You are not alone if you accidentally hurt your beloved furry friend or animal companion. Coping with guilt after your pet dies is more common than you think, even if you chose to put your furry friend down for health reasons. These tips on how to cope with guilty feelings after your pet dies will show you that you are not alone, and help you heal.
These tips are inspired by a very sad story from reader who struggled to deal with guilty feelings after his dog’s death. On a personal level, I myself have faced terrible guilt and grief after losing several pets in my life.
I know the pain of losing birds, hamsters, and even a beloved lizard. I also coped with guilty feelings after losing two dogs and four cats (not all at once, thankfully!). I didn’t know how to deal with the pain, so I read a dozen books on grieving and coping with the guilt of pet loss. The books I read weren’t as helpful as I hoped, so I interviewed several pet loss grief experts, veterinarians, and pet owners about losing a pet.
Then I gathered the most valuable tips for coping with grief and guilt after a pets’ death, and created How to Heal Your Heart After Losing Your Pet. It’s my ebook; I share a link to it at the end of this article.
These tips are inspired by a reader who shared his guilty feelings about not learning how to exercise his dog in hot weather. His dog died of heat exertion during a long hike on a sunny summer day. Saying good-bye to your beloved dog or cat is heartbreaking; it’s harder if you feel guilty about your pet’s death.
“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.”
Dealing With Guilt After a Pet’s Death
Some people accidentally cause their dog or cat’s death by accidentally leaving them in harm’s way. If you accidentally hurt or even caused your pet’s death, remember is that you did not do it on purpose.
Be gentle and compassionate with yourself, for you did not know what you were doing. You did not purposely cause your pet’s death. Dealing with guilt after a pet dies is less of a struggle when you accept that if you knew the future, you would have acted differently. 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.
Learn about “imagined” guilt and your pet’s death
“Imagined” guilt means that you are shouldering a burden that is not yours. For example, Not recognizing that your pet Yorkie, cockapoo, or Siamese cat was sick or even dying does not mean you are a bad person or bad pet owner. This is imagined guilt. Animals can’t always communicate their physical health; we pet owners can’t see inside their bodies and brains. Nor can we predict the future.
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 readers with guilt about pet loss. 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 pet 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! Coping with guilt after pet los takes a long time – unless you know how to love and forgive yourself (and perhaps even live like you’re forgiven and free!).
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 recommend it for everyone struggling with guilt, shame and grief after their pet dies.
I love this 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 so much right
Your pet or beloved furry friend loved you beyond all reason – so you must have done something right. How did you love and take care of your pet? What was your friendship like overall? I bet you and your pet loved each other beyond reason (otherwise you wouldn’t feel guilty about your pet’s death).
If you’ve been struggling to deal with guilt, read How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies. It’s an ebook I wrote to help people grieve and heal.
Learn how to balance your guilt with reality. You really loved your pet, and you feel terrible about your pet’s death. You took good care of your dog or cat in many important, kind, compassionate, real ways.
Do not let your pet’s death define his or her life, or the relationship you had. If you feel guilty for abandoning your pet, read 5 Ways to Deal With Guilt and Grief After Rehoming Your Dog.
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, and coping with feelings about euthanasia (including guilt about putting an animal to sleep).
Dealing with guilt after pet loss isn’t just about grieving. Saying goodbye means you cherish the best parts of your relationship with your pet dog or cat, knowing you’ll always carry your pet’s life in your heart.
Do you feel like you caused your pet’s death? I encourage you to share your experience below. Talking and writing about your feelings of guilt and grief can be healing. You won’t be judged or condemned here.
If you’re looking for tangible expressions or symbols of forgiving guilt and grieving pet loss, read 8 Pet Sympathy Gifts to Ease the Pain of a Dog or Cat’s Death.