We choose almost everything when it comes to our beloved pets, but what are you to do when a dog dies? It’s the most indescribable lightning bolt feeling I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. The moment a dog dies changes who you are.
When a dog dies, your world changes. As rational pet parents, we know we can control most things in our dog’s life. We control what they eat, when they see the veterinarian, which vet they visit, where they travel, what time they eat, and the list goes on. We can’t control the length of their lives, but we can help them live a healthy, happy life to the best of our abilities.
You’re reading this article because your dog recently died and you are devastated or perhaps your dog died a long time ago and you can’t seem to feel the way you once did. Grief becomes a part of your soul. We suffer so they don’t have to.
Saying goodbye is temporary, no matter what your faith or belief system is. If you feel there’s a heaven, then you’ll be joining your dog in that “place” when you die.
If you feel there is nothing beyond this earthly world, then your body will be in the same state of non-being as your deceased pet someday. Where you go is a belief. How you manage until you get there is a choice.
What Should You Do When A Dog Dies?
If your dog is fortunate to pass at a ripe older age, be grateful. There are many pet parents who lose their dog too soon or from a tragic accident. It is still hell on earth, and hearing, “Well, he was old and he lived a good life,” doesn’t soothe from well-intended people.
When a dog dies, it will be as a result of natural causes, assisted euthanasia, an accident, or some other tragedy. If your dog just recently died and you are reading this, breathe. Seriously take in a breath, exhale a breath, and hold my cyber hand. You are going to get through this. Your dog and what dogs embody would want you to get through this.
When a dog dies, you get through it, you don’t get over it. Ever. You will learn to live with the hole in your heart, and your dog’s legacy will become a part of it. Your dog’s physical presence is no longer with you, but the spirit, the memories, the way your dog affected your life: those things cannot die. Love never ends.
In her article on love, guilt, and putting dogs down, Patricia McConnell, PhD., writes:
I slowly began to notice how EVERYONE I talked to who loved their dog, like we all love ours, was guilty about something related to the dog’s death. It didn’t matter how or why they died: hundreds of owners, from professional trainers and behaviorists to the dog-loving public, found something to feel guilty about. “I should have seen the symptoms sooner,” or “How could I have not known that the lock on the door was faulty and allowed my dog to run out the door?” or “Surely I could somehow have prevented the bite if I just hadn’t…
How To Deal With Pet Loss Guilt
Guilt is a part of life and death. When my first dog died, I questioned myself. I felt guilty because I allowed her weakened, exhausted body to be euthanized. What kind of monster willingly allows a veterinarian to stop a beloved pet’s life? These thoughts consumed me. I killed my dog. I felt it, I lived it, I had to get help to move through it.
Nancy Carter is a loving dog mom from Buffalo, New York. On a seemingly ordinary day, Nancy and her son enjoyed a relaxing day together. As her son played guitar on the porch, Nancy went out to talk to her son for 10 minutes.
Her dogs, Sugar, Louise, and Sam (a Cocker Spaniel) were in the house alone during this 10-minute period of time.
“I came home from work, let the Sammy out of the crate, let them out,” Nancy recalls. “I made sure the three-foot gate to the kitchen was locked and placed a piece of plywood over the gate. Sammy was obsessed with getting into the kitchen, so we bought a three-foot gate. That didn’t stop him. He was able to hit the latch and unlock it. If he couldn’t unlock it, he would just jump it. So, we would put a piece of plywood over the gate. Not pretty but it had always worked.”
Nancy didn’t hear the dogs rustling about, so she went inside to check. Sugar and Louise sat staring at the gate to the kitchen. Sam, however, knocked the plywood down, jumped the three-foot gate, and got into the garbage. Once inside the garbage, the dog pulled out a box of Cheez-Its and got to the bag inside. He suffocated.
“He wasn’t breathing. I screamed and my son came running, as Sammy was his buddy. We tried CPR for 10 minutes, called for my husband to come home from work and he tried CPR, with no luck.”
Nancy says it happened so fast, both she and her 18-year-old son were stunned. They wrapped Sam in a blanket and drove him to the pet funeral home.
Dealing With Guilt When Your Dog Dies Accidentally
Nancy remembers the unbelievable guilt she experienced. She replays the day over and over in her mind, remembering the precautions she took that fateful day. She checked the gate, blocked the gate, ensuring the lid was on the garbage.
