Dealing with Feelings of Guilt After Euthanasia


Guest post by Sarah Chauncey

For several days after the vet gently stopped my 20-year-old cat Hedda’s heart, I couldn’t get past the feeling that Hedda didn’t want to die, or at least, she wanted it to happen in her own time, naturally.

I had been one of those people who was adamant that I would not choose euthanasia unless I believed Hedda felt death would be preferable. I didn’t believe her life was mine to end. Nobody would likely look at a photo of Hedda, compared to her prime, and say it was too soon. But all I cared about was whether she felt it was too soon. I felt like I betrayed her trust.

I’ve heard people say that, in this situation, we choose the path that will give us the least cause for regret. With euthanasia, no regret is usually not an option. Except for those instances where an animal is in acute distress and nothing can be done, the timing for euthanasia is rarely clear-cut. It’s also largely influenced by our personal beliefs, and our resources.

No regret is usually not an option. Except for those instances where an animal is in acute distress and nothing can be done, the timing for euthanasia is rarely clear-cut.

During our last 24 hours together, I vowed that if there were any negative karmic repercussions from my decision, that I bore them wholly (I also really, really hoped there weren’t).



How Guilt Tries to Protect Us

Guilt is the mind’s resistance to what is, a futile attempt to change the past. In the context of euthanasia, guilt prevents us from feeling the full pain of having to say goodbye to a being we love. In a roundabout way, our mind tries to protect our heart by creating thoughts of guilt: “I should have…” “I shouldn’t have…” “I gave up too soon,” “I waited too long,” etc. Those thoughts—the mind’s incessant activity—keep painful emotions stuck in our bodies.

The thing is, guilt doesn’t change anything. It simply makes us feel miserable. And guilt compounds the grief, because as long as the mind is whirring, the heart can’t process its pain.

After Hedda’s death, I wanted to know that she forgave me. Because that wasn’t an option, I was the one who had to forgive myself.

I wanted to know that she forgave me. Because that wasn’t an option, I was the one who had to forgive myself.

Guilt and Inquiry

In the midst of all my inner turmoil, I came back to what I’d been practicing for several years. Guilt is simply a thought—the thought that I should have done something differently. So I decided to examine that thought.

The following is loosely based on The Work by Byron Katie, combined with questions a good therapist would’ve asked me. For each of us, the answers may vary. My answers don’t indicate what your answers “should” be—they’re what came up for me. The questions, though, can give you insight into how your thoughts of guilt may be trying to protect you.

Is it true that I should have done something differently? I don’t know. Let’s say “yes,” just for the purposes of this exercise. Let’s say I believe I absolutely should not have deliberately facilitated Hedda’s death.

Can I be absolutely certain that that thought is true? No, of course not.

Can I see a way the opposite statement might be equally or more true (i.e., that I absolutely should have ended her life)? Well, yes, but then there’s a story behind that, which is that if that was true, then maybe she had been suffering for a while, so I still wasn’t off the hook.

What if this was absolutely the perfect timing, and I didn’t do anything wrong. Could I see that as a true statement? Yes. [Huge energy shift here]

If I didn’t use up energy believing this thought, what would I have to feel? Pain, loss, grief, emptiness. It’s much easier to distract myself with thoughts.

If I didn’t believe the thought “I shouldn’t have had her euthanized,” what would I feel? Relaxed, calm, expansive. Appreciative of her love and our time together.

This series of questions helped to release me from the shackles of guilt. Not entirely, but substantially. I came to see that “guilt” was just a way of distracting myself from feeling the pain and sadness, the silence (SO MUCH silence), the ache in my chest. Guilt also prevented me from appreciating the mystery of life, of love, and of death.

I don’t mean to sound like “and everything was sunshine forever more.” It wasn’t. I still missed Hedda’s physical presence—even more than when I’d been distracting myself with guilt thoughts. Yet once I was able to feel the waves of grief directly, unencumbered by guilt, I found that each wave dissipated more quickly.



Finding Self-forgiveness

Letting go of guilt doesn’t mean the love is gone, or we miss our cat any less. It simply frees us to experience what we’re feeling in the moment instead of trying to change the past.

There’s a popular quote, attributed to multiple people, from Lily Tomlin to Jack Kornfield, that says, “Forgiveness is giving up hope of a better past.” We all do the best we can, with the resources we have, in each moment. A friend of mine, when thinking about the euthanasia of her cats, turns to another quote, from Jeff Foster, “Simply let go of the illusion that it could have been any different.”

If you can’t stop the torrent of thoughts, that’s okay, too. Try to show yourself the same compassion you’ve shown your cats. Grief (and guilt) are painful enough without adding an extra layer of feeling bad about feeling bad.

