Guilty feelings can result from feeling responsible for your pet’s condition. For many pet owners, guilt is common even when there is nothing they can do to prevent the situation.

You might feel guilty when you find out your pet has a terminal disease or injury because you believe you should have noticed your pet’s symptoms earlier. Others feel guilty if they take finances or other personal circumstances into consideration when making treatment decisions. Still others feel guilty about decisions or actions that may have contributed to their pet’s condition. No matter what the circumstances, guilt has a way of keeping you stuck in the grief process.

Here are some suggestions to help you work through guilt and let it go:

  • Realize it’s normal to wish you could have done more or to wish you had made an alternate decision. It’s normal to question your decisions or behaviors because you love your pet.Beating yourself up for these “if-only’s” does not change what has passed. Recognize you are human and identify the reasons for your actions and decisions at the time they were made, before you had any hindsight of the situation.
  • Remember you did what you thought was right at the time. You did it with the intention of love.
  • Think from the perspective of your beloved animal. What would they tell you about the way you are feeling? What would they want you to do?

Grieving a loss is hard enough for a person to do without the additional emotional weight of guilt on one’s heart. Considering the meaning of the word “guilt,” you will find that intent is required for guilt to be truly valid. What were your intentions for how you cared for and loved your animal? When you have the best of intentions for your pet’s life, guilt has no valid place to stay. Once you are able to let go of the guilt, you can fully grieve.

Grief can make you feel as if you are moving in slow motion. As you adapt to the changes, you may notice your pace increasing. You are healing, one day at a time. Remember, just because your grief eases does not mean that the pet you’ve lost is any less important or less loved. You will always love and remember this special animal. You are giving yourself permission to go on with your life and may even discover personal growth from the grief you’ve experienced.

Should I get another pet?

When to adopt a new pet after, or even before, a much-loved companion has died is a dilemma for many people. It may help to consider the following:

  • Try not to rush into decisions until you have time to sort out your feelings. Well-meaning family, friends, and even veterinary professionals may suggest a new animal as a means of comfort and support.
  • Examine your motivation to get a new pet. Be mindful of “replacing” the one that died. If you compare your new pet with the memories of your deceased pet, you may be disappointed. Even if animals are the same breed, each is very different. It is important to consider the needs, behaviors, and lifestyle of a new animal and how they may differ from those of the animal who died.
  • Another pet may help you heal. For some people, the companionship of a new pet may be comforting during this difficult time.
  • Grieve the loss of your beloved pet. Some people are not able to bond with a new pet right away. The desire to adopt a new animal immediately following the death of pet can be driven by the need to avoid the pain of grief. Giving yourself time to first heal from the loss may help you to welcome a new pet with open arms.
  • Check in with the entire family. Be sure everyone is ready to commit to the new relationship. The time frame may be different for everyone. Bringing a new pet into the family before all members are ready can hurt or offend someone by implying that the pet’s death is relatively insignificant. Children may perceive a message that loved ones are easily replaced.
  • Consider becoming a “foster parent.” By fostering an animal through a local animal rescue group, you’ll provide temporary housing for an orphaned pet that is awaiting permanent adoption. You’ll provide a necessary service while testing your own readiness without a long-term commitment. If the fostered animal fits well into your life, permanent adoption could be an option.

If you feel you have grieved and want to open yourself again to a new relationship, your heart is probably telling you that you are ready. For some, there is no better medicine for a hurting heart than the love of another pet, while for others the best medicine is time. Whoever you are, only you know what is best for you.