Saying “goodbye” to your cherished pet is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make. There are many choices you’ll face in your pet’s end of life journey, and they often involve many complex feelings such as:
- Guilt – am I making the right choices?
- Doubt – what if I make the wrong decision?
- Shame – am I being selfish?
- Regret – should I have taken action sooner?
- Relief – is it bad that I feel relieved by my choice?
While the euthanasia decision making process is unique for each pet family, it’s normal to experience these challenging emotions. You’re not alone in asking yourself hard questions and feeling unsure of how to cope and move forward.
You’re Not Alone:
Common Emotions & How to Cope
We know your pet is your family, friend, and companion, and making choices about their end of life care feels absolutely heartbreaking. That’s why it’s common to feel a range of heavy and difficult emotions when you’re faced with these decisions.
Whether you feel totally overwhelmed with emotion or sad and calm, there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to the feelings you’re facing during this difficult phase in your lives.
Giving yourself some grace and learning healthy coping methods for each emotion will help you navigate your path forward and feel more confident with the choices you’re making.
If you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself and wishing for a “redo” button, you’re likely experiencing guilt. End of life care is a lot of responsibility, so it’s very common for feelings of guilt to arise. A guilty thought process may involve questions like:
“Is there anything I could have done to save their life?”
“Am I making the wrong decisions for their wellbeing?”
“Am I responsible for their death?”
Remember that, while it’s not easy, this is an inevitable part of your pet’s journey with you. You are a compassionate pet parent, and you’ve done everything in your power to provide the best life filled with joy and happiness. Even though it feels devastating, you’re deciding how to make his final chapter as comfortable and peaceful as possible because no one else can do it better than you.
Doubt happens when you second-guess yourself and question your capability to make choices on your pet’s behalf. Because the decisions you’re making are enormous and life-changing, you’re worried that you might not make all the “right” choices. Doubt brings up questions like:
“What if I make the wrong choice?”
“What if I decide to euthanize then regret it later?”
“Am I really capable of making the right decision for my pet?”
Reassure yourself that you know your pet better than anyone else in the world, which makes you the most capable person to navigate this journey. Even if the choices are extremely challenging to make, you are the right person to say what’s best for your pet’s quality of life.
Shame is the sense of criticism or embarrassment you’re feeling about yourself in this process. You feel not just that what you’re doing is bad, but that you are a bad person. You’re experiencing negative self-talk and thinking twice about your intentions and behaviors as a pet parent. You may be asking or telling yourself:
“Am I making a selfish decision?”
“Am I a bad pet parent?”
“I’m embarrassed by my emotions during this process”
During this incredibly heartbreaking and sad experience, it’s normal to have big emotions. Allow yourself permission to cry, break down, and express your devastation in a healthy way among family, friends, and your veterinary team. Be kind to yourself and remember that your pet loves you and trusts you with all their heart. You’re 100 percent not a bad person. You’re a loving human in a terrible situation. Trust yourself to make the choices you know are uniquely fitting for your pet’s needs.
Regret or Remorse
Regret happens when you start playing the “should have, could have, would have” dialogue in your mind. It’s one of the most common feelings you’ll face after you make the difficult choice to put your pet to rest. Regretful and remorseful thinking involves questions like:
“Should I have taken action sooner?”
“Did I make the wrong decisions somewhere in my pet’s journey?”
“I feel personally responsible for my pet’s death.”
We know it will be hard, but try your best to avoid focusing on the “what if” questions internally. When you have one of those thoughts, just acknowledge it, then let it go. Practice reaffirming the choices you’ve made, and more importantly, remind yourself why you’ve made them. Validate your decisions and realize you did everything you could to ensure the best quality of life in your pet’s final days.
Relief falls at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from shame, guilt, and regret, and can sometimes feel troubling. That’s why you’re doubting yourself for feeling a strange sense of peace with your decisions or even as if a burden has been lifted off your shoulders. You’re having thoughts like:
“Is it bad that I feel relieved?”
“Why don’t I feel terrible about making these decisions?”
“I feel guilty that I’m oddly at peace with my choice.”
Feeling relief during this time does not diminish your love for your pet. Quite the contrary, it’s healthy and completely normal to take comfort in the idea that you did everything you could, and your pet is no longer suffering.
One of Our Own:
Shea & Emmie’s Story
We’re a team of pet parents, and we understand how heavy these emotions may feel. Dr. Shea Cox, one of our beloved pet hospice experts, experienced these difficult feelings firsthand with her sweet Emmie, following a devastating injury.
Before and after Emmie’s passing, Shea struggled with an array of emotions, including devastation, relief and guilt. This experience is a reminder that there’s never an easy course of action, and it’s normal to feel complex and even conflicting emotions when it comes to your pet’s euthanasia experience.
Support & Resources for You
While navigating the difficult choices you’re facing, take care to surround yourself with support and resources. You don’t have to walk this path alone, and this is a time in your life when it’s beneficial to lean on others for help.
Consider asking for support in all stages of the decision-making process, beginning with the first indication that your pet is facing quality of life challenges.
Join a Support Group.
Connecting with pet parents who are on similar journeys as you can be incredibly valuable and validating. Support groups create the opportunity for you to listen to others’ stories and share your own if you feel comfortable.
Our BluePearl Pet Hospice Facebook Support Group is a supportive, empathetic community filled with coping resources, touching stories, and answers to commonly asked questions to help you in your journey.
Speak with a Professional.
Losing a pet is often just as emotional as losing a human family member, and the complex feelings you’re facing are very real and very challenging. It can be highly therapeutic to talk about your feelings with a professional, who can help you guide your emotional path forward. Consider making an appointment with a mental health professional, or call the ASPCA pet grief hotline: ASPCA (877) GRIEF-10.
Make a Virtual Quality of Life Reservation.
If you’re struggling with the decision-making process and you could benefit from additional support, we invite you to schedule a virtual quality of life consultation. You’ll speak with compassionate veterinary staff who specialize in end of life care and understand your complex emotions.