Jul 112009

How do you stop feeling guilty after your dog or cat dies? Many pet owners experience extreme guilt even when they didn’t cause their pet’s death.

How to Cope With Guilt After Your Cat or Dog DiesIf you’re struggling with grief and guilt because of the circumstances surrounding your dog or cat’s death, read Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet. It’s Gary Kowalski’s second book on coping with pet loss, and it’ll help you cope with guilty feelings after having to put your do or cat down.

Why do we feel so guilty after our pets die? Because “Dogs have given us their absolute all,” said Roger Caras. “We are the center of their universe.  We are the focus of their love and faith and trust.  They serve us in return for scraps.  It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.”

Isn’t that a beautiful quotation about dogs? And it applies to cats, too — not the “serve” part of course, but the love and affection. Our pets give us unconditional love and don’t ask anything but attention, ear scratches, tummy rubs, and … survival.

Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to deal with guilt when our cats or dogs die; they depend on us for life, and we feel we failed them by not keeping them alive.

How to Cope With Guilt After Your Cat or Dog Dies

One way to cope with guilty feelings after the death of your dog or cat is to accept that you made the best decision for your pet at the time. If you put your cat or dog to sleep, you made the best decision you could. Maybe you didn’t try every pet medication, alternative therapy, or special food that you could find – but you did the best you could. Take a deep breath, accept that you did the best you could, and let go of your guilt that your cat or dog died. You did the best you could.

Stop replaying the “if only” scenarios

“If I only I would’ve known my pet was sick, I would have acted differently…”  We can only see clearly when we look back on what’s happened – because hindsight is 20/20, my friend. There is no value in replaying the “if only” scenarios…unless you replay them with a happier ending! Instead of looking back at the “if onlys”, focus on saying good-bye to your dog or cat — perhaps with a memorial to help you cope with pet loss.

Remember that you don’t know what would have happened

If you’re dealing with guilty feelings because of pet loss, you may think, “If only I would have recognized that he was sick earlier, I could have saved him.” The problem with this type of thinking is that you don’t know what really would have happened! Maybe it’d be a happily ever after ending – and maybe your pet would have died anyway. When we engage in the “if only” scenario, we deceive ourselves into thinking we could have saved our pet from death.

coping with guilty feelings after dog cat dies

Our dog, Georgie. We cherish every day with her, knowing that the days will some day be over.

Know that you’re not alone – many pet owners feel guilty

Your feelings of anger, grief, and guilt over your pet’s death are felt by many people who lost their dogs or cats. We’re all mourning together, my friends…and our pets are watching and loving us from wherever they are. Make them proud and happy; there’s no room for sadness or guilt where they are.

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.

When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering and Healing by Alan D. Wolfelt is another good book for people 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, coping with feelings about euthanasia (and guilt about putting an animal to sleep), helping children understand the death of their pet, and things to keep in mind before getting another pet.

If you have any thoughts on these ways to cope with guilty feelings after your dog or cat dies, please comment below…

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  290 Responses to “How to Cope With Guilt After Your Cat or Dog Dies”

  1. Dear Natasha & Richard,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with Simba. When my cat dies, I hope she’s at home with us, and that her death is as peaceful and natural as Simba’s was. It sounds like he was ready to go, and so he left. What a beautiful cat, so strong and able to let his body leave this world.

    May you grieve your cat’s death with peace, knowing he is still with you in spirit. Your soul will be reunited with his one day, when the time is right. In the meantime, he will always be purring in your heart.

    In sympathy,

  2. Simba was our best friend. 11 years old he had been through so much, sick with Pneumonia he fought through and became healthy again. but as the years went on i knew he was getting older. Eventually he began to throw up and did not eat only drank water, until finally he stopped eating as well. At first i thought maybe it was something caught in its throat but he progressed to severe within 4 days. upon visit to the vet she immediately recommended that we put it to sleep: Something i had never to experience with any of my cats before. I decided to take him home that evening, wrapping up in a blanket with rubber bottles of water to keep him warm simba cuddled with us all night, slowly he stopped purring altogether the final day and when richard and i had awakened he was off our bed on the floor, slowing breathing. we placed him back into his bed and stayed by his side until slowing he faded away to a better place.

