Dec 022013

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.

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  238 Responses to “Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death”

  1. I decided to have my dog Moose put to sleep, he had liver, kidney & pancreas failure. I tried to save him & now I feel like I killed him. He was the first dog I ever had put to sleep. He was 14 years old, he was my everything, I feel lost without him & I wished I could be with him. I don’t know how to cope with this please help. Thanks.

    • bbebe i am so sorry for your loss, you have lost a close companion and that is a gap that cant be filled by anyone or anything else. But your pet was suffering organ failure and if you hadnt have done what you did he would have endured far more pain and suffering. You spared him all that, so he was able to have an enjoyable life and not end it in a terrible way. I wish we could all go that way but hey! humans cant be put out of their misery (yet). You have nothing to feel guilty about but you are suffering grief- you’ve just had to say goodbye to someone who has been in your life for years. Dont matter that it wasnt a human (i have more animal friends than human ones, the grief on losing one is exactly the same). Grief takes time. Allow yourself to be sad and miss him, and, over time (yep time IS a healer) you will remember more of the good times you had together and less about the last few days. But it will be raw for a while. My sympathy.

  2. I’m so sorry for the loss of all your pets, and like you all I too am struggling with guilt, believing I killed my beloved McDermott!!
    I only ever feed him a seed diet and though I knew fresh fruits and veggies were good for him, I believed that a seed diet was ok..
    Last year around this time he suffered what I believe was a night fright (common to cockatiels,) he was out of his cage and the room wa dark, I was asleep and woke up to his fluttering noise..
    I called my friend who looks after him when I’m away and also works at the avian vets office. She told me to look after him overnight and bring him in to vet in the morning.
    He stayed in the hospital for age days, was on oxygen and had tests done.
    The vet believed he suffered a stroke, but said he’s heart was fine. I took him home and didn’t do anything different..oh, I did add Pomagranite juice to his water on the advice of the vet. He kept having small seizures, but I passed them off as night frights, as he seemed ok after a few minutes, but sometimes he did appear dazed and I guess I was in denial???
    In early Dec/2014 he had a big seizure and I could no longer ignore them as he’s little heart would race like crazy..
    I know this is long, but I feel so guilty that I killed him!!!
    The dr put him on meds and said that his heart was enlarged, I was horrified as in Feb his heart was fine, we changed up his diet …adding supplements, and resveratrol to his water and he was doing fine, I had him on a diet and gave him leafy vegs and other vegetables, but in early jan he had another seizure. He’s appt with dr was jan 13/15 and she was pleased with his progress, she said he’s murmur was still there, but no worse!!! I had hope and he had another small seizure, but I thought maybe he wasn’t always getting his meds on time was the cause, as u work 12hr shifts..
    I tried not to let him fly as much but he would pace if I didn’t let home out!!
    Anyways, Jan 31/15 he took his last fly, I redirected him as I did before and he found a place to perch and then I thought I better put him back in his cage, and just as I was about to do so, it seemed he just floated to the floor and died!!!
    I’m heart broken, believing I should have know better in Feb and I souls have taken him to vet a lot sooner than Dec and I souls have provided a better diet for him starting in Feb!!
    I can’t change his death and I’m great full for all the stories I read, but I feel so responsible for his death….it’s horrible!!
    Thank u all for taking the time to read this very long post, but I needed to get this off my chest!!!
    Bless all of you animal lovers out there!!
    God forgive me and McDermott, I pray for your forgiveness!!!
    I love u so much!!! Xoxo your human mommy!!!