For 30 minutes, Nancy’s husband performed CPR on Sam. Her son repeatedly asked for the vet to be called. Nancy knew nothing could be done, and she could not believe it was happening.
In her own words, Nancy says:
I shut it out and wouldn’t talk about it. If I didn’t talk about maybe it didn’t happen? I basically blocked it out. It took me two weeks to be able to tell my vet’s office. Sam was due for a teeth cleaning, and I had to cancel the appointment. I felt so guilty and was afraid to be judged as being a bad caregiver. I think it took me three months to tell my friend/breeder that he died. My veterinarian said it happens often and people don’t speak about it for the same reasons. Perfectly healthy, young dogs gone. They didn’t judge me, they were great. Both reassured me, but still I felt it was my fault.
Nancy hopes by sharing Sam’s story that people will realize bags should be cut open all the way when they are thrown out. She hopes to save other families from her suffering and loss. Any type of bag should be opened and slit down the side.
Sammy was a tri-color beautiful 3-1/2-year-old male Cocker Spaniel who she describes as loving, goofy, and he will be forever missed and loved.
At present, Nancy shares life with four dogs: Sugar, Louie, Jackson, and Henry.
More information about pet suffocation can be found at the end of this article.
My Dog Was Hit By A Car
Sarah Wall is a creative graphic designer, is heavily involved in dog rescue, and shared life with a Cocker Spaniel named Baxter.
On July 14, 2014, Baxter, a tri-color Cocker Spaniel was hit and killed by a car while Sarah watched in horror. At her complex with a gated backyard and parking area, Sarah came home from work and began her usual routine with her pooch.
“Baxter and I would always walk to the mailboxes in the gated area and then back to my apartment,” she remembers. “I went to talk to my neighbors, Baxter ran over to them to say hi, wiggling all the time. There was an entrance to get into that back area, but we never walked that far.”
In a heartbeat, Baxter walked right through that entrance. Sarah panicked because there is a busy street nearby. As she walked towards the dog, he was already at the sidewalk area. She yelled for him, but he saw a dog across the street. Baxter darted towards that dog at the exact moment a large SUV was coming. It hit the dog on his side.
The gentleman with the dog across the street tried to get to Baxter as did Sarah before the SUV struck Baxter, but it was too late.
In her own words:
I was screaming bloody murder and saying call 911!!!!! Of course, 911 said because he’s a dog, there is nothing they can do. My neighbors quickly ran into the street and got Baxter. He was still breathing, but he had been hit in the belly and it was starting to swell. I was in such a panic and didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t breathe, I threw up, ran to my house and grabbed the keys to my car.
A neighbor heard the screaming, drove me to the emergency clinic, but it was too late. I tried giving Baxter mouth-to-mouth and told him to hang on, please don’t leave me. You are my world and I am so sorry this happened! He passed in my arms on the way to the ER. The ER vet said even if I had got him there in time, he may have not made it due to internal bleeding.
For a long time, Sarah admits having a difficult time and self-medicating by drinking a lot of wine. She kept her emotions bottled up for the longest time. She is still dealing with the loss all these years later. She blamed herself even though it wasn’t her fault.
“I would never EVER have taken him out near a busy street without being on a leash,” she says. He was my world. It was just a freak accident.”
Sarah shares her life with two rescued Cocker Spaniels, DeeDee, and Sullivan.
How To Cope When Your Dog Dies
Your identity as a loving dog parent evolves from the physical presence of a dog in your life to the eventual understanding, albeit it kicking and screaming, that the next time you will reunite with your dog is when you physically pass away.
We make a vow to our dogs when they enter our life, us dog lovers of the highest order. We promise to love them, we tell them we love them. We take them for vet visits, on trips, car rides, and all the things we do with and for dogs. And then when they need us the most, we sometimes cannot make it better.
Sometimes the worst accidents happen to the best dog parents. I wish I had an answer as to why, but I know this much is true: whether you are religious or not, there are things that have no rhyme or reason. My spouse reminds me that everything happens for a reason, but I just don’t know.
The big “why me, why my dog” sometimes comes with no answer. This is when you must challenge yourself to carry your dog’s legacy on and live with love and forgiveness of self in your heart.