  3. Dear Ellwood,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Nothing compares to the pain we feel when we lose our pets. Our dogs are especially meaningful because they go almost everywhere with us, and they are so loyal and loving.

    Jasmine is not mad at you. She loves you, and wants you to be happy. She’s resting in peace, and she wants you to enjoy the rest of your life here on earth, peacefully and happily. Her spirit and soul will be reunited with yours when the time comes…but until then, I know she wants you to live in freedom! She doesn’t want you to be dragged down by the burden of guilt and self-hatred. She wants you to be happy, and to remember her with love and joy.

    I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. May you remember your beloved dog with a sense of acceptance and self-forgiveness, and heal from the pain of this loss.

    In sympathy, with blessings,

  4. I can’t deal with not having my Dog Jasmine no More. She was a Red Nose Pitt Bull . She Loved Everyone . I know she did not want to go . But everyone was on me to do it . I Loved her so much, It hurts so bad . I think she is mad at me . I wish I new if she is . I wish she would come around me. I just can’t stains not being with her. She went every where with me. I will be 63 and I can’t wait till I go to be with her . It hurts at night, she slept with me , she Loved me so much. I am having a real hard time with her not here . All I do is hide and cry. . And tell her I am sorry. Will she come around me. And will we be together when I Die,

  5. Our beautiful retreiver Max who was 9 yrs. old
    we made the decision to put him to sleep on Saturday. He had cancer and it had just overtaken him. It was so hard to watch him go blind, struggle and look so sad. But, we miss him so.
    It has only been a couple of days but my heart is broken and I miss him so very much. This cancer
    just came on suddenly…no warning.

    I just don’t know how to cope….Max was loyal, loving, beautiful, and compassionate. He always
    had a ball in his mouth until the last week….the
    cancer even spread in his mouth.

    I am at a loss to understand. He looked so healthy the end of March to pretty much the second week of April …and then everything happened.

    His life was so short and this is so shocking.

    I really appreciated what I have read by everyone
    and I am so sorry to everyone who has experienced a loss. It is so hard.


  6. Dear Cecile,

    I’m so sorry to hear you lost your cat – it sounds like it was a terrible experience. You were torn between keeping your job, and taking care of your cat. But if you knew your cat was going to die, you would’ve done everything you could to keep her alive and healthy! It’s just that you didn’t know. You didn’t deliberately cause her harm.

    It sounds like you’re going through a bout of depression. Have you experienced depression before? It’s important to talk to someone in person about what you’re going through.

    You didn’t do anything wrong, my friend. You made the same choices I would’ve made. My pets get sick sometimes, and almost all of the time they come through it themselves, without a vet visit. That’s what you thought would happen — and that’s what anyone would have thought.

    Do you think you can start working towards forgiveness? I hope you can forgive yourself, and remember your cat with love and peace. She is resting, and in a better place. You need to grieve her death, and let her go.

    Tell me how you’re doing today.


  7. Ilost my one year old cat last week. she hada cold and I cancelleed the vet appointment 2x due to snow.I wason a probabtionat work and afraid to take time off.I havea 4 hour commute each way and was never home. the day before she died she wasnt breathign right.asa nurse ihave saved hundredsof animals .Sunday i was so depressed abotu goingto workon Mondayinas nowstorm that i didnt checkonher i woke up late monday and hse didnt come to eat . ll day i was freakingout thinking I hope sheisok.i got caughtona train that stalled and dint getin til late and found her dead.i keep havign flashbacks of her tryignto breathe and ocmeingonthe bed. I am anurse and havea 16 year old cat i saved .Depression overcame me andid dint react toher that day I am now sickoverit ive gained 10 pounds cannot getout of bed and feel like dying! if only i culd go back and replay thta moment. because my other cat is 16 I dont care now whathappens t him becausehehas hada great life. i feel bad about that too,. i am sick over this and want to die

  8. Dear Rulab,

    I am so sorry you lost Sai, and that you feel so guilty and tortured because of his death.

