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How to Deal With Guilty Feelings After Your Dog’s Death

Even if you didn’t cause your dog’s death, you still feel guilty. It’s a natural response to pet loss. If you accidentally killed your pet dog, you’ll be overwhelmed with guilty feelings. Here, you’ll find help dealing with the pain and grief.

I am so sorry for your loss. It’s heartbreaking to cope with a pet’s death; the grief when your dog dies feels overwhelming and heartbreaking. I can’t imagine exactly how you feel, but I’ve grieved the loss of two dogs and three cats. I know the heartbreak of a beloved pet’s death.

I’ve also heard from hundreds of readers who were somehow involved in their dog’s death. Some were directly responsible for accidentally causing their dogs to die, while others feel like they put their dogs to sleep too soon. After you read my tips on how to deal with guilty feelings after a dog’s death, read through the comments section. You’ll feel both better and worse. You’ll see you are not alone.

If you accidentally hurt your dog – or you wonder if you put your dog to sleep too soon – you’ll feel overwhelmed with guilt and shame. You loved your dog with all your heart. The last thing you wanted to do was cause your dog harm or death.

Most pet owners deal with guilty feelings after their dog dies. They struggle to learn how to live without their best friends after pet loss. In this article, you’ll find a variety of practical and emotional ways to deal with guilty feelings after your dog dies. These ideas may or may not work for you, but I encourage you to at least think about them. Working through the guilty feelings after the loss of your dog will help you heal from the pain.

Guilty Feelings After the Loss of Your Dog

Dealing With Guilt After the Loss of a Dog

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. 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. Make sure you allow yourself to grieve in healthy ways.

If you need comfort rather than tips on dealing with guilty feelings, read Comforting Prayers for the Loss of a Beloved Dog.

Dealing With Guilt After Your Dog Dies

Some pet owners accidentally kill their dog by leaving or putting them in harm’s way. No matter how your dog died, remember that you didn’t purposely cause your pet’s death. When you’re dealing with guilty feelings because you think your actions led to your dog dying, remember that you would have done things different if you knew the future.

You did not deliberately harm your dog. It was an accident, and if you could turn back time, you would.

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.

How to Deal With Guilt After the Loss of Your Dog

How to Deal With Guilt After the Loss of Your Dog

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 – it’s hating who you are. Guilt is regretting the decision you made, but accepting that you are human and you made a mistake.

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 Your Dog’s Death

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. What were your motives for the decision you made? What or who was the catalyst for your behavior?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Have you struggled with perfectionism in the past? Has this improved your overall well-being? Perfection is illusory and a manifestation of underlying shame.
  11. Would you forgive someone else for doing what you did? Is it true that what you did was unforgivable?
  12. How does it benefit you to continue to punish yourself for accidentally causing your dog’s death?
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Everyday, repeat the words of kindness and forgiveness from one of your letters, such as, “I’m innocent,” “I forgive myself,” and “I love myself.” Remember that healthy remorse can lead to humility, compassion, love, and love in your life.
  16. 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 in the comments section below. You will never be judged or shamed here, no matter how your dog died or what you did. Remember that keeping secrets 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.

How to Cope With Guilt After the Loss of Your Beloved DogYou can regret what you did, and at the same time accept that you made a mistake. 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 dog down often requires forgiving yourself.

dealing with guilt pet lossGoodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet by Gary Kowalski s 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 and forgive yourself for whatever role you played.

From the moment your dog entered your life, you knew the day would arrive that you would have to say farewell. Still, few of us are emotionally prepared to deal with guilt and grief after the loss of a dog. 

In Goodbye, Friend, Gary Kowalski takes you on a journey of healing, offering warmth and sound advice on how to cope with the death of your dog. Filled with heartwarming stories and practical guidance on such matters as taking care of yourself while mourning, creating rituals to honor your dog’s memory, and talking to children about death, Goodbye, Friend is a beautiful and comforting book for anyone grieving the loss of a dog.

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 dog? Balance your real guilt with the real ways you loved your dog. You took good care of your dog in so many ways for so many years. Acknowledge the love you shared, not just the end that came too soon.

Do you feel like you caused your dog’s death? I encourage you to share your experience in the comments section 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.”

Help Dealing With Your Dog’s Death

Farewell, Friend: A Gentle Guide to Saying Goodbye to Your DogIn Farewell, Friend: A Gentle Guide to Saying Goodbye to Your Dog, I share a variety of different and healing ways to cope with pet loss. Grief is painful when faced in big chunks; my tips are designed to be “bite-sized”, which means you won’t have to sit and read through a huge amount of difficult information about healing after a pet dies.

To write this ebook – which you can have immediate access to – 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.

How to Cope With Guilt After Your Cat or Dog DiesIn Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die, Jon Katz addresses the difficult but necessary topic of saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Accidentally causing your dog’s death or pain is an extremely difficult 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.

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.

And, 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.

