Dying of grief after euthanizing rabbit
January 19, 2015 5:06 PM   Subscribe

I had to euthanize my rabbit of five years -- and my only pet -- very suddenly. How do I even begin to recover from this?

A few weeks ago my baby lionhead mix -- or not such a baby, since he just turned six -- developed a fatal gastrointestinal blockage virtually overnight (we later found out that it was a small hairball that he could not pass). Over the next few hours he bloated up like a balloon, and he was obviously in terrible pain. I took him to the emergency vet twice before they delivered the verdict: either pay for a high-risk surgery that he had only a slim chance of surviving, or put him to sleep. Deciding that I couldn't put him through the trauma of surgery, I signed the papers to have him euthanized. The whole thing happened so fast and I found myself feeling almost completely numb, even as I was sobbing the entire time. I could not (and still cannot) believe that I had chosen to do something so horrible, although both the emergency vet and my rabbit's primary vet told me I was doing the right thing.

I can't stop crying. This rabbit got me through a large chunk of my twenties (college, relationships, finding and losing jobs) and traveled several hundred miles with me when I had to pack up and move across the country. He was always there to climb around on my back and demand head scratches while I watched Netflix or played video games on my laptop. He was one of the few things I had to look forward to after working long hours at my crummy job, despite the fact that he would mostly nap and shit all day (and was far too skittish to be held or cuddled). He totally depended on me, and I failed him. He wasn't even that old, and other than chronic stomach problems (which I usually treated at home, without having to go to the vet) his health was perfect. I would give anything just to see him one more time. I had to put his cage and all his toys away in a box in the garage because every time I saw them I would momentarily forget that he wasn't here anymore. I trudge around with so much guilt these days: I space out and shuffle around like a zombie at work, and eating anything is a monumental chore. I also stopped exercising, and going out anywhere with friends. I just don't care about anything anymore...

People try to comfort me by telling me about the Rainbow Bridge, and while I believe in an afterlife the whole Rainbow Bridge thing just rubs me the wrong way. They also ask me when I'm going to get another rabbit. That would be like asking me when I plan on replacing my child. Not to mention, how do I know that a new rabbit wouldn't be struck down in exactly the same way -- because the vet said this can happen to rabbits without warning -- and I would be suddenly forced to choose euthanasia again? I can't go through that twice.

(The worst of it, though? I'm not so sure that this couldn't have been prevented. Once we got home I went and obsessively read up on the house rabbit literature regarding bloat and GI problems, and most seemed to be of the consensus that "hairballs" were a myth, even though the primary vet did the necropsy and said that's what it was, and that nothing I had done as an owner had caused it [he was getting a "proper" diet of unlimited timothy hay and fresh filtered water, and a couple hours outside his cage each day, along with semi-regular brushing]. What's more, while the clinic billed itself as specializing in small animal treatment, it wasn't on the list of the House Rabbit Society recommended clinics. The nearest HRS-approved clinic was about forty minutes away, but I couldn't imagine driving all that way, paying for another examination, and possibly being told the exact same thing, especially when 1) my rabbit's regular exotics vet was already there examining him and 2) my SO and I had discussed the possibility of euthanasia before leaving for the vet the second time because of how rapidly my baby was declining. I freely admit that perhaps I'm losing my mind over something that really couldn't be avoided... but any chance at all to save him or prevent him from going through this terrible thing would have been a chance, and one that I didn't take.)

I'm trying to get in touch with some kind of psychotherapist (I have an untreated mental illness that has been greatly exacerbated by losing my baby), but I doubt seeing someone will even begin to touch the depth of grief that I feel. My SO has been very supportive in all this, but I really don't know what to do. People say to remember the good times, but all I can think about is the terrible way he went. He didn't deserve that.

tl;dr: I euthanized my sick rabbit, don't know if I did the right thing, and don't know how to live life without him.
posted by comewithallgoodthings to Pets & Animals (49 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You absolutely did the right thing for your rabbit friend.

I had a houserabbit for ten years and a half (college, cross-country moves, marriage, divorce, cross-country again) and he was my constant companion. He was really sick before Christmas (he broke his hind leg) but I made the decision to wait. I spent two days sobbing over him and decided to euthanize on the 26th, only to wake up Christmas morning to discover he passed away during the night.

I wish I had had the guts to have euthanized him earlier, since he was in so much pain. I admire that you were much more loving, mature, and respectful of your friend than I had been of mine, and if I could go back and change those few days, I absolutely would. They can't talk. We just have to make the best guess we can.

You did the right thing. You did the right thing. You absolutely did the right thing.
posted by mochapickle at 5:19 PM on January 19, 2015 [45 favorites]

Oh dear. My heart is breaking for you right now, and I wish I could give you the peace you need so that the grief you feel doesn't overwhelm you.

Whenever an animal we love is affected in this way, we have to remember that though they are there for us as friends and companions, we are their ultimate steward and protector. If we know an animal is suffering, and the only option is to ease that pain by putting them to sleep, we are doing right by that animal by not asking them to suffer more just because we need them in our lives. Your rabbit served you in the best possible ways, and you in turn did everything to keep him happy, healthy, and safe. It shows tremendous strength and kindness on your part that you knew what needed to be done and were willing to take care of your boy in this way. (And remember, most vets don't suggest euthanasia lightly; that means you operated with the best advice and tools at hand that you could have.)

You are brave and good and kind. Your rabbit was incredibly lucky to have had you as his champion. Rest easy -- you did all the right things and at the right time. For what it's worth, when each of my pets had to be put to sleep, the change and challenges they left in their passing helped me grow so much stronger. They gave me a tremendous gift by showing me how to find myself and my courage. Maybe you will find the same as you process your grief (and there is no need to rush through it, either).

