Coping with the Sudden Loss of a Pet

By Marcia Breitenbach

Accidental Pet Death

While many people watch their pets live out long lives and then cope with the loss of their pet at an old age, others find themselves faced with the sudden and traumatic loss of a pet through an accident or carelessness. Anytime a loss is sudden, we often feel a flood of guilt and questions afterward. Sometimes that guilt can be haunting, filling our mind and heart with heaviness and confusion.

Normal Guilt Responses

Guilt can be quite a monster after the loss of a pet. While we already grieve for the loss of our companions, we also beat ourselves up over the accident that took our pet’s life. Even as others are offering us sympathy and condolences, we are often looking for reasons to feel guilty. “Why” becomes part of our regular thought process. Why did I leave the door open? Why didn’t I spend more time with him? And “If only” becomes “Why’s” partner in our destructive thinking. If only I had given him more attention. If only I had taken him to the vet sooner.

Those guilty questions are normal reactions, because we, as humans, believe in cause and effect. We have a tendency to think that any bad things that happen can be prevented. As pet owners, we feel that we are ultimately our pet’s guardian or protector. So the combination of feeling we could have prevented the cause of our pet’s death, along with the failure we feel about not protecting our pet, makes for a lot of guilt. Even though we may have friends or family members relating their condolences for our loss, we have a hard time even hearing them.

How Guilt Can Help Us

Guilty feelings are normal and at times helpful because they can often teach us about what to do right with our next pet. Working our way through guilt allows us to grow stronger and healthier emotionally and spiritually. There are some things we can do to help ease the guilt and eventually come to terms with the sudden death of a pet, and the resulting pet loss grief.

How to Heal Excessive Guilt

We can begin by not repeating those guilty thoughts over and over in our heads. The haunting thoughts can be overwhelming, and although natural, we don’t want to allow them to occupy our minds frequently. You can acknowledge the thought, but then follow it up with a positive statement. An example would be, “I feel guilty that Sparky died. If only I had had that blood test done earlier. However, I’m choosing right now to heal and move forward, because Sparky wouldn’t want me to get stuck in guilt. I gave him a good home, he loved me dearly, and I’ll honor that love by choosing to remember and honor our good times together.”

Another way to heal from the guilt is to accept the loss itself and understand that there is nothing we can do to go back and change it. Beating ourselves up over the sudden loss of a pet will not bring our pet back. Instead, look clearly at what went wrong and make the changes that will keep it from happening again. If there is nothing to change, tell yourself that you did the best that you could at that time and that you will strive to always make good decisions concerning your pets in the future.

Imagine Yourself at The Rainbow Bridge

If you haven’t heard about the Rainbow Bridge, you may want to go online and do a search. The Rainbow Bridge is a lovely image of where you will reunite with your pet once your time on earth is over, and you are making your transition from this life to the afterlife.

When you meet your pet at that time at the Rainbow Bridge, you are not going to be chastised or made to feel guilty about anything you did or didn’t do for your pet. You will be met with unconditional love. Your beloved animal companion wants you to feel good about yourself and wants you to live a balanced and harmonious life. Take a moment and imagine that you are meeting with your pet at The Rainbow Bridge right now, ahead of time, and get their advice for your life right now. What do they want for you in your life right now? Are they asking you to feel guilty and miserable?

Balance and Forgiveness

Finding balance is an important way to work through our guilt and heal. Balance is important to living a healthy life. Sometimes when we experience the sudden loss of a pet, we only focus on what went wrong. Yet, there were many more good times than bad, and we need to find a way to focus on those times. Sometimes a memory journal will help us focus on those times. At other times we may want to go to places or do things our pet loved to remember how good our time together really was.

Finally, forgiveness is really the key to healing from guilt. We need to learn to forgive ourselves for any past wrongs. They are done. They are over. Sometimes we may need to look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “I forgive you.” Your pet’s love for you was unconditional, and forgiveness was handed over freely. When grieving the loss of your pet, you need to give yourself that same forgiveness.

Reconnecting to Life after Loss and Guilt

Guilt over the sudden loss of a pet is a natural part of the grief process. A normal amount of guilt is healthy, because is allows us to learn from mistakes and grow into stronger, more well-balanced human beings. If you feel that guilt is overwhelming or taking over your life, finding some help from a counselor or support group is recommended. If you cannot find a local pet loss support group, go online. There is plenty of pet loss support available there as well.

Allow yourself time to work through your grief, including any feelings of guilt after the loss of your beloved pet. Be gentle with yourself. You will feel good again, connected to life and more compassionate as a result of your loss.

Marcia Breitenbach is an author, therapist, speaker, and musician who has facilitated pet loss support groups for years. Sign up for her free Songletter where you can get inspiring music for healing and nurturing your soul at:

Click here to get information on Marcia’s newly released pet loss video/dvd at:

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3 Responses

  1. amanda
    | Reply

    cant see article

  2. HART (1-800-HART)
    | Reply

    thanks for bringing this to my attention .. I have restored the article from my archives (and retouched it a little :D)

  3. Jenny
    | Reply

    I lost my doxie suddenly tonight … she was healthy this morning and died in my arms on the way to the emergency clinic tonight … What do I do ?????

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