Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death

If you accidentally hurt your dog or cat – or you had to put your pet down – these ways to deal with guilt for causing your pet’s death will help you cope.

feel guilty caused pets death

When Your Pet Dies

When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing by Alan D. Wolfelt is a guide for pet owners who are struggling with grief when their pet dies. This book will help you understand why your feelings are so overwhelming, and help you cope with the guilt you feel about your pet’s death. The topics discussed include practical suggestions for grieving, ideas for remembering and memorializing one’s pet, understanding the many emotions experienced after the death of a pet, understanding why grief for pets is unique, pet funerals and burial or cremation, celebrating and remembering the life of one’s pet, coping with feelings about euthanasia (and guilt about putting an animal to sleep), helping children understand the death of their pet, and things to keep in mind before getting another pet.

These tips are inspired by a reader who shared his guilty feelings about putting his dog to sleep. Saying good-bye to your beloved dog or cat is heartbreaking – and it’s even worse if you feel guilty about your pet’s death. I hope these tips help. “If there is a heaven, it’s certain our animals are to be there,” says Pam Brown. “Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them.”

4 Ways to Deal With the Guilt of a Pet’s Death

Some people accidentally cause their dog or cat’s death by accidentally leaving them in harm’s way. The most important thing to remember is that you did NOT purposely cause your pet’s death. Dealing with guilt may be a bit lighter if you know you would’ve acted differently if you had the chance. If your actions led to your pet’s death, you have to keep reminding yourself that you did not deliberately harm your dog or cat. It was an accident, and you would have done things differently if you had know what would happen.

Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death

If you’re struggling with grief and guilty feelings because of the circumstances surrounding your dog or cat’s death, read Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss. I interviewed veterinarians, grief counselors, and pet experts for the best ways to survive the death of a beloved dog or cat, and I included stories from real pet owners who coped with guilt and grief in sometimes surprising ways.

Identify “imagined” guilt about the loss of your dog or cat. Not recognizing that your Yorkie, cockapoo, or Siamese cat was ill doesn’t mean that you weren’t paying attention or taking good care of him or her! This is imagined guilt. Animals can’t always communicate their physical health; pet owners can’t see inside their bodies and brains.

Another type of “imagined” guilt is if you’ve accidentally caused your pet’s death by letting him out, keeping him in, or losing track of his whereabouts. If you did not deliberately set out to harm your pet, then you have nothing to feel guilty about. I know this is easier said than done – and it takes effort to forgive yourself.

If you’re dealing with imagined guilt because of your pet’s death, remember that sometimes illness or disease overcomes our dogs, cats, and other beloved pets…and there’s nothing we can do. This loss of control is a very painful — but real — part of life.

I recently wrote How to Forgive Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog, to help you deal with the guilt you feel. Please take a moment to read it — it’s the comments on this article that inspired me to write it.

Remember that it’s normal to feel guilty when your dog or cat dies. Whether your guilt is real or imagined, know that it is a normal grief reaction. Even the most “innocent” pet owners feel guilt over a pet’s death. For instance, I now cringe when I recall how angry I was at my beloved cat, Zoey, for scratching the basement door (I didn’t realize the door to her litter box was shut tight, and she couldn’t get in). That was over 12 years ago, and I still feel guilty! Healing after you had to put your pet down often requires forgiving yourself.

dealing with guilt pet deathGoodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet is the number one bestselling book on pet loss and grief on Amazon. I love the book because it offers both heartwarming stories and practical guidance on grieving the loss of a pet. It’ll help you deal with guilt when you caused your pet’s death.

Identify “real” guilt about your pet’s death. Real guilt may spring from your feelings that you neglected your dog or cat’s annual vaccinations, daily food intake, exercise habits, and “quality time” with you. If you’re struggling with real guilt, remember that you had reasons for doing what you did. The stress of money, work, kids, marriage, and daily life may have taken precedence over how you treated your pet. Maybe you didn’t make the best choices.

guilt over dog cat death

“Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death” image by Laurie

Healing after your pet’s death involves accepting that you wish you would’ve done things differently — and talking this through with your family, friends, or loved ones.