If grief or feelings of guilt are interfering with your day-to-day life, it’s okay to seek professional help. There are growing numbers of pet loss support groups, both in person and online, as well as one-on-one counseling options. You are not alone.

Sarah Chauncey is the author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, an upcoming gift book for adults grieving their cat. She runs @morethantuna on Instagram and Facebook, “a celebration of nine lives,” and she started #tunatributes, a support community for people grieving their cat. She lives on Vancouver Island.

29 Comments on Dealing with Feelings of Guilt After Euthanasia

  1. Diana McCorkle
    October 17, 2019 at 7:50 am (4 days ago)

    My birman boy, Gus, was the sweetest blue eyed talking kitty ever. He was so mischievious his whole life. He had kidney disease, tumors and terrible arthritis and to make it all bad, he quit using the litter box totally. He still had a great appetite even on his last day. He was crying out more and more toward the last day. He needed bottom baths daily because he didn’t clean back there at all cause of arthritis. He let me wash him daily without a problem cause he seemed to sense it was the only way to survive. He started getting diarrhea and it became hard to clean the carpets for two days. He smelled bad even after getting daily baths. The whole house started getting really stinky. I had to keep shampooing the rugs. I was even going to get vinyl plank tiling throughout the whole condo for him. He got to the point where he couldn’t empty his bladder fully without me helping him. I had a wedding that I had to be away for two days. I didn’t want to leave him alone with a cat sitter that can’t take care of him like I did. I decided to take him to the vet to see if he had an infection that could be treated like UTI or something. When I went the vet said there was no infection and it would be best to euthanize knowing I was going to have to be away. So I cried myself crazy silly and let it happen. Now I am torturing myself thinking I cheated him out of a little of his life and he was so terrified that day. I makes me sick and now it’s too late. It is over. His girl birman, Abbie, who is remaining is his age and is so heartsick. I feel guilty at what she must think that I have done too. I wish I could bring him home but know it will never happen. Just no solitude!

  2. Alena
    August 19, 2019 at 2:01 pm (2 months ago)

    Thank you for this post. It is helping me grieve more properly and helping me know I am not alone. Hugs to all those who have love and lost their pets. I am confused why we as a society do all the things we do with animals. But at this point it’s like I’m doing the best with what I know. I don’t ever want to have another cat again…but here I am with one, having euthanized two of them. I’m heartbroken but also I’ve lived a life with so much love in it. So much love that I can get, and receive back 10-fold. I feel like animals are instant forgivers. I hope everyday that my cat can forgive me, the guilt is overwhelming. I pray she is in Heaven. I am starting to see some memories come back, which were overshadowed by my own guilt. I hope I get to see her again and that my own experience in Heaven is full of her meowing. As much as I hated it and have been relieved these past few days for “some quiet”, I still hear phantom meows. I miss her dearly and I loved her more than I even knew I did.

  3. Kenzie
    August 15, 2019 at 8:53 pm (2 months ago)

    Thank you so much for writing this. For my sweet Rain it didn’t feel clear cut at all. The vets wanted to keep running tests but we had already spent thousands of dollars trying to figure out what was wrong and treat her. My partner and I don’t earn a lot of money and this was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my entire life. We talked about it a lot beforehand and agreed it was best for us, and best for our kitty who hadn’t been eating, meowing, playing, or acting like her full self. We were scared if we kept going she would starve to death which just felt so inhumane. But the doubt remains, what if she got better? Even for a little while? But even knowing all that and knowing we couldn’t have afforded to go on without taking on additional debt makes me feel horrible. I hate that money EVER has to be a factor in treating kitties. I feel like we did the right thing for her but I still regret that we had to put her to sleep. I crave her forgiveness. Reading this made me feel like I’m not so alone. And it helped re-contextualize how much we love and miss her and that these are normal feelings to feel. It’s a tough decision to be in to decide when to end the life of a loved one. I think all I can do is recognize we did our best with the resources we had and honor Rain’s memory. I’m sorry about Hedda, I can tell from your photos she was a really wonderful kitty.

  4. Karen
    August 1, 2019 at 3:06 pm (3 months ago)

    I just had to put my beloved Siamese Bandit down. I absolutely know it was the right thing to do. I’ve waited too long for two previous cats and never wish to do that again. When the pet’s bad days outnumber the good ones and you look into their eyes and see pure misery, it is indeed time. Would that the same could be done for me if I’m ever in agony with no hope of a cure.