So much love to you and your rabbit.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm so, so sorry. I'm old, and pets don't live as long as people, and I've lost pets and had to have pets put to death, and it is heartbreaking, and sometimes years later I will tear up when I chance to remember one of them. The deeper the love you had, the sharper the pain.

Still, your reaction does call for more than sympathy. If you have an "untreated mental illness" you MUST get some help, immediately, especially considering some of the symptoms you list (not eating, not exercising, not going out). Your rabbit had an emergency, now you have one. At the very least, find someone to talk to, who can prescribe medication to help you through this in the short term.

And as much as you can, try to stop thinking "I failed my rabbit." He was bloated, he was obviously in extreme pain, TWO vets told you the same thing: to euthanize him was the best thing to do. The fact that you had a necropsy on the rabbit, the results were an unpassed hairball, and yet you're second-guessing the reality of his pain based on "internet consensus that hairballs are a myth" -- this as much as any other symptom reflects the confusion you're in. A therapist (certainly does not need to be a psychotherapist) can't help you with your grief; only time can do that. But a therapist can help you through the thorn thicket you find yourself in.
posted by kestralwing at 5:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [20 favorites]

You absolutely, positively did not fail him. You did the most responsible, caring, loving thing you could have done. I know that doesn't make the grief any less (and grieving is natural and necessary), but please try not to feel guilty for anything other than loving your pet and trying to do the best by him.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:26 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yes, you did the right thing.

It's completely normal to agonize over this. I still occasionally wonder if putting my first cat to sleep was the right thing, even though he couldn't breathe well and couldn't keep any food in him. I don't think that will ever go completely away.. but with time you will learn to deal with it. It's all a part of the grieving process. It's how your mind deals with loss.

Your gave your baby six wonderful years of love and a warm happy home. You did everything you possibly could for him. You were a good rabbit-parent. Try to take comfort in that.
posted by royalsong at 5:26 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had a very sick six-year-old cat, and instead of being strong enough to make the choice to let him go, I went into debt and did the surgery I thought would help him. It didn't, and post-surgery his quality of life was horrible. I regret so much the medical procedures I put him through in his last months. I wish I'd had the courage to make the choice that you did -- to know that it was kinder to let him go than to put him through intensive and painful procedures with little chance of success. I would never, ever do what I did again.

You made the best possible decision after giving your rabbit a loving, safe, stable home.
posted by gladly at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

You did the right thing. Sometimes, being a responsible animal owner means having to make the hard choices, and you did that--you did the thing that hurt you because it was the thing that was best for your rabbit. You did the best you could with the information you had in an emergency situation. That is the most, bar none, that anyone can expect you to do. You did not fail.

Be kind to yourself; you are clearly hurting. If it would make you feel better to spend time around other rabbits, or another pet like a cat, do that. If it would make you feel horrible to do it, don't do it--don't pressure yourself into doing anything. If you got another rabbit tomorrow, that would be okay. If you never got another rabbit ever again because you miss your rabbit too much, that would also be okay. Whatever feels right to do right now? That's the right choice.
posted by sciatrix at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Please don't second guess yourself or your vets. You absolutely, positively did the right, most compassionate and loving thing for your beloved companion. Sometimes people and animals have catastrophic health problems even though everything about their lifestyle was right. It's unfair, but it happens all the time. You also did the right thing by not dragging the suffering animal to get yet another option from another vet because they had a special credential. You didn't fail at all. You did everything right in a terrible and difficult situation. Please don't feel guilty. Grief is hard enough without manufacturing reasons to blame a tragic loss on yourself.

I think seeing a therapist is a fantastic idea. They can help you with the acute matters and also with the previously untreated matters. There's no magic cure for grief. The therapist won't be a magic cure. But, therapy along with good self care and being good to yourself can help ease the pain. The pain will recede with time, even if it's impossible to imagine now. It will.

People often say unhelpful things when it comes to death of any kind. And, people deal with grief differently, some people find great healing in giving a home to a new animal who needs a guardian. Even if that's not how you feel (which is absolutely fine), people aren't trying to be cruel when they suggest it. But, it's fine for you to cut those conversations short if they're not helpful.

Wishing you peace as you go through this.
posted by quince at 5:35 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

You did the right thing. You did the right thing. You were a great advocate for your baby. You did the right thing.

If you have an untreated illness, by all means take the steps to treat it. But I want to tell you, these feelings that you're having are 100% normal. I've had them for every pet that I've had to make the decision for, including my cat in August.

This is how you're going to get through. You're going to cry and grieve for your baby. That's normal, and don't let anyone tell you it's not. You're going to claw through day by day, and then a week will have gone by. You'll write it a letter, or post a eulogy on FB or Tumblr. And then a month will have gone by. Then your rabbit's anniversaries/birthday will come and go and you'll look at pictures and be gutted again. But you're going to drag through like a soldier through muddy trenches and one day, maybe even while you're still grieving you'll find another furry thing to love. Not a replacement, because we all know that's impossible and every furry thing is different. But another one, and you'll tell that rabbit what a freaking GREAT rabbit came before him/her.

Hugs to you. You did the right thing. You did the right thing.
posted by kimberussell at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have owned / been owned by 4 rabbits and fostered over a dozen more, including one with ongoing GI issues who had to be euthanized for a blockage.

In your situation I would have done exactly what you did. You need to let yourself off the hook here, you did exactly the right thing after an illness you could not have foretold or prevented happened. Bad things just happen sometimes.

You are not a bad person, in fact you gave that bunny a great life for over 5 years and you acted quickly to relieve his pain. Good job. Things will get better, I promise.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2015 [13 favorites]

A year and a half ago I had to put my beloved golden retriever, Lily, down. She has cancer and was in so much pain I made the decision to help her die rather than pursue the leg amputation and radiation the vet specialists were offering. She was nearly 9. It seemed like I'd be keeping her around just for me, not for her and that seemed cruel. My logical brain absolutely believes it was the kind thing to do. My emotional brain worries that I killed my sweet baby, that I should have done anything the doctors suggested to extend her life. But I fight those thoughts knowing it was my job as her mom to keep her from suffering if I had the power to do so.

