How do you cope with the terrible, guilty feeling that you caused your cat or dog’s death, accidentally or by putting him down?
These tips are inspired by a reader who had to put his dog down. 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.”
Even though your dog or cat is no longer here with you, your lives and souls are still entangled.
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.
And, here are several ways to survive the pain of causing your pet’s death.
4 Ways to Cope With the Guilt of Causing Your 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 kill your pet on purpose!
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.
If you feel unbearably guilty about causing your pet’s death, read Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristen Neff. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, especially for people who hate themselves for things they’ve done.
For a preview of the book, read my article about overcoming self-hatred and forgiving yourself.
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.
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.
Coping with your pet’s death isn’t just about mourning; it’s about cherishing the best parts of your life with your dog or cat.