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.
If 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.
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…
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.