    I did want to comment about something weird that happened at or around the time of passing. After administering the drugs, the vet listened for his heartbeat and told me he’d passed, then left the room. I put my face in front of my love, looked into his clouded eyes and said, “Do you see me? I love you!” I then laid my head along his body and heard a low purr. I lifted my head and put it back down and still heard it, very faint and for a very short time, but it was there. I believe he was acknowledging my love and giving me comfort the only way he knew how.

    • Ingrid
      August 2, 2019 at 5:25 am (3 months ago)

      I’m sorry about Bandit, Karen. What a lovely thing to have experienced in the sadness of having to say goodbye to him.

  5. Alysia
    May 30, 2019 at 11:13 am (5 months ago)

    We had to put our 14 year old Denzel down 2 days ago…Over the last month he went from limping to dragging his back feet…Left eye closed and drooling everywhere, then unable to eat or drink over the last week. Even the pill we would shoot down his throat would sometimes still be there in the morning because he wouldn’t/could’t swallow… He lost 3lbs in 2 weeks and the big boy who was once almost 20lbs was under 10lbs.

    We tried antibiotics, steroids, anti-nausea, hunger stimulants, pain meds and I don’t know what else…but I have this guilt of “what if we tried the fluid injection and nausea injection” would he have bounced back? Denzel looked a lot like Hedda. Beautiful. D was my wife’s cat first, I came into their lives and fell in love with the punk…. What’s most difficult is we have a 2 year old who doesn’t understand “where’s Buddy??” My heart is sad, I’m sure he probably had cancer but not knowing is eating away at me. We didn’t do the MRI…should we have? Would we be telling a different story? I don’t know…thank you for your post.

    • Elaine Harrington
      May 31, 2019 at 7:49 am (5 months ago)

      its never easy. Over the past 15 years we lost six cats. Five of them died within months of each other after having all of them for over 15 years together. My most recent was last August. Blue had bee a 20 pound Russian Blue. He became skeletal and wa s crying and peeing and just miserabel. For the first time ever I put him down instead of waiting. I have not forgiven myself. The only thing I can tell you is second guessing only adds to the pain. There is a greater plan and reason which I am trying to come to terms with. I look at their pictures, I have memorial plaques in the back yard and we remember only the good. Cherish what wonderful time you did have and then begin the healing process. Its cliche, but true. All of my sympathies for your family,

  6. Zoe
    May 11, 2019 at 6:06 am (5 months ago)

    On 09/05/19 at 10.11 I had to make the hardest most heartbreaking decision for my 16 year old Edward pts.
    Old age and disease had over ridden him. He was an amputee by 1 years old due to a car accident and back then the vet said it was the time. I refused to let him go, he exceeded all medical expectations as they shared his injures would decrease his lifespan. We had a friendship much greater than any human I know. Unconditionally .
    I’m finding daily great comfort in this post as I nurture my aching heart .Thank-you .

    • Ingrid
      May 12, 2019 at 5:25 am (5 months ago)

      I’m so sorry about Edward, Zoe. I’m glad this post offered some comfort.

  7. Elaine Harrington
    March 7, 2019 at 10:04 am (8 months ago)

    I understand, I put my 18 year old Blue down August 7 th and still can’t get past the what ifs. All of my other animals died at home, but they did suffer at the end. I don’t think there is right answer, its just painful. You do what you think is right and in time its more memories, less pain. Blessings, Elaine

  8. rafe
    March 6, 2019 at 6:36 pm (8 months ago)

    I had to have my cat put to sleep two days ago he was filled with cancer and couldn’t eat or drink I kept going to different vets and they were unanimous about PTS I realized their expertise . after syringe feeding him food and water for 3 weeks I felt I was doing more harm than good. I was there all the way through the process, I know his suffering has ended, but mine is just beginning , I had 15.5 great years with my Leo and miss him so much

    • Ingrid
      March 7, 2019 at 6:10 am (8 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Rafe. My heart goes out to you.

  9. Elaine
    January 8, 2019 at 9:27 am (10 months ago)

    I put my 18 year old cat down August 7th and I’m still miserable about it. I knew he was miserable, but I had always waited it out before. The horrible part was that I brought him to the Humane Society and there was nothing humane about the way they treated either of us. I wasn’t allowed to come in and say goodbye, I could hear him yelling and then thye returned my carrier with the whole zipper ripped!!!!!! I replay it over and over. Its the right thing but it still carries terrible guilt that we have to learn to forgive ourselves for.

    • Ingrid
      January 8, 2019 at 3:23 pm (10 months ago)

      Oh Elaine, I’m so sorry you have such awful memories of his final moments. I hope you can eventually find peace. My heart goes out to you.