I already had a second golden, which helped with the empty house and keeping me occupied with caring for another animal who needed me. I know your grief is so heavy, but I gently suggest that maybe those who ask when you are getting another rabbit are giving you good advice. Your beloved rabbit can never be replaced, but you have unlimited room in your heart to love a new animal. The shelters are filled with rabbits who need good homes and the number of people who would consider a rabbit as a pet is much lower than cat/dog people. There is another animal out there when you are ready who would be lucky to be loved and cared for by you.
posted by cecic at 5:47 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened. I know how badly this hurts and I know about questioning whether you did the right thing. I hope you can try to think of it this way. All of us die, absolutely, no matter what. A quick death, with no suffering, is a gift, perhaps the greatest gift. When we have loved an animal so much, we are sometimes allowed to give them this one final gift. Given time I think you will feel better about this and know in your heart that you did the right thing. Its going to be O.K.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:50 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

We just had to say goodbye to our dog of 19 (!) years. He holds such a special place in our hearts and that will never change. I don't second-guess my actions or the vet's diagnosis. We gave him the very best care we could throughout his life and at the end of it, as I know you did. I take comfort in that and in all of the great memories. We will have another pet when WE are ready. I don't care for the "rainbow bridge" metaphors either. I just know he and we were blessed to know each other.

I wish I could give you a hug. It does get easier with time. Promise.
posted by harrietthespy at 6:05 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

You absolutely did the right thing. I've had many small pets (hamsters and rats), and have had to make the euthanasia decision several times. It's so tough, but we do our best, from a place of love. I've had to euthanize 2 of my pets for intestinal blockage -- with small animals, there's really not much you can do when this happens. I had a superb vet, and she told me the same that your vet told you: very risky surgery, very little chance that the animal would pull through or have a decent quality of life afterward. She really knew her stuff and I trusted her advice to euthanize, but it's always a hard choice, and you always think "what if ..." but these things happen.

The important thing is to give these little guys love and companionship during their short life, and when you're ready there will be another special someone who needs your care.
posted by phoenix_rising at 6:05 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really feel for you. I just pulled my little dog closer for cuddles!

As everyone has said above, you didn't fail your bunny AT ALL. You did the right thing! You need to keep telling yourself that! You took him to the doctor as soon as you saw that he was ill, and you chose to give him a peaceful end rather than subject him to more pain. A humane death is the best gift that we can give our pets.

Any time we lose a loved one it's painful. It's really hard when it's a pet that's totally dependent on us and doesn't understand what's going on. I had to put my beloved Corgi down last year and it was awful. She was 14, she had a good, long life, and she went into acute kidney failure. I knew it was the right decision to put her down but it was still awful. I had a little bit of notice and it was still awful. It feels all-consuming right now but I promise that it will get better. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but you *will* start feeling better.

I don't believe in the Rainbow Bridge or whatever, but I realize that when people tell me that they are sharing what makes *them* feel better, and they have good intentions. And people telling you to get another rabbit don't mean that you could ever *replace* your rabbit. They mean that you will eventually be able to find space in your heart for another little furball.

If you already have a mental illness and you're also feeling intense grief, it's totally appropriate to talk to a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. You don't say when this happened but if the heavy grief persists and doesn't feel like it's lifting at all I would totally go talk to someone. They're not going to magically make the pain go away but they can help you make sense of it all.
posted by radioamy at 6:07 PM on January 19, 2015

It's not the most Buddhist thing to say, but: distract yourself as much as possible. As best as possible. For as long as possible. Really. It's going to be stuck in your head, no matter what, so take a break. Take care of yourself. TV/movies/books/tv/movies/books.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:14 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. You are grieving and though it doesn't feel like it right now, the pain will eventually subside. I tried Rainbow Bridge, too. It wasn't for me, either. Look instead for books and websites that deal with grief in general. Pet grief and people grief aren't really that different. It's just a process that takes time and doesn't have any short cuts.

Our cat died a year ago and it was one of the worst things I've ever been through. What helped me most was talking to other people about their pet loss/grief. People grieve hard for their pets and it's complicated by the fact that they try to play it down or keep it bottled up because it was 'just a pet'. I volunteer in an animal shelter sometimes, and that's where i had a lot of these conversations (maybe there is some other website out there like Rainbow Bridge but better? I'll be checking this Ask to see what others say about that).

Try allowing yourself to feel the pain without trying to change it. Just sit with it and let it pass through you. I think there's an inherent sense of guilt when one loses a pet due to the dependent nature of the relationship. Our cat was just four years old when he died and my SO and I went through an awful stage of going over and over what we could have done differently. But now he and I agree that we did our best. I know you'll get to that point too, it will just take some time.

(Be good to yourself in the meantime!)
posted by marimeko at 6:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am really sorry. I've never had to decide to euthanize a pet without feeling miserable about it for days, not even when they'd lived as long as one could possibly imagine.

The feelings are absolutely normal; the grief, guilt and second-guessing. It sounds like you're having a harder time than average - perhaps because of the pre-existing problems, and perhaps partly because of the circumstances. There isn't a logical way to reason yourself around grief; your question/description tells me you understand the circumstances just fine.

People say terrible things, usually without meaning to do harm. Unfortunately they do this when we lose people in our lives as well. I agree that some distractions may help. Hang in there.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2015

I am so sorry. It's so hard to lose a companion animal. I am sure that your bunny knew that he was loved and that you would have done ANYTHING for him. He couldn't tell you in words, but I know that he appreciates everything you did for him.