  3. Today I killed my puppy Sherlock. I was getting ready in the morning and decided to let both my dogs out while I took a shower. We live out in the woods so I know I shouldn’t leave them out for long because of coyotes but nothing had ever happened in the morning so I took a shower and got ready. I got so wrapped up in my morning routine that almost 30 minutes had gone by since I let them out. I went go let them back in but only my dog Bubbles was waiting at the door. She kept crying and running around so I followed her, calling out for Sherlock. She finally led to where he was and he was limp and dead. I had let them out so many times before and had always assumed nothing happened in the mornings and there he was, dead. He had gotten bitten by a coyote and looked like he had just died. I keep telling myself how I shouldve checked or how I should’ve kept them inside. I’ve been crying for so long already and I feel awful. I was so preoccupied with myself that I didn’t even check on them. My brother and mom don’t know yet and I feel like they’re going to hate me when they find out, because I was so reckless.

  4. Three days ago my 9 month old French bulldog, my beloved Vanilla died because of me.. I left the gate open even though I knew she would run out, and even though I knew she always jumped over passing cars.. I was in a hurry I wanted to go in the house and leave some things and I never returned to close the gate because I thought that I would pick her up after two minutes.. Only those minutes were enough.. She went by the gate and when a car passed by she jumped over it and killed her.. I went out to bring her in and found her dead.. I have three kids, they adored her, and I’ve made everyone so sad.. They keep telling her how much they miss her and my boyfriend is very angry at me.. I have to mention that this was not the first time I was leaving the gate open, and he was always telling me that this would happen.. How am I not to blame tell me? I feel terrible I’ve caused everyone so much pain, not to mention my little doggie who had to pay the price for being irresponsible?

    • Maria- I am so sorry for your loss. I live in a house in the country, too. I am almost 1/4 mile from the main road, but one day when I let my puppy off the lead, she took off for the road, outran me and was hit and killed instantly. It has been 3 weeks and I am worried my husband may divorce me and that I may never forgive myself. I am sure we have both learned a deeply painful lesson. Good luck to us both.

  5. I sit here now typing this feeling so much pain and guilt. My beloved little girl has been with me 23 years and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her, and, in doing what I thought was right, I inadvertently brought her to the point where I most likely will be having her euthanized and I don’t think I can ever forgive myself. My kitty is old, in her 23rd year, and she has lived a long life. However, as she grew older I was scared to put her in the carrying case and bring her to the vet for fear her heart would give out. She stresses out so when in the case and at her old age I didn’t want to do anything to hasten her death. She has been doing fine, eating well. I’m aware that her kidneys are failing and at her age, there is nothing that can be done about it. She has never liked being held. When my son was here he used to hold her and I would clip her nails. When he left, I had no one to help me. I tried, but she screamed so and pulled her paw away that I thought she would hurt herself so I let it go. She was getting around well, was scratching her rug, batting her balls around so I never thought anything was wrong. Then this past week she got up and could barely walk. Her back legs are weakening but when I felt her front paws I was horrified. Her nails were so overgrown. I feel so bad and find myself crying and wish I could go back and do it all over again. I know now they would have to put her to sleep to fix them and at her age, she probably won’t wake up. I’m feeling so much pain and guilt over this. She has been my best friend for 23 years and I feel I have let her down. My heart is breaking. I did what I did because I loved her so much, and now I realize in loving her, I was only hurting her. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to share and I understand if you feel I am a bad pet owner.

    • you are not a bad pet owner, you are a loving pet owner, you made decisions based on love and only with hindsight do they seem wrong. Is it not possible for the vet to come to you and to give a sedative rather than anaesthetic?

