Feeling guilty is normal after the loss of a dog. Here’s how to deal with guilt after putting your dog down or somehow causing your dog’s death. If you accidentally hurt your dog – or you put your dog to sleep and you regret it – you’ll feel terribly guilty. This is normal – but so painful! Here’s how to deal with guilt after causing your dog’s death.
I’m sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking to say goodbye to a dog; the grief and pain seems like it’ll consume and overwhelm you. I know how terrible it feels, especially when you were somehow involved with your dog’s death. But you are not alone. Read through the comments section, and you will be comforted to see how many people are dealing with guilty feelings after their dog dies. Writing about your experience can bring healing, and will help you process the grief and guilt you feel after the death of your beloved dog.
In this article, you’ll find 18 ways to deal with guilty feelings after your dog dies. It’s not an “18 step process” – they are simply ideas to help you work through the guilt, grief, and pain you feel. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone! Read through the comments section below, and you’ll see that whatever part you played in your dog’s death was a tragic accident.
These tips for dealing with guilt after you caused your dog’s death are inspired by a reader who shared his guilty feelings about putting his dog to sleep. At the end of this article, I listed a few books on on coping with pet loss and dealing with guilty feelings about the loss of a dog.
Saying good-bye to your beloved dog is heartbreaking – and it’s even worse if you feel guilty about your dog’s death. Your heart and home will never be the same. I am sorry for your loss, and my heart is broken along with yours.
How to Deal With Guilt After the Loss of Your Dog
Some people accidentally kill their dog 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. When you are learning how to deal with guilty feelings after doing something that led to your dog dying, remember that you would have acted differently if you knew what was going to happen.
If your actions led to your pet’s death, you have to keep reminding yourself that you did not deliberately harm your dog. It was an accident, and you would have done things differently if you had know what would happen.
Learn the difference between guilt and shame
A healthy step towards dealing with guilty feelings after your dog dies is to learn the difference between guilt and shame.
Guilt – if you have forgiven yourself – can be a positive feeling. It can actually encourage you to have more empathy for others. Guilt can help you make amends, take corrective action, and improve yourself. But you have to learn self-forgiveness before you can turn guilt around after the loss of a dog.
Self-forgiveness is essential to enjoying your life and relationships because you will always have something you need to forgive yourself for! Whether it’s not protecting your dog, forgetting something important, or accidentally saying something hurtful…we constantly need to forgive ourselves because we are human. We are constantly making mistakes, poor choices, selfish decisions.
And we cause accidents. Sometimes we accidentally hurt the dogs we love so much, and we feel guilty.
Know that guilt can make you a better person – more compassionate, kind, and tender-hearted
If you let it, guilt will become an unrelenting source of pain. You might believe that you should feel guilty and condemn yourself not once, but repeatedly. Guilt also may simmer in your unconscious. Either way, this kind of guilt is insidious and self-destructive and can destroy your life.
Shame is how you feel about yourself. Shame is hating who you are and feeling ashamed of what you did. Guilt is hating the decision you made, but accepting that you are human and you made a mistake or a poor choice.
Shame causes you to feel inferior, inadequate, or bad about who you are versus what you did. If you don’t learn how to deal with your guilty feelings and forgive yourself for not protecting your dog, your guilt will turn into shame. Shame is destructive, and has no positive effects.
When you feel guilty, you feel bad about something you did. Guilt can be empowering because it can motivate you to see others with compassion. Guilt – when it’s resolved – can make you a better, wiser, kinder, more loving person. Unresolved guilt and shame will lead to greater self-preoccupation, selfishness, and unhealthy relationships.
18 Ideas for forgiving yourself after the loss of your dog
In How Do You Forgive Yourself, Darlene Lancer shares 18 steps to forgiving yourself. I revised and adapted her tips to fit our experience of dealing with guilty feelings after causing a dog’s death:
- Take responsibility for your actions. “Okay, I did this. My actions led to my dog’s death, and I feel like dying because of the guilt, grief, and pain.”
- Write a story about what happened to your dog, including how you felt about yourself and others involved before, during, and after the loss of your dog. You can share your experience below, in the comments section. Read through the comments – you will see that you are not alone.
- Consider what your needs were at that time, and whether they were being met. If not, why not? This will help you see why you acted the way you did. For example, if you accidentally left your dog in a hot car you will see that you needed to do x, y, and z. That is what motivated you to forget your dog.
- What were your motives for the decision you made? What or who was the catalyst for your behavior?
- How were your feelings and mistakes handled when you were growing up? Were they forgiven, judged, or punished? Who was hard on you? Were you made to feel ashamed? It’s harder for us to forgive ourselves and deal with guilty feelings after a dog’s death when we haven’t learned forgiveness as children.
- Evaluate the standards by which you’re judging yourself. Are you struggling with guilt because of values that you haven’t chosen to adopt? Maybe you’re living by your parents’, your friends’, or your spouse’s values.
- How did your actions affect you and others? Whom did you hurt? Include yourself on the list. Acknowledge that you are in more pain than your dog is.
- Write your dog a letter. Here’s something surprising but worth trying: write a letter of apology to your dead dog. Yes, I am serious! Clear 30 minutes in your schedule, sit down in a private spot where you can write and weep, and tell your dog what happened. This will help you process and deal with your guilty feelings about your dog’s death.