Mourn him as long as it takes. This is all on your timetable. People don't mean to be insensitive, they know how you feel because most of us have lost a beloved animal. They empathize all too well and it makes them sad and uncomfortable.

Feel how you feel. Ask for help. Have a ceremony that honors your rabbit, and give a donation in his name to the House Rabbit Society.

Please accept my condolences.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 PM on January 19, 2015

Time really will help - three weeks has still been pretty rough territory for me after all my pets have passed.

There is no way to brain-transfer the alternate experience from mine to yours, but waiting too long, or trying the surgery and having it not work...those things also haunt you for a long time, and it's not a comfort to have tried. Of the quick decisions I made to euthanize versus deaths I could have made less horrible by euthanizing sooner, I will err on the conservative side every time now with no regrets. I might get a few less days, but they will have fewer bad days all told.

I agree with the advice to kind of let the pain happen and acknowledge it, without deliberately tormenting yourself or trying to run away from it. The space a pet leaves in your life is really profound and it's okay to honor that and be sad and then try to let it go.

I don't believe in the Rainbow Bridge, I believe when we die we're dead. But I also think that if I'm wrong, they'll understand why I made the choice I did to spare them any more pain than was necessary. A lot of rabbits don't get a very good life, and you gave yours one. That matters. It counts for a lot.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:49 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am sorry for your grief.

I think you did the appropriate thing.

Get a new rabbit. I know it might seems to soon or perhaps even inappropriate, but I would guess getting a new bunny would help.
posted by edgeways at 7:22 PM on January 19, 2015

You took on the pain of this decision so that your dear pet wouldn't suffer. You gave him peace at the expense of your own happiness. That is love and it is also hard to live with. Your anguish now doesn't mean you made the wrong choice.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:59 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nthing that:
-speed vs. slim chance was the right choice
-I have made both choices and in the future plan to make the one you made
-it is horrible either way, so sudden and so hard to process
-the resulting loss is horrible. I am crying again reading your story, and snot is running down my nose, even though I currently have two cats who are in good health and who I love and who make my life so much better. The vast legions of pet-caretakers on Metafilter are with you.
-your length of grief is not anomalous
-the choice you made transfers the balance of suffering from your rabbit to you. You are bearing that so that he didn't have to.
-the pain WILL fade away: it will lessen and become less frequent.
-your rabbit was very very lucky to have had such an awesome caretaker who loved him so much and tended to his needs so well and so long, through chronic illness, and kept his general level of health so high. We should all be so lucky.
-distraction is good. Ask your SO for help screening your potential distraction materials for triggers (no death, no animals, no medical crises, etc.). Video games can be great for stopping crying and for short-circuiting pits of despair.
-your own medical condition needs intense attention. Your rabbit loved you and choose to spend his time in your company and enjoyed your attention, so he would want you to be safe and healthy and not miserable. Take care of yourself as you took care of him. Do whatever you can. While you wait for professional help, do even small things to care for yourself, if that's all you can do. Eat spoonfuls of yogurt/soygurt. Get your SO to drag you out on walks, even if it's just around the block, or to a yoga class. Lift weights, even if it's just hoisting a can of food in the air twelve times.

There was a NYT article somewhere about human medicine: how patients wind up being manipulated (often by their families) into choosing slim chances over quality of life, and how the big exception to this is doctors themselves, when they themselves are in what is almost certainly terminal illness. You were strong enough to do for your rabbit what many people can't do for themselves, and what experts know is the right thing and do choose for themselves. You have dealt with the huge matter of life and death, and what you did was awesome.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:08 PM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

"Rainbow Bridge" bothers me too for some reason. What has helped is volunteering at my local animal shelter. Even though I am not ready to bring another one home, I feel like I am helping those in the shelter in my dear kitty's honor.

I know how hard it is to make the euthanasia decision - suddenly and without warning. You knew your rabbit best and you had nothing but the best interests at heart. You made the best decision that you could have made. It is hard and sad but it is part of loving these creatures. We have to accept the responsibility for making the choices that are best for them.

Peace to you.
posted by ainsley at 10:18 PM on January 19, 2015

My heart hurts for you so much. Nothing will stop the pain you feel right now except time and distraction. Usually we're forced to get back into the busy world after a week or so of mourning because the world just won't let us stay in bed and cry forever and all that busy work that we have to get done helps distract us a little bit more every day. I'm so sorry.

I think you should seriously consider adopting another rabbit as soon as you can, not because you need to, or can, replace your friend, but because you have love to give and nowhere to put it and there's a rabbit out there with no one to love him - and

most of all, I think you should get another rabbit because that's what your sweet friend would want you to do.

When you hold another fuzzy critter in your arms it will all make more sense.
posted by aryma at 11:43 PM on January 19, 2015

I am so, so sorry you are feeling this. I had a similar situation with my beloved cat a few years ago--sudden illness, the guilt and trauma of seeing him suffer and thoughts about what I had done wrong, the guilt that he depended on me and I failed him, the agony of trying to get him to the vet and having him die on the way. How traumatized was I by the whole thing? I'm crying as I write this because even though it was almost 3 years ago, I still cry every time I read an account by someone who had a similar thing happen.

But you did the right thing, I promise you. You were a wonderful friend and companion to him as he was to you. After my sweet cat died, I literally felt as though I would not be able to recover from the agony. I don't believe in an afterlife, so the Rainbow Bridge stuff definitely doesn't work for me--makes me feel worse, in fact.

It gets better, though, I promise. It won't stop hurting altogether, but the sharpest edges of the pain will recede eventually.

