How do I deal with guilt after putting my dog down?
February 8, 2022 4:43 PM   Subscribe

I had to put my dog down today. She was a black lab mix, and lived to age 16. Her passing was very peaceful, which I am grateful for. I had a vet come out to the house and I fed her lots of nice treats and loved on her as she received the sedative and then the injection. I'm feeling a lot of sadness over losing her, but I'm especially feeling guilt over the way I treated her towards the end of her life.

I know it was the right time for her, so I'm not feeling guilty about that. She had major mobility issues over the last few months which gradually declined and took a turn for the worst today when she couldn't even stand up to go outside, which was the decision-maker for me.

In the last year or so of her life, she was consistently, slowly declining. She was losing weight and muscle mass in her back legs, which lead to mobility issues. She was completely incontinent, had constant mobility/falling issues, and her breath was absolutely rancid. She didn't seem to get joy out of the same things as before - wasn't interested in her toys, wasn't playful anymore... seemed to be losing the joy of being a dog. Every time I took her to the vet, bloodwork came back frustratingly normal so there wasn't anything to treat. In my mind, I figured she's so old anyway, it doesn't seem fair to put her through lots of tests/money to find cancer or something that would be untreatable at her age anyway.

I always loved her, but caring for her numerous issues (especially the incontinence) stressed me out a lot and I hate to admit that it caused my bond with her to become strained. In the last few months of her life, I rarely showed her affection, I sometimes yelled at her out of frustration, and I only occasionally took her on very brief walks (but this was difficult anyway due to her mobility/breathing issues).

I know no dog owner is perfect, but I really wish I had shown her more love.

She is no longer here, and I know I made the right decision today and even could have made it sooner. It's at least a comfort to know that through most of her life, I showed her a lot of love. I was taking her on frequent walks, she had 3 differnt dog beds, all kinds of different treats and toys, I was obsessed with getting the right foods, I have 50 videos of her in my phone, I was very physically affectionate with her, and she was allowed to sleep on the couch & my bed any time she wanted.

Is this normal to be feeling so much guilt, about her life and not necessarily the decision to put her down? Would like to see if anyone shared similar feelings.
posted by koolaidnovel to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, I am so sorry. I felt so much guilt when I put my dog was after an acute medical emergency that couldn't have been prevented, but my guilt was about spending too much time away from home in her last months and especially last days, when I didn't know that's what they were.
I can't take your guilt away but I can tell you it is normal. It will be three years next month and I still occasionally get pangs of sadness for not spending better quality time with her those months. Looking at photos and videos of us helps a lot, I encourage you to do as much of that as you can.
posted by assenav at 4:50 PM on February 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry - putting a pet down is so very hard. Know you did right by her, and did all that you could at the time, despite what you're feeling now. When I had to put my beloved cat Kilo down, I expected to be sad and bawling my eyes out - but in the end, because none of it came as a surprise, all I felt was relief. Relief I was no longer worried about her all the time. Relief I was no longer dealing with the vomit and the pee everywhere. Relief that I was no longer managing her symptoms and all the medications and getting her to eat. Relief that I was no longer waiting and preparing for the inevitable. And that relief made me feel so incredibly guilty - this was not how one was supposed to feel after they lost their heart and soul bestest cat in the whole wide world. But it's ok. It's normal. It's part of the grieving process, and we all go though the process in our own ways. You loved your pup, and she knew it. And the guilt will pass. It's cliche, but it just takes time. You are definitely not alone in those feelings, I promise you.
posted by cgg at 4:58 PM on February 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

I felt the same way about a dog I had once a long time ago when I was young. She had many of the same issues & I reacted pretty much the same way you did, which was just to be annoyed at the symptoms instead of seeing the big picture. I felt really guilty about it too. In order to let go of the guilt I decided to put it down to a mistake made out of ignorance that I won't make again because now I know better. Since then I've had other pets who I was able to treat better because I knew the signs. But if I actually carried on beating myself up about every ignorant mistake I have ever made I wouldn't be able to get out of bed. So some stuff just has to get processed & released.
posted by bleep at 5:11 PM on February 8, 2022 [15 favorites]

Oh no. "I know it was the right time for her, so I'm not feeling guilty about that." I'm so sorry. It sounds as though you did the best you could.

All necessary signs sound confirmed, essentially when an animal begins to express a lack of interest in life, it suggests exactly this: "It's ok, now."