    If you had known that the vinegar would hurt him, you would never, ever haven given it to him! You did what you thought was best – you made the best decision you could at the time. You don’t even know for sure if it caused his death! He may have passed on anyway.

    It sounds like the guilt and pain you feel is worse because your attention has been divided since your baby. But I know that Sai knew how much you loved him! He felt it, even though you couldn’t devote yourself to him the way you used to.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. I will pray that you forgive yourself, and that you are able to let Sai go. He is resting in peace, my friend…and I am sure he would want you to be peaceful, too.

    If you can’t forgive yourself, consider talking to a counselor. Especially about your thoughts that you won’t be a good mother because of Sai’s death. You already ARE a good mother — you put your baby before your cat! Good mothers put their offspring first, right?

    It might also be helpful to talk to other mothers who have made mistakes. Learn how to forgive yourself, and deal with the fear of making a possibly terrible mistake with your daughter.

    I wish I could give you a big hug! I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers, Rulab.


  9. I have never felt this way before. I feel overwhelmed. I want to die except I have a baby who is 9 months old and she needs me but I am helpless now. Yesterday I put to sleep my beloved cat that I found in 2000 on the streets of New York. I loved him so much, he saved my life by being there for me through very difficult times. I feel his death is my fault. I took him to two vets and they both said it was cancer through a physical diagnosis. They felt a tumor in his upper chest. I explained to the first vet that, he was throwing up more and more for months, I thought it was the food or hairballs, so I would change the food. This past year also because I had the baby, I couldn’t sleep with him anymore and didn’t have much time for him which I feel deep regret and guilt over.
    I read online all these people used Apple cider vinegar to promote health for their cats so I gave Sai, my cat a little bit in his food. He seemed fine for three days, then suddenly he just stopped eating. That was a month ago, since then I have syringe fed him, pain medication, sub q fluids but he just got worse and when I saw him lying on the floor to exhausted to stand up to poo, I knew he was in deep pain and when we took him to the vet that was on call, she gave me this look that it was time, said it was possible he was having internal bleeding and his breadth was very labored. I did the right thing then. Now though I feel confused. I feel in my heart I am responsible for his death. He trusted me to take care of him and I gave him POISON, aka Apple cider vinegar. I feel like such an idiot! I hate myself so much. What kind of a mother will I be???? Stupid me believing the internet. I love Sai more than anything in this whole world and now he is gone and I wish I was there with him. I am experiencing fainting spells, waves of horrific grief and regret, anger at myself, knocking head in wall. I don’t know how I will survive this. I cannot sleep. I just stare at his picture. I miss him terribly, painfully, just want to touch his beautiful fur to rub my nose in his belly. I cannot live knowing I caused this even if it was with good intention. I wrote the first vet, she said could be contributing factor in his death. How does apple cider vinegar relate to a large tumor? Stupid me thinking I was clever to use alternative medication to improve health. He has been with me for fourteen years. I love him so much, I will never get over this. RIP SAI 11/16/13 My soul mate.

  10. Dear Lorraine,

    I am so sorry to read about Quiver’s experience – his last days on earth. He has been through so much with you and your mom. You loved him so much, and he loved you so much back…and yet he spent his last minutes alive all alone.

    It is so sad. There is nothing I can say to ease the pain. I just hope you know that you did all you could for him! You would never, ever have let him leave this earth that way. If you had known what would happen, you would have done everything differently.