And on preview, I agree with aryma above--consider getting another pet, or maybe fostering one? Then you can give love to a little guy who needs it without the commitment. Circumstances have been such that I haven't been able to have another cat since my sweet boy died, not even fostering, and I don't know when I will be able to--that just kills me. How do you know another one wouldn't be struck down in the same way? Well, how do we know anything? We muddle through life in spite of uncertainty about how anything can turn out, because we can't do anything else, and along the way we meet wonderful friends like your rabbit and my cat.

Sending you my sympathies, and wishing you all the best.
posted by tiger tiger at 11:52 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I could not (and still cannot) believe that I had chosen to do something so horrible, although both the emergency vet and my rabbit's primary vet told me I was doing the right thing.

Euthenasia is the last and kindest gift of love we can give our beloved companions. The alternative is to let them suffer, and that is far, far worse.

The worst of it, though? I'm not so sure that this couldn't have been prevented. Once we got home I went and obsessively read up on the house rabbit literature... most seemed to be of the consensus that "hairballs" were a myth, even though the primary vet did the necropsy and said that's what it was, and that nothing I had done as an owner had caused it.

If the vet did a necropsy and found a hairball, then a hairball is what it was. Without being graphic, a hairball is NOT something you mistake for anything else in necropsy.

Additionally, you probably already know that rabbits are poor candidates for gastro surgery. You made the right call, as hard as it is to take the loss of your beloved friend.

I am very sorry for your loss, and all I can tell you is that the grief does lessen with time. Hold on to that.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:13 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

By now, comewithall, you see from all these responses that you were correct in your decision. Really, what else could you do? I had a friend who decided to let his cat die "naturally" and it was a very long ordeal that was horrible! You spared your bunny all of that. We take the pain (of such a difficult decision)...so that our fur friends don't have suffer.

I'm 64 years old and I don't have children...so every pet I've had I have loved like it was a child.
When I had to have my special pet put to sleep 8 years ago, no exaggeration.. I really thought I might die! After several months I got two wonderful kitties and the terrible hurt melted away right away. One of the nicest things anyone ever said to me when my beloved animal died was this.....when you get another (in your case bunny)? and you look into your new pet's eyes...it is your beloved pet's eyes that will looking back at you.

I wish I could give you a hug. I know what this is like. I know others have said that there is no rainbow bridge..and under most circumstances, I'd agree. Except, animals are so much better than people..certainly there has to be a very special place for them. let's just say there is. Your bunny is there in the most beautiful place..young and happy, playing..in perfect bliss..happy as can be, waiting for the day when you come home too. Meanwhile..love another animal....(or two). Your pain will melt away.
posted by naplesyellow at 1:51 AM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing. I promise you that. Of our four rabbits, three have died at home. I personally witnessed two of the deaths and I was alone in the middle of the night for one of them. Let me tell you that it's not a pleasant experience, and if I had known how close each of them was to death, I would have had them euthanized in a heartbeat because I would have been able to spare them the agony they went through during their death throes. The one who didn't die at home died a the vet's office and she was able to give him a lethal dose of Valium as he started seizing so that he could slip away peacefully without having to suffer any longer.

Sure, everything is preventable in hindsight. But even with something relatively treatable, like stasis, a rabbit's condition can still go downhill very quickly and there's not a lot you can do. Looking back you might be able to say, I should have noticed this or that but honestly it might not have made a difference. (While it's true that rabbits don't get "hairballs" in the same way that cats do, the mass that was stuck in his GI tract most likely contained a good amount of hair, especially if he was shedding. That's probably what your vet meant even if that's not what they said. If your vet didn't make that distinction or know there was one, you might want to find a different vet if you ever get another rabbit.)

I know how much you still love your rabbit but try to remember that you didn't cause his illness and you could only do what was best for him in that exact moment so that he didn't suffer. You didn't let him down, you gave him the peace of not going through a prolonged surgery that he most likely wouldn't survived. You spared him a lot of potentially traumatic experiences and let him go when the time was right.

Right now you're grieving and that's normal, and it's going to take time to recalibrate. Definitely still seek treatment for your mental illness so that you can concentrate on processing this grief. Treatment may not take away all the pain, but it can give you methods for coping with the pain when it's too sharp or overwhelming, or it can help mitigate your other symptoms so that you can heal better. You might want to look up pet loss support groups, either online or in person. It can help to talk to or be around other people who understand what you're going through. I'm not a "rainbow bridge" person either, so you could just let them know beforehand that you're not interested in discussing those sorts of topics.

After we lost our last rabbit, we decided that when we're ready for a pet again we going to take a break from rabbits. I think rabbits are the best thing since sliced olives but the vagaries of their health problems and the lack of great vet care in general nearly everywhere means we're not emotionally equipped right now to handle losing another rabbit. We decided on a cat whenever we get around to looking for another pet and though I wouldn't swear off rabbits forever I just couldn't deal with another case of stasis or head tilt for the foreseeable future. You're not alone in feeling that way. Rabbit illnesses seem especially stressful because there's so little information and any little thing could go wrong. I think it's not wrong at all to want a break from that.

For me, what helps sometimes is when I see a rabbit who looks like one of my rabbits. It makes me happy because I feel like some small part of them is still in the world. I still miss them, but it's not as bad as it used to be and I can remember good times with them. I hope eventually you can get to a similar place or somewhere even better. My best to you.
posted by i feel possessed at 4:43 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to suggest holding a little memorial service at home for your rabbit, if you haven't already, as I think it could be one way to help mark his passing in a concrete way and maybe help give you some peace. It could be a somber thing, like with candles and music and pictures of your friend, or a more lighthearted affair with funny bunny YouTube videos and carrot snacks...whatever feels right to you. Invite friends who love you and can support you - it's a good opportunity to reach out. Maybe a bunny memorial service sounds weird in theory, but I would totally attend this if a friend had one and I'd totes bring snacks, chocolate, booze, and lots of hugs and tissues.