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915 thoughts on “How to Deal With Guilty Feelings After Your Dog’s Death”

  1. My dog was 7.5 years old he was only 6 years old when he was diagnosed with heart disease DCM. We managed it well for 8 months but upon a check up they said he had a heart murmur put him on more meds and it was down hill from there. He was always playful loved our walks, car rides and visits to Reno to see his human brother in college. It got to where a walk around our pool would exhaust him. I kept fighting for him….More meds, less salt different foods etc. But last Friday he started with his cough and it didn’t stop until he took his last breathe. I took him in Saturday night to put him down. The doctor said we can try cough meds etc but at this point he was on 22 pills a day. Some days he didn’t want to take them i had to force him to, cuz i didn’t want him to get worse or have a setback. I didn’t want to add any more to him, his kidneys were worsening and I so didn’t want him to suffer. He didn’t deserve it. He was the BEST dog, a pitty and so well behaved. His mannerism was so docile and loving. He loved everyone he met. Except squirrels he loved to chase them! I realized I wasn’t letting him be a dog for fear of a setback. That is why i decided to put him down. But that doesn’t come without regret and what ifs. I feel awful like I killed my baby, even though I DO know it was for him. To be whole again and be a dog chasing birds and squirrels going for walks and rides and enjoying life. How do i get over the guilt and feeling of the reason he is no longer with us?

    I miss and love him dearly and so wish he was here but we WILL see each other again. I love you Cisco…..RIP

  2. Poppy & I have an appointment to see the vet this afternoon. isn’t there already enough guilt & regret in life, can’t the vet help my Poppy? I just want a little more time.

  3. My beautiful 9 year old Labrador Ollie, died July 2nd, after approximately 2 weeks in hospital. The day after I gave Ollie a raw bone, I noticed he was displaying signs of abdominal pain. Took him straight to the vet who suggested he may have pancreatitis which flared up due to the marrow in the bone being too fattening. Ollie often had an “upset stomach” and I was aware of avoiding feeding him a fatty diet. The marrow in the bone did not cross my mind. After 2 days, he seemed worse and refused to eat. I took him to a vet hospital who did an abdominal ultrasound and they found a mass on his pancreas and severe pancreatitis.
    He had surgery to drain the mass and spent a few days in Intensive Care before being discharged home. He wasn’t really interested in food so every 4 hours, I had to feed him through a tube they put directly into his stomach. The next day he declined and was back in hospital. His blood results were showing there was some liver involvement, he was becoming jaundice, had fluid in his lungs and his heart was beating irregularly. Then, just like that, he came good. Everything was improving. During a visit, I asked if I could sit outside with so he could get out of the hospital and get some fresh air. We spent 2 hours relaxing in the sun. The vet told me I could most likely take him home in 2 days time. The next day, Ollie was completely paralysed on his left side and was unable to walk. The vet thought he either had a clot on his spine or a bleed in his brain and was bleeding internally. I was devastated. He couldn’t even stand for toileting purposes and the vet said he would be suffering so it was time to say goodbye. It absolutely killed me but I knew it was the best thing to do for Ollie. Speaking to a few vets, I get different stories. One vet thinks the pancreatitis was brought on by the bone I fed him, whilst another vet said it would have nothing to do with what I fed him and that sometimes,these conditions and causes are unknown. At the end of the day, I will never know what caused Ollie to become unwell and then had to be put to sleep, but I blame myself.

  4. My maltese died this morning in my arms. My dad brought him home a year and a half ago, said his boss gave it away because he had gotten a new dog.

    His name was Lilo, and he was the most sweetest and loyal dog, he was small but very brave & never left my side. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in November.

    He survived through the winter despite his odds (he was around 12, but we weren’t sure since his previous scumbag owner never cared to tell us), and he seemed to be doing fine overall.

    I was the one in charge of his meds and taking care of him alongside my other dog. I also suffer from BDP, so I struggle a lot with stress and empathy, but I cared for him very much, even if I got annoyed sometimes by his clinginess.

    I got stressed because of them this past week and I had an episode and got very depressed, irritated, etc, and I lost track of his meds. I even pushed him away, but I did my best not to ignore him. I tried so hard to be nice to him, to pet him, to cuddle and spoil him. His medication ran out on Friday, but they told me I had to wait until today for approval.

    He drowned. And I could do nothing but watch and hold him and comfort him. In his last moments, while we were ready to take him to the hospital, he turned to me and tried to lick my face, and I told him that I loved him very much while I hugged him. He passed away after that.

    I don’t think he had much time left, but I wonder if I had cared more for him, if I had called for his refill a week earlier, then he would probably still be with me. I feel like I killed him, like I gave him the most horrible death. I wish he would hate me for it, but I know he loved me until the end and I don’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve him, he deserved someone who could love him and spoil him and give him everything, not the trash of a person he got.

    I couldn’t stop crying. I wish my tears would bring him back.

    I miss him. He was my best friend. Kind and patient where I was not. It felt like we knew each other for far longer than a lifetime the short time we spent together. I don’t think I’ll ever get another dog. I know he has forgiven me, but I don’t think I’m ready to forgive myself yet. I hope we can meet on another more kinder life.

  5. I lost my dog on August 20th. I took my dog to the vets on this date as she was lethargic and had not eaten for 2 days. The vet took a blood sample and gave my dog some steroids. I was going to get the results the next day. I took my dog home and she went on her sofa. I was going upstairs s I carried her upstairs to her bed. I checked 30 minutes later and she had saliva under her mouth. I knelt on the floor and put the dog on my lap so I could turn her quilt over. She was quite limp and rolled off my lap. I lay her back on her quilt and she started to cough for breath. She did this for 5 minutes then died. The next day the vet told me my dog had anemia. One of the problems with anemia is blood clots on the lungs. I had no idea. I believe when she rolled off my lap she dislodged a blood clot which blocked her lungs. I blame myself for her death. I will never forgive myself. Why did I not leave her downstairs on the sofa? I have had no confirmation this is what has happened but I totally blame myself for her death. I will never forgive myself. She was my world and it will leave a big hole on my life. I will carry this around for the rest of my life. RIP SPARKLE and I am sorry I caused your death.

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