.

      I am nearing 80 and no longer able to care for a new horse or a new dog, but I hold memories of those past close to my heart and shed tears now and again for every one of them, and myself. Blessings to you.

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    2. Andy

      I lost my 15 year old dog today. She had been struggling with typical old age ailments. Yesterday I knew it was time. . Luckily my vet Camaro my home this morning. She was laying by her favorite window when she passed. I am crushed. I am also experiencing all the things in this article. I picture her last moments over and over. The pain is unbearable.

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  7. Sophie

    I had to euthanise my 20 year old cat last wednesday.
    He was hyperthyroid and very skinny i was always worried that one day i would wake up and he would lie dead somewhere. Last tuesday he came greeting me at the backdoor and he was walking like he was drunk his body tilted and then he fell. I had to pick him up to get him to his eating bowl… i was scared to leave him alone.
    So i decided that it was time for him to rest, i slept with him on the sofa downstairs for his last night. All cuddled up, i love the smell of his paws and he always held my arm with his two paws. I have had many cats but Ziggy was special, he was run over by a car when he was 3 years old. I went to the veterinarian hospital where they reconstructed one leg. My family was laughing at me, how could i spend so much money on just a cat. But i got to keep a happy cat that was Sophie greatful he behaved more like a dog. Even when i was on the toilet he opened the door and sat on my lap.
    When the vet came to euthanize him, he litterally had a fight with the vet. And now i think he didnt want to go, that i acted to quickly… but i couldnt watch him falling over, he deserved peace. He was 20 and had been sick for a year…
    I cant help but feel guilty, the house is so empty without him, although i have 2 other cats. But like i said Ziggy was special❤️

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  8. Angela

    I had to turn my son’s life support off on 24th August 2023 and on the 29th August I had to send my cat over Rainbow Bridge when the pea sized tumour grew so big in just 12 days he could no longer eat. He would have starved to death had I not taken to my vet. She had been his vet his whole life when he was a newborn found in our street. She cried when she sedated him so we could spend some time with him without him being hungry and in pain. He was 20 years one month and 18 days.

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    1. Thelna Rafferty

      I don’t feel so alone now as the date of my euthanized besty Gismo is next week. He was losing his sight and within a couple of weeks lost so much weight couldn’t eat but tried to, walked into things and finally was toppling over, he was 15 years and eight months. I was struggling with his illness and incontinence getting so annoyed and I will never forgive my behaviour which makes my loss even worse. He didn’t have a good end and his eyes were begging me to let him go. I laid on the floor with him the night before he crawled towards me and we both knew. At the vet after the sedative his eyes looked so bright as he looked at me and I held him saying goodbye as he drifted away. I cry off and on but I have lovely videos and pictures of him his lifetime friend Poppy misses him too. Will I ever stop crying when I think of my little maltese.

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  9. Robbie Davis

    It has been almost 1 month since I had to make the decision to end my sweet sweet Gracie’s life. She was a 3 1/2 year old Yorkie just a baby. She was my baby. We found out a year ago that she had lymphoma she was so brave through all the chemotherapy all the traveling we did to the Vet Oncologist.
    Gracie only had a reaction to one chemo treatment but all the others she was fine. The last chemotherapy was about a week before she died her blood cells ( red, white and platelets) depleted even then she acted like she felt fine. The last day of her life she was sick and I just knew everyone told they will let you know. My daughter came and the Veterinarian came to my house it was very peaceful I suppose. I could not work for a week I’m a ICU nurse. Since I have been back everyone is nice, just like you said life doesn’t stop. I cry almost everyday I miss her following me everywhere sleeping with me car rides and walks in our neighborhood. I understand life will go on maybe each day is a little better I love her she was the best❤️

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  10. Karen

    Thank you for this. I am struggling so hard right now. My puppy (he was 2.5 yrs old) struggled since birth with metabolic issues that resulted in many different physical problems-but he had the biggest happiest personality. Tuesday night this week, he jerked awake screaming-and I thought he had hurt his back again. I gave him meds prescribed to him from a previous slipped disc. Took him to his vet the next day-cause pain wasn’t relenting. Four hours later, when he should have been making improvement, he started having difficulty walking. Turns out he either ruptured the disc or had a spinal stroke. Surgery was an option…but he was high risk. I couldn’t stand the thought of him never being able to walk again, or not coming out of surgery. I couldn’t imagine his quality of life being locked up most of the day in order to recover following surgery-and having to physically restrict him the rest of his life to prevent future injuries. I made the decision to free him from his failing body. It’s killing me. He’s been gone for 1 day, and I feel like this pain will never end-and i feel guilty. You’re comments are reassuring-because I feel terrible and keep wondering if I made the right decision. I just couldn’t imagine the struggles he’d continue to face. And it was likely he could continue to have these because of metabolic disease. The house is just so empty now. His big brother (10 yrs old) and I just keep waiting for him to come running into the room, lighting it up. We loved him so much.

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  11. Ang wynn

    Rocky and I spend a lot of time together . He pulled me out of a deep depression and I felt happiness again. I knew his time was coming… he was telling me. But I wasn’t ready! I thought I’d have the summer to love on him, yo make his last days happy ones. Then it hit him so fast. He didn’t know who I was! I took him to have him out to sleep, thinking he would calm down enough to see me. That didn’t happen. It was horrible. So I am left with a great love and a horrible goodbye. I don’t feel him. And I am sinking lower and lower. I wish I could picture him on the rainbow bridge, by my preacher preached a sermon on how that was not true…. So I have no peace.
    I’ve lost a mother and stepmother, so I know loss. But this is different because we spend most of our time together… and his personality was so good for me.

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