Hugs to you.
posted by ladybird at 5:09 AM on January 20, 2015

I'm so very sorry you're in such pain. You absolutely did the right and loving thing for your dear rabbit. Tincture of time will help. I euthanized a beloved dog almost 30 years ago; I miss him still, and even have the occasional dream about him. But over time, my thoughts about him have moved from sorrow and grief to wonderful memories that make me smile. I wish the same for you.
posted by Dolley at 5:54 AM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry this happened to you.

I lost my first rabbit to GI stasis, and it's not fun - I took him home from the vet and tried to help him recover, but he died anyway. Now I know more, I wish I had had him put down; they don't come back from GI stasis, and he was in pain, even if he wasn't showing it. So, as someone who's been there, and was a mess of tears for weeks after, I think you did the right thing - something I wish I had done when faced with the same situation. You didn't do anything wrong.

It's small consolation right now, but he had a good life because he was with you. The GI stasis wasn't your fault - it can be caused by a change in the weather, and sometimes it just happens out of the blue. You didn't do anything wrong.

Write down everything you remember about him, all the good things, you'll need it some day.

Will you bury him? I buried George wrapped in my favour jumper. You know, it's been (five?) years and I'm starting to tear up thinking about him, so it never goes away, but it does get easier.

One warning: once our first pair had died we rushed into getting a second pair. And they're fine and all, but they're not the same - they're pet rabbits, rather than members of the family. So... don't rush into anything, 'cos you can't replace that relationship you and he had. It'll be a new relationship, with a new animal, and you should probably wait a while (IMO).

Wish I could hug you. Know how much this hurts.
posted by Leon at 7:19 AM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

You did the right thing. You did the loving, selfless thing -- you put yourself in the position to feel all the hard things you are feeling now, and you did it because you knew it was right for your pal. That's what it is to have empathy, sometimes -- it means you can value the suffering of another being enough that you can actually put yourself in a position to suffer in order to prevent it.

I wonder whether part of what's happening is that you feel like your grief alone isn't legitimate -- people ask whether you'll get another rabbit as if they think it's like replacing a thing that's broken, and you feel a bit judged for how sad you feel. I think people with pets often feel this way, as if what they're feeling isn't really grief and they shouldn't feel as devastated as they do. I wonder whether this is making you turn this all around on yourself, on doubt and shame about the choice you made, because it doesn't feel like you deserve to just feel this sad.

I encourage you, as much as you can, to just give yourself permission to feel extremely, heart-crunchedly sad, but to understand that you went through the experience of happy pet ownership, which almost always ends in grief. It's one of the things I think is so lovely about the fact that people do it -- we do it knowing it will hurt one day, we do it knowing we may have to make these choices, but we do it because sharing the love of a wonderful pet is a really special thing you don't get from any other experience. What has happened to you here is very sad, but ... normal, if I can put it that way. Good pet owners -- the best pet owners -- often feel this very thing. Granted, you have alluded to other issues that may be complicating your grief, but at the base of it, sadness -- and having to make this very decision -- is a common experience for pet owners that lots of people can understand.

You don't have to know what to do to make yourself feel better; you may not be able to do anything to make yourself feel better at the moment. I think seeking a therapist is smart, just because you feel adrift, and staying close to the people who care about you is always a good idea. But you are sad, and you are right to be sad, and it's okay to be sad. You were a loving friend to your rabbit buddy, and you did the right thing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:25 AM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's quite likely that your current grief is normal, but I think your decision to seek out a therapist for your untreated mental illness is a wise one. We lost our beloved senior cat to kidney disease almost a year ago. Euthanizing her was the clear choice - there was no doubt in my mind or my husband's mind about it. However, he has bipolar disorder, and despite being medicated and having a therapist, his grief about losing our cat turned into ruminations (especially at night as he was trying to go to sleep) about her death. As we put it, his bipolar used her death as a stick to beat him with. His natural grief and period of mourning was greatly complicated by his mental illness. If this happens to you, having a therapist to help you work through this moment will hopefully help ease some of that pain.
posted by PussKillian at 7:34 AM on January 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just want to add that I think that's great advice ^^^ too. The grief is normal, but you don't want to let it tangle itself with other stuff and become debilitating.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:11 AM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I took a gamble on surgery with one of my cats. The odds of success were low, and she died on the operating table. My last memory of her is of her being carried away from me, confused and terrified in a strange place; I still cry now, years later, remembering her fear and feeling the pain of that loss.

I too believe that you did the right thing. And that finding a therapist or even just someone to talk to would be good.
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 8:20 AM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss, but please don't try to second guess yourself. It's completely normal to be grieving but I agree with others that if it is becoming debilitating , then you should definitely get help.

Try to ignore those who say getting another rabbit now will help. They mean well, but you will know when and if you're ready to bring another pet home. We have guinea pigs, and when our first guinea pig passed somewhat unexpectedly (she had been sick for months and it seemed like she would never actually die) we waited over a year before we rescued a pair. If it weren't for the fact we don't want our guinea pigs to be alone too long, we probably wouldn't rush to adopt another one when one passes. (We just lost one in November after a quick illness.)

Guinea pigs (and rabbits) are hard to treat because they are such fragile creatures and good vets for them are hard to find. We have spent stupid amounts of money at the vet (according to my mom) on one of our guinea pigs but a big reason is that all of his maladies were very treatable. The others, we've tried to treat but it's been a "it might be an infection, which we'll treat, or it might be a tumor, which we can't". Our vet is pretty cautious and avoids exploratory surgery because it's risky and costly. It sucks feeling like we could have done more, but the quality of life thing really matters. When our guinea pigs are ill and take a turn where it's clear there's no coming back, we have them put down humanely.