Remember what you did right — because you did a lot right. Your dog or cat loved you beyond all reason – so you must have done something right. How did you love and take care of your pet? Balance your real guilt with the real ways you loved your pet. You took good care of your dog or cat in many ways; don’t wave that away.

Dealing with guilt when you caused your pet’s death isn’t just about grieving; it’s about cherishing the best parts of your life with your dog or cat.

Do you feel like you caused your dog or cat’s death? I encourage you to share your experience below. Talking and writing about it is healthier than ignoring it, and can help you process your grief.

8 comments

  1. Hello, This is my first time on this site. I lost my beloved cat Bubba 4 months ago, and i am struggling with both imagined and real guilty. He was only 11 when he passed, I got him from the shelter when he was 12 weeks old, he was like my child, i loved him so much. We spent most his life always together, he would go to work with me sometimes. But I guess I got busy with life his last 2 years and money was tight and i wasnt able to afford flea treatment which led to skin problem from the fleas saliva, he lost so much weight and his hair was falling out from him pulling it out poor baby. I thought I knew more than i did on caring for him. I feel terrible that I didnt have the money to have him cured, I did take him to a vet that i had never been to because i moved to another city, I spent all the money i had, only $700 to the vet and he never got better, he was given a shot of Convenia and he slowly deteriorated. I wish I could have known whether he was suffering but he was such a good boy and acted fairly normal, he jus looked terrible but i loved him anyways. I always was told if a animal is sick, they wont eat or drink, but he still did, so thats why i thought he wasnt that bad health wise, apparently I was wrong. I feel so guilty and cry everyday. And to top it off I didnt make the right choice in his burial and i have regret for how I handled it, he deserved so much more than what i did, I was so emotional and confused by what people around me were saying and dealing with this loss, I wasnt thinking clearly and I am having a hard time accepting the way things were handled. I want to believe that he forgives me and still loves his mama. I truely hope the rainbow bridge is real and that when the day comes for me to leave this earth that whether a person or pet is cremated or buried; that it doesnt matter; that we will still meet them when we cross over and will be together again in Heaven.

    1. Hello Rebecca,
      Thanks for your post.
      It’s so sad for me to hear this kind of stories. But we have nothing but to deal with it. In my personal opinion & hope – there is definitely a place where we can meet our loved pets. Don’t blame yourself, according to your financial situation u’ve done the most. Circumstances were not the best one’s so don’t blame yourself, you’ve done it the way you can. You tried, believe me or not, may people wouldn’t even try. So it’s good thing in you, kind and loving side of you for your kitty.

  2. I sincerely hope this helps my grieving process. We had a female pitbull, Skylar, who passed in October 2013, one week before her 6th birthday. Skylar had TPLO surgery in January of 2013, a tooth that was removed, and then topped it off with a broken blood vessel in her ear in the spring. As the summer of 2013 began, she was finally over all of this and seemed to be recovering. She was still sweeping the leg that had surgery, so we thought this was just a part of the recovery process for her. As the summer went on, she started to get skinnier even though she was eating. We figured it was because of her leg and lack of exercise. We walked her as much as we could, have a big yard, and made sure she ate regularly, but she still lost weight. We took her to the vet that did the TPLO surgery and he took blood and urine, all came back ok. What he didn’t check was her stool… As the summer turned into the fall, pain killers and Xanax were prescribed to try to help. In October, she seemed to be delirious and out of it. We still thought it was her leg bothering her…..The Monday morning she passed, she had an episode, she hadn’t had any pain meds, but I gave her a low dose Xanax. She seemed to relax and I thought she would rest until I got home from work and we could take her in for another evaluation. As my partner laid down with her, I took a shower — when I got out, not 10 minutes later, she was gone. My partner had fallen asleep next to her with his hand on her body, so I take a small amount of comfort in her knowing we were here. Even though I’ve never done it, the vet offered an autopsy and I was willing just to find out what happened to my girl…no results………no cancer, no tumors, leg surgery was fine, no infection, nothing……..no answers… My brain, and all my armchair detective work, tell me it was worms or a parasitic infection that we should’ve realized or the vet should’ve realized. My heart tells me if we would’ve just done the fecal sample, the cause would’ve been found in the summer and she’d still be with us. I’ve had so many dogs in my lifetime and loved them all to the fullest, but this is the one I just can’t seem to get over. Reading the other posts here showed me that others go through it too — some know what happened, some don’t, but we all hurt..I appreciate everyone sharing because even though we’re still in pain I hope these posts help others to understand they’re not alone in their grief and we’re all still getting through each day. I will get another female dog; I just don’t know when, but I know I will. We have two other male dogs in the house and I’m trying to get this grief out by giving them as much love as possible. I hope and I pray and I wait —- pleading to get to spend eternity with her when I get there too 🙂 Thank you everyone for reading, sharing and proving we can only move forward… Steve
    http://youtu.be/mW85BoixBIw

