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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Goodbye, 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.
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.
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.