So really, you did all that you could. Sometimes these things happens. It sucks, and it's hard, but it's sadly a part of pet ownership. And even if you did everything right, sometime's pets do stupid things. Like our first guinea pig had health problems because she just didn't like hay and wouldn't eat it. We couldn't overcome that.
posted by kendrak at 9:13 AM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

I euthanized my sick rabbit, don't know if I did the right thing

The only reason you're in any doubt about whether you did the right thing is because we have this ridiculous social double standard about euthanasia that means we don't let ourselves do the right thing for people as well. You made the best decision you possibly could, given the choices and time constraints that confronted you. You are absolutely not required to compound the grief you will naturally be feeling from such a huge loss by beating yourself up over what you might have done different if things were other than what they were.

and don't know how to live life without him.

First step is to get done grieving. Fastest and most reliable way to do that is let it happen.

This is how it feels to lose a loved one. It's just fucking horrible. There's simply no way around that.

I can't go through that twice.

Now is not the time to contemplate well-meaning but misguided suggestions about getting another companion. Losing a loved one is not like falling off a horse, and any attempt to "jump straight back on" is, as you have surely realized, a form of lying to yourself.

Grief is real and huge and stupid harsh, and it's one of those life experiences that simply has to be endured until it fades enough that you can function again.


If I were in the same room as you, and I knew you well and you seemed to want me to, I'd be giving you the mightiest hug right now.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on January 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yes, this is how it feels to grieve, every single thing you are feeling is almost a universal experience for those who have lost a great love. Your mind is trying to find a way out of an unbearable situation by perseverating on all the ways in which things might have gone differently. This is normal. You just have to go through it, and I think it will help you if you can find someone to talk to, paid or not, who will help you see that you did nothing wrong, it's just your poor broken heart trying to make sense of something awful.
posted by HotToddy at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I've never had a bunny, but I have had (and still do have!) guinea pigs -- over the years we've had six, and of those, we've lost 4. Two were grand old age, and the other two were very sudden illnesses that happened just as your bunny's did -- sudden crisis, trip to vet, and euthanasia. It's an awful thing to have to do, but it helped me to look at it this way: the sorrow of losing the pet is a small price to pay for the love and companionship and joy we experience while we have the pet. And while losing each of the pigs that have died hurt, and my husband and I still miss them, we took comfort in knowing that we could continue to provide loving homes for more piggies in the future, because man, there are always pets in shelters in need of good homes.

Be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself to grieve -- don't let anyone make you feel like "Oh, it was just a rabbit." You bun was your friend, and pets are important to us, and it's perfectly okay to grieve when they pass away.
posted by sarcasticah at 4:09 PM on January 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your responses. I'm overwhelmed by your kindness. All of these answers have been wonderful and caring and just... from the bottom of my heart, thank you. For those of you who went through a similar thing: I'm so sorry you had to go through that, and for reminding you of those experiences. (I went to bed after posting this and had to go to work the next day, so I didn't get a chance to respond until now.)

Re, the Rainbow Bridge: I don't begrudge anyone who finds comfort in it (heck, I've watched the Black Rabbit scene in Watership Down like a billion times as of this writing). It just doesn't make me feel better, for some reason. And I do understand the good intentions behind the suggestions that I get another rabbit (no one's gone so far as to say "it was just a rabbit," thank God), and I know they mean well. I'm not offended so much as unmoved in my grief, I guess. One thing a friend recommended to me is a pet remembrance journal, which sounds like a good idea. I also really appreciate the suggestions made here as far as memorial arrangements. I picked out an urn to hold his ashes, a letter I wrote him, a bag of his favorite treats, and some toys that he liked.

The prospect of getting another rabbit terrifies me. One the one hand there's the health issues as noted above, and the mental roadblock but this isn't MY bunny potentially preventing me from loving the bun like it ought to be loved. But even if I was ready, the time isn't really a good one as we're hoping to relocate again soon. (The Dream was to get my guy his own bunny-proofed room, once we moved into the house we wanted...)

I know that guilt is a normal part of grief, but it's good to be reminded. I just cannot seem to get away from but what if... and if only... The fact that he had so many stasis episodes in the past and I didn't make changes to his lifestyle is what kills me. I suppose I was already doing all the right things -- I mean, I'd been to enough HRS seminars, and had the vet's blessing -- but even though I more or less consistently abided by Bunny Best Practices, I know that I could have done more for him as a stasis bunny (rebuilt his bunny condo instead of putting him in a cage when we moved to a smaller house, completely cut out pellets, given him more fresh lettuce, gotten some bloodwork done to see if there wasn't a deeper problem, etc.).

(My SO says that even if I did literally everything wrong raising him or the night he got sick I should still try to forgive myself, because I hadn't been trying to intentionally hurt my rabbit or tempt fate. And because he would forgive me too... my precious baby.)

I have an appointment with someone this week. He's a grief counselor as well as a specialist in treating my particular condition. I developed semi-delusional thoughts at work today, so I'm praying that something good will come of this.

Thank you so, so much again. It's so hard.
posted by comewithallgoodthings at 6:38 PM on January 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

The prospect of getting another rabbit terrifies me.

It's nowhere near time to be thinking about that yet.
posted by flabdablet at 7:35 PM on January 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if the thought of getting a new rabbit is terrifying now, it's definitely not the time.

I know when our first guinea pig died (oh how I miss her still!) part of the reason we took so long to even think about getting any more was that we just missed her and didn't think any others could compare. And that's kind of been the case, but it's also been really fun getting other guinea pigs and living with their distinct personalities. None of them are as special as our first, but some of them have come close. So revisit it after time if that's what you want, but not now.