    What would make you feel better about Quiver’s death? It would make me feel better to know that he wasn’t in pain, and that he doesn’t remember what happened in his final moments. He is now running, and leaping, and reliving his happiest moments on earth. He isn’t in pain, and he isn’t suffering. He is forever united with you and mom in his soul – and he knows it, and he is so happy. He loves you more than ever because he is free from the physical pain his body offers.

    Quiver is alive in spirit, and he wants you to be happy, peaceful, and painfree. Can you give him that final gift, of knowing that you are okay? Let him rest in peace. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness and peace, and know that he is in a far better place.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.


  11. I wrote about my precious boy Quiver in Sept 2012 when he died at the hands of an incompetent vet. There are no words, no tips, no articles, no counciling that will make the pain I feel and guilt I have lived with go away. I have prayed for death everyday since then, and cry useless when I wake the next morning and I am still here. He was like no other cat I ever had in my life and I am now 69.
    The Phoenix second chance humane society found his as a stray with an arrow shot thru him. they saved his life thru miracles and put him up for adoption. I was honored to get him. he was know nationally with his story and countless tv and news people were there. After getting him home the Animal Planet called and wanted to do a story on him. we were to film on a thurs but mom (age 77) got a call that she had cancer so we cancelled. Quiver had immediately jumped up on her lap and over to her breast and put his head on it then looked her right in the eye for a long time. that was before the call. Quiver never left her side for 7 years. if it wasn’t for him, she would have died within a year but she was devoted to him and beat the odds.
    after his first year with us he got crystals and had to have an operation that was 3500.00 paid without a second thought. when mom went on a trip, she would have to pack her bags in the garage so he wouldn’t see them because he wuld get physically sick and throw up. Then one day she left for good and went to heaven. It ripped my heart out. I lost my mother and best friend. I would sit and cry and quiver would crawl up my lap, touch the tear with his nose then wipe it away with his fur. No only did I loose mom but my sibling came in while I wasn’t home and stripped my house of all I own. But I still had quiver.
    I was displaced to the little horror town of Pocatello, Idaho to be near my daughter and her 2 boys. (grown now) This town has been an incompetent nightmare since I moved here. but thats another story. I had a vet I thought was half decent, at least wuiver didn;’t mind him but one day his vet was out and he got sick. The vet we saw, he had never seen before, yet when she walked into the room he hissed at her and tried to slap at here. I knew right then he was telling me he hated her and there was something wrong. God how I wished I had listened to him. She misdiagnoised him 3 times over that weekend and by Sunday night he was worse. I finally got her to meet me at the clinic and he had a blockage. an instinct came over me to take him someplace else, but I was unfamiliar with anyplace and he needed an operation now. I really didn’t have any fear of him dying due to the operation because he had just had all his blood test, teeth and gums checked and every physical test and lab test possible and he was as strong as a young cat his reg vet said. so I reluctantly handed my baby over to the tech to get ready for surgery. it was 12 AM on Labor day 2012. She called me at and said he did fine and was coming around. I said I’ll be there to get him. she said he needs to stay and get fluids but I said he will be alone if anything happens. she said she would be there until he is fine (but to my horror later I learned she left right away). he got sick on the anesthesia and choked to death and died on a cold steel table in a cage ALONE after all the many years (12) he gave me. I would have died years ago if not for quiver, yet he died alone, sick, confused, no one around. I am crying so hard now I can’t finish this, I just wished I could die tonight and wake up at rainbow bridge

  12. Dear Susan,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dog, and about how guilty you feel. You had the best intentions; you only wanted to help your dog live a longer, happier life! Your heart was in the right place — you did nothing wrong.

    In my eyes, you didn’t fail him. You did what you could to prolong his life and make him happy and healthy. He couldn’t take the surgery – but that wasn’t your fault! You did nothing to cause his death; your decisions were based on keeping alive and healthy.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers, that you can release your feelings of guilt. Remember your beloved dog with love, and know that he is resting in peace.