  6. I’m pretty sure that it was my fault my dog Shiloh died. It was December 5, and my dog was in my room sleeping on my bed. I had left an open bag of Chex Mix on my bed, and it had about one third of the Chex Mix still in the bag. I left my room to do something on my mom’s computer. Then I went outside to see if the cat who had just began randomly visiting our porch was outside, and she was, so I let her inside and played with her for awhile. I then let the cat outside and watched tv in the living room. I was gone from my room for a long time, probably about 2 hours. It was about 1 in the morning, and I finally went back to my room. I opened my door and I see my dog lying on the floor with the empty bag of Chex Mix over his head. I completely froze, and then I went to pick him up, with the slight hope that he somehow fell asleep like this. When I realized that he wasn’t moving, I started screaming so loud and I ran to my mom. That was the worst and most tramautic moment of my life. I was screaming, crying, pulling my hair, pacing back and forth, and I couldn’t even tell if it was real or not. I completely blame myself for what happened because I knew that the Chex Mix was on my bed, and I knew he was in my room. I think I just assumed he wouldn’t eat it. Something as simple as putting the bag away, leaving my door open, or checking on him could’ve saved him. It was the most careless and stupid mistake I’ve ever made. And I miss my puppy so much. I’ve had Shi shi since the day he was born: December 22, 2010 and I watched him grow up. He honestly was the best dog in the world, and I told him that every single day. He was so beautiful and happy and full of energy and he meant everything to me. I loved him so so much. There was so many things to love about him. I would cuddle him every night as I fell asleep. He was my baby, my entire world. Now, almost a month later, I still miss him terribly and I haven’t fully accepted the fact that he’s really gone. I still can imagine him everywhere in the house. I’ve told my friends about this, and they tell me not to blame myself because I didn’t know it would happen. But I feel like the whole time I was away from my room, my gut was telling me to at least go check on him, to go back to my room, or that something just felt wrong. I ignored it however, and didn’t even go back. And while I was playing with the cat, I knew I should’ve checked on him, but I assumed he was fine and kept on playing with the cat. It was as if I chose the cat over him, my own puppy. I keep imagining that day and how I could’ve done something to change it. There’s still so much pain and guilt that is so indescribable, sometimes I just break down and cry and it feels like I can’t breathe. It was worse the few days after it happened. I didn’t want to sleep or eat, and my 15th birthday was 3 days after it happened and I struggled to enjoy it. I just don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for what happened. There have been so many times where I wished it happened to me instead of him. And today is 4 years since his mom died, which I also blame myself for since I had left chocolate out and she had eaten some of it. I literally made the same mistake twice, and such a stupid and careless mistake at that. I feel like a horrible person and I don’t know if I’ll ever come to terms with what I’ve done.

    • amber, i had to reply cos you are so young to be going through this and i am a 40 year old woman crying into my laptop cos i am in pain over the loss of my own “baby” two years ago.
      if i still feel this bad i guess it must be nearly impossible for you to see a way forward right now.
      i am struggling to see a positive way forward for myself but i want to offer you this bit of advice cos you have so much life left to do good stuff i think you should hold on to that thought.
      So- you made a mistake and wish to god you could turn back time, do it all again differently? Me too. But the reality of life is it only goes in one direction. You need to know that the couple of years you had your pet were probably the best of his little life. Imagine if he had been rehomed to some scumbag who neglected him instead? He had a good life with you. Short but good. Thats what keeps me going with my guilt over my pet.
      You can do something good out of this bad. For example try helping a local dog charity- helping all those dogs unfortunate enough to have a neglectful owner rather than a loving owner. I find campaigning for animal welfare gives me purpose, a bit.
      If you try to do something positive for animal welfare then, in the future, you will look back on this time in your life and know that you learned a terrible lesson but you did your best to make good for others out of it.
      hope that helps, you probably dont want to feel helped, but you can accept forgiveness, i know you probably wont forgive yourself but, when you are ready, put that caring compassionate side into doing good for other pets and you may find you can live with what happened more easily.

      • Thanks so much, Jane. And I’m sorry for your loss. I’m still struggling to accept and move on from what happened. Instead of feeling depressed I try to feel grateful for having him in my life, and imagine all of the memories I had with him. It’s almost been 2 months and it still hurts so much more than anything but I’m trying my hardest to keep going and hope to have so much to look forward to. And I like your idea of helping a local dog charity. My friend and I are going to be volunteering at a pet care place soon, maybe that might help.