And I don't know if this helps with your second guessing, but we were also full of second guessing about our first's passing. Should we have given her less treats? Better hay? Better pellets? Going through the rescue application process helped us see we actually were good caregivers. Well, good enough that the rescue society let us take home a pair. It really sounds like you did a good job. Sure it could have been better, but sometimes the ideal isn't practical for most people and good enough is more than sufficient.
posted by kendrak at 9:55 AM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

The fact that he had so many stasis episodes in the past

Wait, you helped a sickly, stasis-prone, miniature rabbit reach six years old? You didn't just do nothing wrong, you performed a miracle for a little guy who would have been lucky to see two if he hadn't found you.
posted by Leon at 10:48 AM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Just stopping by to say that I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your pet. I was similarly broken up over having to put my cat to sleep six years ago. It's gotten better but it still hurts.

You're right to seek help from a counselor and I hope that gives you some relief. Keep posting here if it helps.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 12:54 PM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I got my pet remembrance journal today. I started filling it out right away with my favorite memories of him. I hadn't realized there were so many! He really was the greatest bunny.

I hate to say it, but my grief has taken a turn for the debilitating. I can't stop replaying that moment I said goodbye to him. I have a problem with emotionally disconnecting and/or having inappropriate thoughts during a crisis, and so while part of me was shattered and crying and getting his fur wet, another part of me refused to be moved whatsoever (the same part, I suppose, that chose to euthanize him when presented with the option). It makes me think that maybe he couldn't feel how much I loved him... or worse, that maybe I didn't really love him at all. We covered that a little in the session, but it's going to be a long hard road when we only meet once a week.

And I don't know if this helps with your second guessing, but we were also full of second guessing about our first's passing. Should we have given her less treats? Better hay? Better pellets? Going through the rescue application process helped us see we actually were good caregivers. Well, good enough that the rescue society let us take home a pair. It really sounds like you did a good job. Sure it could have been better, but sometimes the ideal isn't practical for most people and good enough is more than sufficient.

The second guessing is awful. I would sometimes give him an extra scoop of pellets in the morning, since he loved them, and little pieces of apple and banana (the banana was like crack to him), but he was also a really good hay eater and always finished his bowl of water. Objectively speaking I figure I did most things right, but I could have done better (and will do better, when/if there's a next time). And I know he was happy, if the bunny kisses were anything to go by.

I'm truly sorry for the loss of your first... those really are the toughest to go through. My condolences.

You didn't just do nothing wrong, you performed a miracle for a little guy who would have been lucky to see two if he hadn't found you.

Someone else was vying for him at the same time as us; we just happened to get there first. I often wonder what would have happened in that alternate universe.

You're right to seek help from a counselor and I hope that gives you some relief. Keep posting here if it helps.

Thanks. I might do that.
posted by comewithallgoodthings at 4:05 PM on January 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have a problem with emotionally disconnecting and/or having inappropriate thoughts during a crisis

From a different perspective, that could be described as keeping your wits about you. You have learned that you can cope, and make hard decisions even while something deeply upsetting is happening. This does not mean you're broken – quite the contrary. It's a sign of maturity.

I'll just chime in with the others: you did the right thing. It's called the coup de grâce on the battlefield: the gesture of mercy. You were strong enough to make that gesture when it was needed. You're fine.
posted by zadcat at 7:46 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Someone else was vying for him at the same time as us; we just happened to get there first. I often wonder what would have happened in that alternate universe.

I hope it doesn't sound too harsh to say: Wow, your brain is genius-level talented at making itself feel bad, and is a classic candidate for cognitive therapy. And I think you should regard this thought, and others of its ilk, in that light.

If you weren't there, someone else would have got your rabbit. But you were there, and so that someone else presumably rescued a different rabbit. So: even if we make the (totally ridiculous) assumptions that the other person was a better rabbit-caretaker AND that different healthcare would have led to a better outcome in this case, it's still safe to assume that twice as many rabbits were rescued and given decent homes.

I have a problem with emotionally disconnecting and/or having inappropriate thoughts during a crisis, ... It makes me think that maybe he couldn't feel how much I loved him... or worse, that maybe I didn't really love him at all.

Uh, by that standard, I didn't really love mrs_goldfish during her recent medical crisis, nor ma and pa_goldfish, nor ... any number of people. I'm 100% certain I love mrs_goldfish, and I've got her, and pretty much everyone who knows us at all, 100% convinced too. Minds and grief are much stranger and more complex than made-for-TV-movies would have us think. And it's a good thing, too: as you say, that detached part of your mind was able to choose euthanasia, rather than wrapping itself entirely in your own grief.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:06 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I completely understand the "but what would have happened in a different universe???" sorts of intrusive thoughts. I used to get them a lot especially after our first rabbit died since he was really my first bunny love. I'd think, "But in some other possible multiverse I might have done something different/better/etc. and he'd still be alive." It's hard and I actually had to remember to forgive myself for not being 100% perfect in this universe.

If you find yourself having intrusive thoughts, try redirecting your thinking or maybe even meditating to help clear out the queue of negative thoughts. YouTube has a lot of great repetitive, soothing music that you can use for meditation. You could also try playing a repetitive game like Tetris, which studies have shown to help lessen trauma and flashbacks.

It's natural for our brains to want to assign blame when tragedies occur in our lives. And it's also common to blame ourselves for things that aren't our fault because we're the easiest and closest available target. It hasn't really been that long for you and the feelings of loss and regret at this stage are completely normal. Replaying what happened is normal. It's also normal to be detached for a while or at various times, it lets you take a break from overwhelming emotions. Be gentle with yourself, this is a hard thing to go through and it's going to take some time.

Try not to second guess yourself too much in either your previous rabbit-care decisions or your process of grieving. Healing happens at a different pace for each person and as long as you can find some sort of equilibrium in your daily life, try not to let the different phases and stages of grieving bother you too much. I agree that talking to a counselor could help, even just to reassure you or give you some coping mechanisms.
posted by i feel possessed at 2:27 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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