As a dog mom who will always be “with dog,” I’ve redefined my definition of letting go. It isn’t goodbye after all. You say goodbye when you know something is never coming back. The next journey is the one I will take to her and to all the dogs I love thereafter.
What a huge hello my heaven shall be. Hope is a glorious feeling. Even if you feel our life ends here on Earth when our bodies die, it is true then that you go to the same state of being as the pets you have loved and lost do. You are all simply done from this Earth.
Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process that every person experiences in the same way. Loss and the grief that follows is an individualized experience. There is no wrong way to grieve unless that way involves something that is beyond your control.
If you need help, talk to someone, or whatever works for you: Do it. Do not let a family member, co-worker, relative, friend, or neighbor make you feel that this is “only a dog.”
The Five Stages of Grief
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This model theorizes that you have to experience each stage to work through grief.
I call bullshit.
I believe you will experience all of those emotions, but the grief timeline doesn’t exist. Yes, you want to be able to move forward. But you don’t hit each of these emotions, put a bow on it, and call your grief a done deal.
The woman who created these stages, the late Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, was often asked “When will my grief be over.” Kubler replied very gently each time with, “How long is this person going to be dead.”
“Because if the person is going to be dead for a long time, you’re going to grieve for a long time. It doesn’t mean you will always grieve with pain. To me, the goal of grief work is to eventually remember the person with more love than pain.”E. Kubler Ross
If you feel guilt because your dog died, like perhaps you could have done more or somehow prevented it, you aren’t alone. Some say grief is love with no place to go. I disagree. Grief is love that never ends. Death cannot steal love. The love doesn’t die when your pet does.
Remorse or guilt makes us feel we should have done better or somehow prevented the inevitable. Your dog knows you did your best. You would never willingly harm your dog. If your dog was euthanized, it may feel like you failed him. You did not fail your dog. I know this. I’ve been in your shoes and still struggle to this day.
I remind myself of the good things I did for my dog, the life we lived together, the memories created, and ultimately I took on pain so she didn’t suffer. I had a hard time with that, but the alternative was to dishonor her and everything she taught me.
Give yourself grace. Give yourself time. Own your grief but don’t stop living. Dogs have a short time on earth. They live each moment without wondering if it’s their last.
Your dog’s legacy should be that you carry on with him or her. You move forward and never forget. You carry what they taught you until your dying day. The heavens gained an angel but you feel like hell on earth. I feel you.
I’ve written extensively on the topic of pet loss. I encourage you to read the articles below. We are also posting some of our favorite dog memorial products to honor your beloved pet.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associate or other programs we participate in). As an affiliate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
Products To Memorialize Your Dog
I take great solace in keeping my dog’s memory alive through photos, memorial items, and more. We are often asked to share some of our favorite products to memorialize your dog, so we compiled this list with love.
Paw Print Dog Memorial Stone: This unique design is heart-shaped and features a poem with a frame for your dog’s photo. Made of high-quality resin that will not easily damage or fade. Can be used indoors, as a grave marker, in your backyard, patio, or lawn.
Rainbow Bridge Memorial Bead Bracelet: This very affordable and extremely beautiful keepsake bracelet features seven rainbow beads to represent the rainbow bridge along with a heart and pawprint.
Willow Tree Sculpted Hand-Painted Keepsake Box: This 3″ x 2″ square-shaped box is perfect for holding your dog’s tags, any special items, or mementos from a life well-lived. The design is impeccable and features a dog mom and her dog. I’ve gifted this countless times.
Signs from Pets in the Afterlife: This book is of great comfort. This book is a must-read for anyone who has loved a pet and is grieving their passing.
Rainbow Bridge Story Plaque: A square-shaped plaque that is vintage-looking and features the beautiful Rainbow Bridge poem. Can be placed next to a deceased dog’s urn or any place to find comfort in your grief.
Memorial Pet Frame: This frame has five different mats for display to feature the special moments shared with your dog throughout his or her life.
Remembrance Angel: The angel’s skirt is carved with pawprints, and flameless LED tea lights glow through her skirt. Made of sandstone, more durable than most resin materials.
More On Dealing With The Loss Of A Dog
Preventing Pet Suffocation
Visit the Prevent Pet Suffocation page to learn more about food packaging and how it poses a serious suffocation risk to your pets.
How have you dealt with the death of a beloved pet? Share in the comments below.