  7. I caused my beloved cat of 14 years death 2 days ago. He had lived with a few different dogs throughout his life and wasn’t afraid of them. He was the coolest cat. I adopted a young adult coonhound. Had the damn dog for less than 24 hours before he killed my sweet cat. I was told by the rescue that the dog was crate-trained and good with other animals, that he was fostered with a cat. When the dog saw my cat, he was very excited, my husband had to hold him back and we both thought that his prey drive might be too much for our household. He slept in his crate fine the first night. So when we left for the farmers market the next morning, we put the dog back in his crate with new chew toys in a room with French doors. I moved all my cat’s essentials up stairs. I had the thought to shut my cat in the spare bedroom with his essentials, but decided against it – the dog was in his crate. We were gone for 2 hours. When I came back, the dog was at the door. Crap!!! He busted out if the crate. I sort of laughed at him and showed my husband who was getting our toddler son out of the car. I headed toward where the crate was and could smell cat urine. I walked around the corner and oh my god, there was my poor cat’s lifeless body!!!!! The dog killed him. The dog that I brought home, killed him. I keep replaying the scenario over and over. My cat’s death was totally avoidable. I did not protect him. I keep praying he did not suffer. I hate myself for this.

    • I am sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved cat. On Dec. 26th I was home and had put my two parrots in each of their cages. I was watching my neighbor’s two dogs at my house. They would stay at their house and I would bring them over to mine at night. Bobo, a mutt, and Chloe, a golden doodle, were intrigued by my Maestro, a Black Cap Lory. she was between 16 and 17 years old. I’ve had her for 16. Maestro must have put her beak between the bars and Bobo bit her beak right below her cere (nostril) and damaged the lower beak too. He must have pulled her at the same time too because he head was at the bars a little bit. She screamed and I jumped up, put the dogs in the kitchen, put the gate up and got Maestro out of her cage. I was holding her at my chest. She was having difficulty I think because she must have been bleeding some inside her back, going down her throat. He had damaged her lower beak a little bit too. I think she hurt her neck some too. She probably was in shock too. I called my vet, it was about 12 at night, and it went to her voicemail. I called the regular emergency vet and they gave me another avian emergency vet and it went to her voicemail but I couldn’t leave a message because her voicemail was full. Maestro died probably about a half hour afterwards. My other neighbors came over when I called them. I felt so stupid. I’m usually so careful. I knew Bobo had kiilled some possums in his back yard and a neighbor’s cat that got into his back yard (one hat he used to sleep with) but I thought my birds were ok because they were in their cages and I had put two gates up against Maestro’s cage too. I am trying very hard to forgive myself. It comes and goes. It’s the reliving of the event that causes such grief, If only I had done this, if only I had looked at Bobo for what he was, a hunter with an instinct to kill smaller animals. The night before had been just fine. I purchased two books on line. One is a 2014 edition called the grief recovery handbook for pet loss. Another is a pet loss companion handbook. I have more that I got from the library. I think the key is to read and grieve. I should be reading more or keeping the book with me so that I can try to look at things in a different perspective when I resort to beating myself up. We never would harm our pets or put them in harms way if we knew that they were in danger. My sister is from Newtown CT where they had the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Her friend’s daughter was killed in the shootings. She was 6. My sister’s friend told her that God intended that she have 6 wonderful years with her daughter. She just didn’t know that that was his plan. For some reason this gave me some solace. We can’t always control everything – like death. sometimes death of a loved one comes and we couldn’t control it. I think faith plays a role in this. The books are helping me and good friends that are supportive and patient with you while you take the time that is needed for you to grieve. Nobody should minimize your grief or the time that it takes for you to grieve. Don’t forget all the love you gave your pet and the wonderful life that he had with you all those years.

      • I am so sorry to hear about what happened with your bird! Your reflection on the situation is so important, though, and very helpful to many of us who are still struggling with guilt over similar situations.

      • Monica:
        Our situations are different, yet similar. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I also bought a book to help with my guilt and grief. My mom gifted me a lovely necklace that holds a very small amount of my cat’s ashes. Might seem odd to some, but I feel better with a piece of him close to my heart. I want to send you and all the other folks grieving their pets loss, healing and warm thoughts. Cherish the good times we all were lucky enpugh to have.