  3. My grief over the loss of a pet is bringing up any and all guilt I’ve ever had about all the others

    Our loving, beautiful 4 year old cat Coconut was a stray kitten and we adopted him and his sister who were flea infested and covered with urine. He became large and strong and gorgeous with glossy fur, smooth fur, but that changed over time. He passed away the day before yesterday on July 4, after emergency room care and overnight hospitalization. He was only four. He had an obtructed urethra, a bladder the size of a grapefruit and was hemorraging, his temperature dropped and his blood pressure never came back to normal. He vomited bile and lost too much blood to survive. He had been losing hair, and his body was bloating over the past maybe year and a half and he had a horrible rash around his anus about 2 months ago. I brought him to two different vets at the same practice, 3 1/2 months ago and again 6 weeks ago, and of course, to an emergency clinic a few days ago. The two vets found nothing. He had lost hair on his rear legs, his stomach and on his bottom. The first said, although he couldn’t find a single flea on him, that one may have jumped on and off causing an allergic reaction. When I questioned that, he gave me a prescription for anti anxiety meds for him saying he might just be over grooming himself. They both said he was overweight, which was true because he never left my room, but he was also bloated. Now I realize they found nothing wrong because they ran no tests, did not palpatate his abdomen and didn’t ask many questions at all. The second vet is a feline specialist. How is that possible? I had no idea that male cats could get UTI or have blockage. I should have been beter educated. I should have had a fountain for him.

    It was the 3rd of July and idiots were shooting off fireworks. His whole body was rigid and twitching because of the deafening blasts, he threw up and was growling. The night before we brought him to the emergency clinic he went down the stairs, practically falling the whole way and walked, or actually hobbled off into the night. I’m sure he was heading off to die in peace but I followed him, sat with him then brought him back inside. I held him all night like a baby but he he was cold the next day. Now I think that was cruel. He could have died before enduring all the pain to come. My daughter found him in his litter box dripping blood. I scooped him up to bring him to the vet but couldn’t find my keys for 20 minutes or so. The towels I wrapped him in were filled with blood. It was the 4th so we went to an emergency clinic, they took him in right away that morning. By 5pm the vet came in and discussed our options. He was heavily sedated and I sat with him and looked into his eyes for a long time, they would dilate when I got closer. They had him wrapped in an inflatable blanket with warm air flowing through it. I covered him with my hair, had my face an inch or two from his and told him I loved him. Against all reason he somehow stretched out his paw toward me. I thought he could make it. The vet said he was very sick, but we all decided to give him another chance and hospitalized him overnight, with dnr and assist instructions, “do not resessitate and assist with euthanasia”. So he went alone and afraid into a horrible sterile environment with a catheter and an IV in his body. The next day the vet called and said he was doing better and had sat up. I didn’t go see him immediately. I called and the staff said to wait it was too busy. By the time I went later that afternoon they wouldn’t let me in. He was no longer stable. They said his only chance was finding a donor cat and giving him a total blood transfusion. Even that was a long shot, (and what about the other cat!)

    I am devastated. I loved him so much. I feel I made his life miserable. He should have been my only pet.