  10. Dustin
    January 7, 2019 at 8:08 pm (10 months ago)

    3 days ago I had my 22 year old calico, Roxy, euthanized. Her condition got so bad, so quickly. It felt like out of nowhere she’d lost several pounds, couldn’t walk, and was constantly in a daze. Ending her life was probably the right decision, but I also feel like I betrayed her, and I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself. She and I grew up together, I had since I was 6, I named her myself. I’m struggling daily with forgiving myself.

    • Ingrid
      January 8, 2019 at 9:15 am (10 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Dustin. 22 years – that’s amazing! And yet, no amount of time is ever long enough. My heart goes out to you.

  11. Gary Mitchell
    December 8, 2018 at 9:59 pm (11 months ago)

    I had to get the vet to put my beautiful Persian boy to sleep .He was sixteen and a half
    years old having been with me all that time.Stopped eating was crying and became
    very thin.Gave me huge amounts of attention before becoming inactive.To keep him
    alive would be for my sake.Putting off euthanasia several times before deciding to end
    his misery.It hurts terribly and the silence but his eyes told me what had to happen.

    • Ingrid
      December 9, 2018 at 6:17 am (11 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Gary.

  12. Connie - Tails from the Foster Kittens
    August 26, 2018 at 3:54 pm (1 year ago)

    When my cat Em’s time had come, she did not want to go. She wanted to remain with me as long as she could, despite what cancer was doing to her body. I attempted to make the appointment several times and each time she told me very clearly she was not ready. In the end, I made that appointment without her consent. It was beyond time as her poor body was ravaged by the cancer, but I have always regretted that I ended our time together before she was ready. I do not regret the decision, I do not regret doing it, but I regret that it had to be that way. I wish she had been ready. I know what I spared her and am glad that she didn’t have to suffer additionally..

  13. Amy
    August 25, 2018 at 8:40 am (1 year ago)

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It was most helpful.

  14. AKP
    August 23, 2018 at 12:39 pm (1 year ago)

    thank you….i still struggle with these feelings. my beloved kitty had lung cancer and it was getting harder to breathe. The vets warned me to do it sooner than later so that she wouldn’t be trying to rush her to the vet while she was suffocating (she said that’s how they die from lung cancer). I guess that thought scared me enough to do it…but i still postponed it 3x. She was still very vibrant in most ways so it was an excruciating choice…

    • Danielle
      August 24, 2018 at 3:08 pm (1 year ago)

      My year and a half baby had fib. He ended up only five pounds at the end.I felt my baby’s heart stop. I cried,screamed,was very sad. But, I knew it was the best thing. I knew it was the best thing I could do. Yes,it hurts like hell, he was a baby but in the end I did the best thing

  15. Pat Wolesky
    August 23, 2018 at 7:28 am (1 year ago)

    I think guilt and second-guessing are extremely common, no matter what you choose. My beautiful Raleigh died naturally, and I felt guilt that I didn’t euthanize her, because the last couple weeks of her life were very hard on her and me. I think ultimately you make the best choice you can and learn to live with it.

  16. Jennifer
    August 22, 2018 at 10:14 pm (1 year ago)

    Guilt continues, for years. It’s a struggle between the heart and the mind. I can rationalize what I had to do, but my heart aches, making me question my decisions.

    • Brian
      August 23, 2018 at 5:30 pm (1 year ago)


  17. Janine
    August 22, 2018 at 8:13 am (1 year ago)

    I think guilt over something like this is very common and it is hard to move past. I am dealing with guilt for putting Pono down, even though I feel I did the best thing for him. I couldn’t let him suffer any more than he already was.

  18. Elaine
    August 22, 2018 at 8:02 am (1 year ago)

    On August 7th I had my 18 year old adopted Russian Blue, named Blue euthanized. I had always let the animals pass on their own. He was skeletal and I finally felt it was the best thing, but the guilt and pain were overwhelming. We contacted a reliable Pet Medium, and Blue told he he wanted a memorial, which we had planned on anyway and told me not to be upset. I still cry, and i still feel miserable, but better when he told me he did not know how to get out of this skin. He didn’t know how to let go on his own. I hope this is some comfort to those going through this. Thank you for sharing a very difficult time. In memory of Blue

  19. Joan
    August 22, 2018 at 7:28 am (1 year ago)

    We all grieve in different ways. Ending the life of my spitfire torbie Matilda brought relief and peace after many months of up and down suffering and huge vet bills. Ending the life of my Ozzie the good luck black cat was much harder. He was in pain, yes, and had used up more than his 9 lives in his 17 years but was not yet on death’s door. I still cry for all my furry babies in kitty heaven. Thank you for this article and I will look for the upcoming book as a future gift for friends who are now dealing with end of life issues.

  20. Nora
    August 22, 2018 at 5:30 am (1 year ago)

    Thank you for this thoughtful post.


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