And FYI, you know this, but her incontinence probably stressed her * a lot.

It sounded very much like she loved you, and expressed an acceptance of her situation.

A helpful way to cope is essentially understanding you honored her wishes to the very fullest. Many animals would've loved it(to the degree they could)
posted by firstdaffodils at 5:18 PM on February 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's never easy. What you seem to be experiencing the most guilt about is basically not realizing sooner that *she* was ready to go even if you weren't yet ready to let her go. With my first dog as an adult, my mom had to make me realize that I was doing a disservice to my dog by keeping her alive too long. I learned from that experience, just as you've learned from this experience.
posted by DrGail at 5:18 PM on February 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I’m so sorry. I promise: you weren’t a bad owner for getting frustrated about her pissing all over the place any more than she was a bad dog for pissing all over the place! You were both coping with a tough situation and doing your best. Your relationship changed mutually because end of life creates a different pet/owner dynamic—not because you didn’t love her enough. It’s clear you loved her very much and gave her your all.

Try to remember the good times. Again, I’m so sorry you’re going through this.
posted by kapers at 6:40 PM on February 8, 2022 [29 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry. Putting a pet down is a very hard thing to do, and I think it is very normal to feel guilt for any number of reasons. I loved my basset hound Ella, but she was so. damn. slow. on. walks. and would eat *anything* on the ground within reach. So frustrating, so aggravating. The garbage eating likely contributed to her health problems at the end.
You are not alone.
posted by coppertop at 6:42 PM on February 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

This may not be true for you, but sometimes I think my brain says, Let’s funnel this sadness into something USEFUL, like GUILT, which will drive us to DO BETTER NEXT TIME. In those situations, how I think I want to respond is to figure out how to give myself full space to grieve: in particular to feel all the sadness and all the fear with tender witness and care and compassion for myself, since so often for me guilt or anger are actually just sadness or fear trying to look powerful or productive. One of the things I know I’ve shortchanged in dealing with own grief in the past is literal time to just sit with my feelings of sadness. Can you take a day off work just to deal with this? It is a family/friend relationship of sixteen years.

I’m not familiar with writing on grief, but reading or returning to articles/wisdom you’ve received about how to deal with the loss of loved ones might be productive. I know I’ve gotten relief by doing things like engaging in short rituals: letting go by burning written memories, cleaning spaces in my life that we shared, donating or throwing away items that will no longer have a use for me - establishing a place in my life for their memory by setting a calendar date to share memories with other family/friends, making a donation in their name, choosing an object to keep and imbue with my still-present love for them - naming the ways in which they are part of me as a way of acknowledging that remembering them will be inevitable, and giving myself an affirmation to repeat when that painful memory arises, etc.

I hope you find peace, and I celebrate the long and happy life your doggo got to share with you.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 7:01 PM on February 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

I feel you.

When I was 10 or 11 I was mean to my sister's black spaniel Queenie for similar reasons; she had cancer, but we didn’t know it, and once I shoved her away none too gently with my foot. And Queenie turned her head and gave me a look I will see on my deathbed.

My sister may or may not have known about it, but I’m sure she didn’t realize my guilt about it was one of the biggest reasons I fell out of touch with her for years at a time after we became adults.

It’s horrible, and the memory is about as vivid as if it happened last week.
posted by jamjam at 7:14 PM on February 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The guilt is so normal and a thing no one tells you about grief. The why didn't I let them know how much I loved them when they were alive guilt. The I should have done this better, I could have done more, I should have been a better person and told them I loved them more. That guilt at the small sense of relief the stress and pain of dealing with a sick and dying dog is done but also pain at their loss making even more guilt. It sucks and I'm sorry you are going through this. I have owned several dogs in my life and have been through this with each and everyone of them, and am currently looking at my elderly dog, whose health is failing and knowing I'll have to go through it again. You are not alone, and it will fade and the happy memories will rise up to overtake the guilt it just takes time.
posted by wwax at 7:39 PM on February 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

The best you can do is the best you can do. It's the price of caring.
posted by SPrintF at 7:45 PM on February 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Does it help to remind yourself that dogs have a very different take on relationships and love than humans do?
Your dog loved you, and she knew that you loved her. You were her person and she accepted everything you did. And you did love her, and care for her lovingly, even if it doesn't feel like it now. Right now you remember all the worst things, and things that you "could have" or "should have".
Feeling like this is a normal part of grieving. I went through it when my mother died, and when my dogs died.
Your dog lived in the moment, and accepted those moments.
You are a loving person and a caring dog owner. The pain and guilt you feel is proof of that. It will pass, and you will remember your dog not just as she was at the end, but all the other moments too.
posted by Zumbador at 8:35 PM on February 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry - this part sucks.

