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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.

xo

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

  1. I lost my sweet dog, Roxi, a few days ago and it was completely my fault that she died. I can never forgive myself. She was 9 years old and she had been with us since she was a puppy. She was technically my son’s pet, but we all loved her so much because she was always so sweet and smiling. Over the years, I have rescued other dogs that were in critical need of adoption. I love all dogs very much and wish that I could save them all. Roxi did not like having other dogs. She would growl at them and sometimes fights would break out. My last adoption was a dog named Rachel who have been abused. I have had Rachel for 2 years now. The other day, as I came home from the store, the dogs starting fighting and Roxi got bit—but nothing major. I usually leave 3 dogs inside and 2 outside. Inside is usually Roxi, Rachel, and little Sophie who is 11 years old. My son and I had to go to a friend’s house every morning before work because we had a bad water leak and had to turn the water completely off until we could afford a plumber. Things have been very stressful to say the least. When we left that morning to go take showers, I asked my son if I should leave Rachel outside, too. I asked him twice. He said no because Rachel was scared to come in his room. She has always been afraid of him, but loves me. That afternoon when my son got home from work, I receive the worst phone call of my life. My son called and told me that Rachel had killed Roxi. I will never forgive myself for letting my precious Roxi down. My son wants Rachel gone, but I am having a hard time with that, too. Roxi was the sweetest and best dog I have ever known. I am so sorry that I let this happen.

  2. I lost my precious 15-year old male mixed terrior, Terry, on May 20. He died of kidney failure. He was truly my little soul mate, a wonderful and loving little guy, and I miss him terribly. The worst part is that I had stopped taking him for walks in the last months of his life, as I had been too “lazy”, and basically had a lack of energy going through a lot of financial hardships. His whole life I was a great “mommy” to him, but I can’t quit feeling quilty of the last time I put my shoes on (about 3 weeks ago) and he got excited for a walk, I just told him that we’ll go soon, but we never did. Now I’ll never be able to make it up to him and it’s killing me!!!!

  3. I have never done anything like this before, because I am a very private person, but the loss of my baby girl is too much to bear. During my life I have been heartbroken, betrayed, and even stolen from by several human beings. I began to hate everyone, until I realized how much my beautiful border collie, April, loved me. She taught me to be patient and tolerant and accept that people don’t really like me or want to be with me. She not only liked to be with me she couldn’t stand to be without me. We went everywhere together, we were each other’s shadow. I am trying very hard not to be mean to my co-workers who keep saying ” just get another dog”, but their insensitivity just feeds my sadness. April was and will always be the joy of my life. I am just such a mess. i don’t know what to do.

  4. I just lost my eldest dog 2 days ago. Im so devastated. I feel so guilty and sad for him. He has a long term illness of ear infection, we tried to cure it but with no success. We just got used to it. He’s very excited Everytime he will eat and doesn’t show depression for years. He overcame a lot of diseases it’s like a miracle that he survived all those. But these past 2 weeks, he was in heat because our female dogs are in heat. I often put a leash on him whenever I’ll let the female dogs out because there’ll be a big fight between male dogs. I have a bigger problem. I have an evil dad who mistreats them and who’s like getting insane whenever they bark loudly because of seeing the female dogs. My dad would hit them hard many times until I said enough and we had a big fight. Until the heat ended. He was okay, something changed a little with the way he eats but I thought it was normal that he doesn’t have much appetite because the other boys are like that as well Everytime heat ends.

    But that was not the case. It was a sign that he was gravely ill. 😭 15 days before his passing, I heard him making sounds of being nauseous and at 5am. I looked at him and he looked agitated. But a little later he relaxed. So I assumed it’s nothing. I observed him if he ate something foreign. But he ate in the morning and was back to normal. Days passed and he still has little left overs on his foodplate. I was wondering but I didn’t do anything. It was also this thought that he was old already. He was 14.

    Then 2 days ago, I woke up hearing him nauseous again. I opened the door and there were some rice that went out his stomach. He didn’t eat morning and noon time. I got worried and bought some medicine. But he was having a hard time to swallow. I kept putting dropper on his mouth with water because he always want to drink but he can’t get his tongue out. His look was different. He looked like he’s dying. Hes breathing heavily all day long. I tried to stay beside him but I had to also work since I’m the breadwinner. Good thing I work from home. I called my sister who was mad at me because I need help. She loves dogs too, in fact they’re all hers, 8 dogs. But she passed her responsibility to me.

    Then at midnight I was trying to give him some water again and he kept calling even to our small canal here. My dad later forced a syringe to his throat and pushed hard on the syringe to give him fluids, he did it twice. I allowed the second one because of desperation. But I knew it was bad because it was a large syringe and he was very weak already. And I was right, he puked and stood up and fell to the canal again. There he breathed his last breath even before my dad got him out. I blame my dad and myself. I should have done something 15 days ago. 😭😭😭😭😭

    I blame my dad because he was so bad with my dogs. He won’t allow that dog to enter inside house because he’s old and sick. That was the last year’s of his life. Very sad. Especially when I became the breadwinner and my dad is always here. His evilness is extreme. I can’t do anything. That dog could have been happier when he’s inside. He always wanted to enter because he remembered that was his home. And he probably knew he’s passing already. 😭😭😭😭 I always imagine his sadness, his hard feelings on us. I can’t forgive myself. I should have done better. 😭😭😭😭😭 I want to tell everything but this is already too long. His journey was so bad. He looked like he still wanted to live. 😭😭😭😭😭

    1. I am very sorry for your loss Shey. I am also sad to read that your father is evil with your dogs. But don’t be so hard on yourself, you did your best to help your eldest dog in your situation, he surely knew that and loved you, no doubt about it, animals are like that, pure unconditional love. You are not alone, we have all made mistakes and bad choices and feel guilty in our own way, only time will help you heal and forgive yourself. Remember also the good times you spent together, not only the last days. Hope you find peace soon.