  13. I made a very fast decision to get my dog operated on to save his life. I took a flight from Florida with him straight back home to Pennsylvania when the vet in Florida said an operation was needed right away to save him from dying with a tumor resting near his spleen. So I brought him fast to my own vet in pa with all the X-rays and scans to look over. He got operated on late that day and found he was full of cancer. I let them put him to sleep before he could wake again in much pain. So he never woke from the operation and never saw me again from that terrible day I handed him over to be operated on. He was turning 13 and I thought I was giving him more time but I didn’t. I left him in the hands of others all day without me. Thinking I was getting him healthy I failed him and I am so sad with pain and guilt for making the wrong choice. I just finish paying all the medical bills and can’t stop feeling lost without him. Its the guilt I have to live with. I just thought he would live!!!!

  14. Hello Teresa,

    It sounds like you’re at peace with your decision, and I’m so glad to hear you talked to God about it. Know that your beloved Thomas will be in His loving arms – and that’s a much better place to be than this earth! You and Thomas will be reunited one day, and it will be splendid.

    Here’s my article on spiritual ways to survive pet loss; it may help you through the grieving process.


    Come back anytime, let me know how you are.


  15. Thank you for the kind words,I made my chice yesterday after along walk and talk with God and my husband,I called the vet and I take him in Mon at 8.00.

    He is getting worse because he can’t control his bodily functions and I do love him always will and I know it is the right thing to do,

    Thank you for saying it and for being so nice and caring.

  16. Dear Teresa,

    I am so sorry you’re going through this with your cat! It’s one of the most difficult decisions to make, isn’t it?

    But, it’s also the final act of love that you may show your cat. Many veterinarians say that if your pet is suffering, then you must let him go.

    Here’s an article that may help you decide what to do:


    It contains advice from a vet who had to put her dog to sleep.

    You may still feel guilty after your cat dies, but at least you’ll know that you did it out of love! Don’t let him suffer any longer than he has already. Let him leave this world in peace, knowing you love him and would do anything for him.

    Your grief will feel overwhelming at first, but it will get better because you will know you did the right thing.

    What do you think?

    In sympathy,

  17. I have a cat Thomas who is 17 yrs old and for the past few months has been sick and not getting any better,no matter what I try to do.He has now started to pee and poop around the house something he has never done it is like he can;t find the litter box or knows how to use it anymore,I know the time is coming,but I hate being the one to do it,it doesn;t get easy,I have done it before,I have faced the fact that he is sick,Is it the right thing to do? I hate saying good bye,it hurts to bad!!! anyone going through this or been through it please fill free and e-mail me with any thoughts,any kind words will be apprciated, CATA@BLOMAND.NET

  18. Dear Sean,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us, of your last hours with Coupe. What a beautiful way to walk alongside your dog as she left this earthly world.

    There may be many reasons you’re feeling so much guilt and pain about her death. I can’t list them all here, but I took the main points from the veterinarians I interviewed and the pet books I read and put them in my ebook, listed above.

    Losing our beloved pets is one of the most heartbreaking things we’ll ever experience. Our pets rely on us for everything, and give us everything in return. The bond is incomparable, and when it is broken by death….it feels impossible to recover.

    It might be worth talking to a professional counselor about your feelings, if you feel like you’ve gone beyond “normal” grieving. It’s healthy to mourn our dogs and cats when they die, but if our grief is debilitating or getting in the way of daily functioning, then there may be something else going on.

    I will keep you in my prayers, and hope you come back and let me know how you’re doing.