    When we brought him home we had Bubba, a 14ish year old lab/rottweiler mix, who lived outside for the most part. Bubba had the best disposition and passed away at about 15, 3 years ago when Coco was one. Bubba had been a gorgeous, jet black stray who had stage 5 heartworm when we found him. We had him treated and he was well, but he had stage 2 again, seizures, arthritis, swelling towards the end. Bubba had lived inside for a couple of years after he came to live with us but always wanted to be outside. When we moved closer to the coast we let him stay in the garage but took him out on the boat a lot and to parks. I brought him inside for the last few months and that seemed to destroy his spirit. We live on pilings near the water and the steps are hard on dogs. Our two year old pup, Halo plops down on our sofas in the AC all the time. Now I wish I had Bubba inside with us all the time and am still a wreck about that. Coco really identiified with Bubba and acted for all the world like a dog. He I got much closer after the horrific loss of Bubba, who was to old for successful heartworm treatment and had to be euthanized, which we had done in our living room. I still have trouble walking by there and have curled up in that spot thinking of him. We got another puppy, Halo a year later when Coco was 2. I feel guilty about getting Halo because it took away from my relationship with Coco, but we got another puppy, Hunter last month for our daughter. Coconut “ran away” from home last month for two days when Hunter came home. He was scared of Hunter, an exhuberant, energetic labradoodle, with big paws and sharp puppy teeth. I should have had him in the pen and carried Coco through the living room.

    About 9 months ago Coco was attacked by a hawk or bald eagle. He had talon marks around his neck but didn’t appear to be injured otherwise. They healed but he was never the same. He was scared to leave my room. The new dogs scared him too and he stayed in our bedroom sleeping above my shoulder near my head at night and generally slept in the closet all day. But maybe that was lethargy and depression because of kidney problems. I fed him separately and would close the door so the dogs would leave him alone. Occasionally they got in and probably drank his water, I am not sure I kept it filled all the time. I am horrified that he may not have had enough water and that his death is all my fault. I put water in his food but he sometimes could not void his bladder. I didn’t know that was a huge red flag. He had a few drops blood in his urine a couple of months ago, after I brought him to the vet, but I read about it and attributed it to stress.

    His death is bringin back guilt from when my cat Tiger contracted leukemia, went through chemo was euthanized. The vet did it roughly in front of me and I can still barely think about it. My cat Nutmeg never came home at 17, but I had put her outside that night. My pet rabbit, guinea pigs, fish, parakeets and family dog died. I can’t take it. I’ve been told that it is better to have loved than never to have loved at all. I’m not sure about that. All this grief is making me rexamine my interpersonal relationships and cherish every moment. I think I am the one who needs anti anxiety meds- I might take Coco’s.

  4. I used nitromours to take paint off doors upstairs. I opened all the windows and kept the door shut dodnstairs where my dogs were. I knew it could cause health problems but unaware it could cause such terrible ones and cancer and thought there would be no harm to them as they were not in direct contact. They both developed cancer 6 months later, one has just died last week. I am searching for reasons to blame myself and now think this may be the cause after researching it. I can’t believe something so dangerous could be on the market for home DIY projects. Had I have known I would never have used it. I am struggling to come to terms with the fact I could have caused her death.

  5. Today I lost my new hamster. He didn’t even have a name yet, but my sister and I loved him. I remembered my friend would bring her hamster outside, so I thought it would be fun to do the same. But then, it happened. My dog (who didn’t mean any real harm) ran at the hamster. I had him at my hands, and he squeezed out in fear. I tried my best to catch him, but he ran into a bush. I then spent 3 hours searching for him. But he was gone. If I hadn’t taken him out he would still be here. And my sister also has to deal with the loss, and I feel so at fault. But I just need to accept that it was an accident, and I couldn’t control what had happened in the moment.

  6. Well my dog was sick and not like others I had 3 day chance to help but the first day I took it not as serious but the second I saw it was bleeding even more from the vagina.It was bleeding dark red blood and today morning its dead but I asked my mom if we could take it to doctor she said its too far and we found a small puppy dead where it sleeps

  7. Today we lost our cockatiel. My husband had him from before we ever met. Tweety was close to 25 years old. My son and were in my bedroom where we kept tweety and it was a beautiful fall day so I opened the bedroom windows and his cage door because he liked to sit in the door and look outside. He could not fly anymore. We left the house for less than an hour and when we left my husband was going to close the door but also thought it was a nice day and let Tweety enjoy it. We came back and he had left the cage which he never did and fell and broke his neck. My husband saw him Just as he died. If I hadn’t opened the cage or if we had closed it before we left, my husband’s best friend would still be here.

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