  8. Since spring I was feeding a stray male cat. I remember seeing him last year and he had an owner, but this spring he was in really bad shape, so I felt sorry for him and fed him. The next day, he came back, asking for more and during summer, I fed him pretty much regularly. He constantly kept sitting on our doormat, so I got him our cat’s bed two seconds later he was in it and stayed in most days. He was nice to everyone except other cats, including mine, so I kept them apart because I didn’t know if he had anything contagious. I kept hinting to my parents that we should take him to a vet because he was thin for so long, but they ignored it (later they said that they wanted to see first if he would get over the disease), and some months later he completely changed and seemed to be healthy. But during autumn he kept begging more and more to come inside and I knew it was getting cold, but I couldn’t let him in with our cat, so I asked the local association for animal help if they had any room for an unneutered male. I had been making hats for them for charity auctions. The woman said they didn’t have room even for nice kittens and that I should give her my contact to arrange free neutering for me, and that there is no room elsewhere and that I definitely shouldn’t give him to a shelter because that’s an instant death sentence. My mom finally realized the cat was cold and agreed that we would take the cat to our old house over winter and said that she would pay for the vet. I figured that was already arranged because I already gave my contact to the woman. Some days later, a shelter came to pick up the cat, and when I put him in the box, he gave me a document to sign that if he’s positive for FIV, FelV or microspores, he would be put down. I didn’t know about that condition until that day and I was only worried that he might have microspores, and I would take heal him if that was the case. I figured he must have been vaccinated at least once if he once had an owner. I kept thinking how happy he would be once he returned and he would finally be warm inside our house. The same day the vet contacted me and said the cat was positive for FelV and if we would be coming for the cat anyway. I was shocked, but agreed to pick him up. A few seconds later he called again and said that since the municipality is covering the bill, by law he’ll have to be put down and quickly ended the call. I was too shocked react on time ad didn’t know what my parents would think if I agreed to pay the vet for a sick cat that would have to be inside and live seperately. I was jobless and alredy had one healthy cat. My mom would only stay at our old house during winter. After the event she told me she would have moved for the cat and that she really loved it. I feel like a monster. She never touched the cat, I took care of his food and outdoor shelter. Until a few days before the pick-up, my parents kept saying that it’s normal for cats to be outside during winter and I didn’t take her seriously when she said she’d cover the bill because I thought the association woman already arranged that. I dodn’t know by how much I shortened the cat’s life by not reacting fast enough and demanding vet care from my parents before autumn. I had contacted that woman for help because I knew they were a no-kill “shelter” and she kept pushing me to have the cat neutered, so she apparently helped by contacting a kill shelter for me? What have I done to her to deserve this? Why did my cat have to pay such a price? That association had all kinds of sick cats, helped pay vet bills, anything to keep cats alive, and her way of helping me was to contact the same kill shelter that she warned me about. It’s over a month since that happened and I still feel horrible. How long would he have lived if I hadn’t contacted her? That cat trusted me and this way my way of helping him, I feel horrible.

  9. This morning my flying squirrel Pippa died. Last night I went in to check on her and noticed she wasn’t as energetic as usual, and I took her out of her cage. I lightly pinched her skin and it seemed she was dehydrated. Her water bottle was full, but when I pressed the ball no water came out. I felt terrible; for close to four days she hadn’t had any water because the bottle was stopped up. I quickly poured her some in a bowl and she drank a little of it. I also gave her a bit of apple which she nibbled on some. She was moving around a bit and even used the bathroom; I thought she would be fine. I had planned to go out and since she was doing okay, I put her back in her cage with her water and apple and left. This morning my mother called me home saying she had passed away. I feel so guilty for first of all, not knowing that her water bottle wasn’t working and second of all for leaving her. I’m so torn up, she was just a little over three years old.

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