- Relive the experience, with the benefit of knowing what the future holds. Looking back, what healthier beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions would have prevented your dog’s death? It’s possible that you made the decision to put your dog to sleep. It’s also very possible that you would make that same decision today, even though you feel guilty about the loss of a dog.
- Have you struggled with perfectionism in the past? Has this improved your overall well-being? Perfection is illusory and a manifestation of underlying shame.
- Would you forgive someone else for doing what you did? Is it true that what you did was unforgivable?
- How does it benefit you to continue to punish yourself for accidentally causing your dog’s death?
- Write yourself an empathic letter of understanding, appreciation, and forgiveness. If you had a forgiving mom, compassionate teacher, or wise counselor, pretend you are her. Write from her perspective. Tell her how your dog died, and ask her to help you deal with guilty feelings surrounding the loss of your dog.
- Write a letter from your dog’s perspective. On second thought, this might be too painful. I don’t know. Consider it; if you think it may help you deal with guilty feelings about your dog’s death, then try it.
- Repeat on a daily basis words of kindness and forgiveness from one of your letters, such as, “I’m innocent,” “I forgive myself,” and “I love myself.” Remember that remorse is healthy and leads to corrective action. Think about what you’ve learned from your experience and how you might act differently today.
- Share honestly with others what you did – but don’t share with those who might judge you. You are welcome to write about what happened to your dog here, in the comments section. You will never be judged or shamed here, no matter how your dog died or what you did. Remember that secrecy prolongs guilt and shame.
It is entirely possible to forgive yourself and still believe you were at fault, just as you might forgive someone else even though you think the person was in the wrong. Learning how to deal with guilty feelings after the loss of a dog is about acceptance and growth, but not self-condemnation and shame.
You can have regret for what you did yet accept that you’re human and made mistakes. Perhaps, you did your best, given your circumstances, awareness, maturity, and experience at the time. This is a healthy, humble attitude.
Do you feel like it’s impossible to forgive yourself? It may be helpful to talk to a grief counselor. Consider seeing one who specializes in pet loss or animal therapy. And, remember the difference between guilt and shame. If you’re suffering from shame, you will be struggling with self-loathing, guilt, and feeling bad about yourself. This can be healed in therapy.
If you aren’t ready to work through your guilty feelings, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken.
Identify “inappropriate” guilt about the loss of your dog
Not recognizing that your Yorkie, Doberman, or terrier was ill doesn’t mean that you weren’t paying attention or taking good care of him or her! This is imagined guilt. Dogs can’t always communicate their physical health; pet owners can’t see inside their bodies and brains.
Another type of inappropriate guilt is if you’ve accidentally caused your dog’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 inappropriate guilt because of your dog’s death, remember that sometimes illness or disease overcomes our dogs and other beloved pets…and there’s nothing we can do. This loss of control is a very painful — but real — part of life.
Remember that it’s normal to feel guilty when your dog 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 “appropriate” guilt about your dog’s death
Real guilt may spring from your feelings that you neglected your dog 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 beloved dog. Maybe you didn’t make the best choices.
Healing after the loss of a dog 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 loved you unconditionally, 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 dog. You took good care of your dog in many ways; don’t wave that away.
Dealing with guilt after the loss of a dog isn’t just about grieving; it’s about cherishing the best parts of your life with your dog. If you feel like you’ll never be happy again, read How to Recover From Loss and Survive Grief.
Do you feel like you caused your dog’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. I can’t offer advice on what to do about accidentally causing your dog’s death, but it may help you to share what happened. Sometimes writing brings clarity and insight.
Forgive yourself after the loss of your dog
You may find How to Forgive Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog helpful, especially if you feel like you’ll never experience the peace of self-forgiveness.
May you forgive yourself after your dog’s death. Know that your dog has forgiven you, and your dog knows it was an accident! You would never have hurt your dog if you knew what was going to happen. Your dog is free and happy now, and resting in peace. May God give you peace, heal your soul, and help you open your heart to love another dog.
“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.”
Pet Loss and Grief Help After the Loss of a Dog
If you’re struggling with grief and guilty feelings because of the circumstances surrounding your dog’s death, read How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies.
I interviewed veterinarians, grief counselors, and pet experts for the best ways to survive the death of a beloved dog, and I included stories from real pet owners who coped with guilt and grief in sometimes surprising ways.
In Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, Jon Katz addresses the difficult but necessary topic of saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Accidentally killing your dog is an extremely painful experience, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Jon draws on personal experiences, stories from fellow pet owners, and philosophical reflections to help pet owners grieve the loss of their dogs. He gently asks readers to consider if they gave their dogs good lives and if they used their best judgment in the end. In dealing with these issues, you will deal with guilt about your dog’s death, and let go of the pain.
I welcome your thoughts on dealing with guilty feelings after the loss of a dog. I can’t offer advice our counselling, but you may find it helpful to share your experience. Writing is one of the best ways to process grief and guilt after your dog dies, and can help you resolve your feelings.
And, please do read through the comments below. You’ll see that you’re not alone. No matter what caused a dog’s death, we always feel guilty after. We always feel like we could have and should have done more. But we need to accept our loss, and let our dogs to rest in peace.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.