  19. My friend of 14 years passed away 4 days ago. Coupe was an Australian Kelpie Dog. She was our baby and we even referred to ourselves as Mum and Dad. We had to make a choice on Saturday to help our friend move onto the next world, we understood she was an old dog and had already had a long life but she was still alert and still wagging her tail when you came home. She was arthritic so she was slower than usual in moving. I was woken by my wife saturday morning because Coupe was acting strange. She seemed to be stumbling when she walked, she looked drunk and was finding it hard to get more than a couple of steps withou her backl legs giving way, after which she would get back up and walk another few steps till she got too her bed. her tail was between her legs and she looked sad. I told my wife it was probable a pinched nerve or arthritis and we would watch it. Things didnt improve and when she went to relieve herself she started swaying and tilting her heead. Then she just stood there staring at the fence. I lifted her head and turned her face to me and my heart broke, she was telling me something. I carried her inside and petted her and brought her water and food, she wouldnt eat. I told my wife it was time to take her to the vets to see what was wrong, when we got there the lookon the receptionist/nurses face said it all. We took her into the room and a vet came in and did tests. She said Coupe had an swollen liver, enlarged heart on at least one side and her breathing was laboured. Her temp was ok and she didnt ‘seem’ to be in pain. When the vet watched her trying to walk, she knew. She told us that we could do lots of tests, drugs and scans but her experience told her it was a brain tumor or brain cancer. I didnt know what to do next because i knew what was coming. She left us with coupe for 10 mins to chat, we both started crying, it seemed we were thinking the same thing, we stroked her head and petted her and told her we loved her, I couldnt hug her because she was lying flat down. The vet returned and could see that we had decided. They placed her on a beautiful blanket and i out my arm around her neck and leabed her head against my chest, my wife put hger arm around coupes waist and the vet told us to talk to her, we told her we loved her and my wife said “thank you” too her, then she just leaned against me, and was gone. We had 10 mins with her afterwards and we kissed her on the head and still whispered words of love into her hears. We took her home and I wanted to bury her straight away while she was soft and warm, the way I wanted to remember her. We buried her in a flower garden near the front door because she loved to lie at the door watching people pass. we put her favourite balls and lead in with her and made sure she was covered, kissed her head and covered her face and finished the burial. we went inside and raised a glass of wine to toast her, we cried uncontrollably for a while and comforted each other, then we just sat there and tried to watch tv and act normal.

    That is the background to what happened then. Since that day my grief and guilt are spiralling out of control and I cant find peace. I started by asking all the normal questions, “was it the right time” shld we have waited. should we have tried to make her better first, did she still have some time left. The I felt guilty about a massive range of things like, should I have played with her more, should I have payed her more attention, should I have walked her more, Then I started on my actions before and after the vet visit, should I have hugged her more, did I say enough before I buried her, did I choose the best place to bury her, was she happy in her life with me, should I have seen the signs of her illness sooner, should I have had check ups done every year….then i felt guilty for throwing het old blanket out (was in disrepair), packing all the food away and even spraying down the concrete where she used to visit for the toilet. I cant stop, and its getting worse. I have found peace with the decision about putting her to rest as I found a website that explained the brain tumors and she had every symptom , so there was no doubt the vet was right and the consequencesd of letting it go on included terrible things like paralysis. Its everything else I cant cope with, all the questions rolling like waves, and I cry all the time, i still gfeel like I let her down when she trusted me and I feel like I should have taken her home for one more day to spend time with her, but the way she was, would she have just been in pain and torment, not eating, being sick , not being able to walk, was there any quality to even a last day for her? I miss her terribly and I cant find a way through. I just want to holf her once more.

  20. Dear Denise Joy,

    I am so sorry to hear how you lost your dog! That is awful. There is nothing worse than feeling like you caused your dog’s death in some way :-(

    I hope you realize that it wasn’t you or your mom’s fault. It was an accident, and you have nothing to feel guilty about. You should only feel guilty if you did something deliberately to cause your dog’s death — and you didn’t. Your poor dog was just unlucky that day…and so were you. My heart goes out to you.

    Thank you for sharing your story – it’ll help us cherish our pets all the more.

    I hope you’re doing well, and healing from the guilt and loss you feel.