When my favorite cat Leah was having a prolonged spell of vomiting and diarrhea, I closed her in the bathroom (with food and litter) one night rather than let her stay in our room. She died alone in there, and I felt so terrible about it.

But that was what happened, and it didn't change what a great cat she had been, or what a great kitty life she'd had. Death is hard and messy, and we muddle through it and do what we can. It sounds like you gave your dog a great, happy life, which is all we can really hope for in the end.
posted by chbrooks at 8:36 PM on February 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

I don't know if this will help at all, but usually when I feel guilt about something, it's a secondary emotion. When I was a kid, I was trained to not express big emotions and so I learned to hide them. Most of what got stuffed down in there turned into guilt or shame or depression.

And then later I learned the difference between guilt and shame, which is a pretty big deal? Like, shame is kind of the same feeling but indicates that you're considering yourself a Bad Person instead of a good normal human that messes up sometimes, like humans do.

Your dog sounds like a good, good dog, and I am actually weirdly certain that she knew you loved her and trusted her, even if it was hard and sometimes miserable toward the end. The end does not cancel out the other years and years. I think rrrrrrrrrt's on the right idea with small invented rituals. This is silly, because humans are silly, but can you make up a thing that lets you apologize to her for the parts that are bothering you? There's a reason we light candles or throw coins in fountains or a zillion possible things.

Thinking of her means you still love her, and why wouldn't you, and since she was a great dog, she wants you to feel all right. You can keep a tally sheet of times when you feel you let her down and then plant a flower (when it's time) for each? You can get some bubble juice and apologize to the air and blow it into bubbles and watch them bust away? These are silly ideas. Emotions are silly, and important. Your dog loved you all the way down, and you were in pandemic and freaked-out anyway and sometimes were not the 100% ideal of a dog boss. No one ever ever is or could have been. She loved you, too, anyway.
posted by lauranesson at 8:46 PM on February 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: (Oh, and also, 16 is an absolutely incredible age for a lab mix! You must have looked after her really well.)
posted by Zumbador at 12:05 AM on February 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry. But you shouldn't feel guilty for this. If it might help, I could tell you the story about the time that I waited too long to euthanize one of my pets. I found it personally truamatic, and as mefi doesn't have spoiler tags, I won't just toss it in for this thread when you're already grieving and it might be the last thing you want to hear.

Suffice to say that after that, I'm better about choosing the day for the last vet appointment. You say there was a steady decline in quality of life. I will not gainsay that. It's a horrible choice, but it's made by good pet owners to prevent their loved companions from suffering when they don't have the right mental capacity to understand why they're suffering.
posted by nobeagle at 5:36 AM on February 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, my situation was extremely similar. I felt zero guilt and mostly just immense relief over the decision to put her down, it was time, she'd been slowly declining for a couple years and both her and my quality of life had become acutely terrible. She was incontinent, couldn't be left alone for more than a couple hours, barked constantly out of anxiety, couldn't see or hear and kept getting lost in our own house, fell all the way down the basement stairs one winter night, and I was going through a divorce and was sole caretaker of not just her but the house and two small kids and it was all just Too Much.

But I did feel really badly about how intensely frustrated and impatient and angry I felt with her over the last few months of her life, to the point that my daughter even remarked on how much I should be nicer to Kylee (mostly snapping at her to get the F out of my way as I tripped over her yet again). I felt like a super shitty dog owner at the same time as I desperately wanted not to be a dog owner anymore.

It took about a year but now I'm at a point where I can look at her pics and videos and smile and think about the (many, many) good times instead of ruminating on how much her last months sucked for all of us. She had a great life with us, she really did.

Wishing you peace and comfort. I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by anderjen at 8:26 AM on February 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey everyone, I'm reading all of your beautiful answers and crying and laughing. Your words and stories are so, so comforting right now. Thank you and please keep them coming <3
posted by koolaidnovel at 9:42 AM on February 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

I hate to say this, but you'll probably feel some level of regret -- not guilt -- after the loss of everyone you love in your life. Learn from this, and try to minimize it going forward.
posted by kate4914 at 12:53 PM on February 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

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