As a pet lover, do you ever wonder if you’re doing enough? Or do you ever find yourself comparing your parenting with what you see other pet parents doing with or for their pets? Are you consumed by guilt every time you have to leave your cat or dog alone or decide to say no to something that would be good for them? (Like that uber-expensive spa treatment or therapy?) Trust me, you’re not the only one dealing with pet guilt.
I’m not talking about when you think the pet acts guilty. This is all about the human feeling guilty. For me, not visiting my family often enough hurts my heart and makes me feel guilty. But I also feel guilty when I must ignore the pets to get schtuff done.
When I’m at deadline, and Shadow-Pup constantly does a paws-up in my lap begging for attention…or Karma-Kat does a kitty pancake over my keyboard (message clear!), I feel awful having to delay the play. Heck, I’d rather spend time schmoozing with them, too, but someone has to pay for the treetz!
Guilt is awful. It feels like that empty feeling a kid gets when not chosen for team sports. Even though you may experience guilt from time to time, I’m here to tell you your PETS DON’T BLAME YOU! That’s one of the great things about cats and dogs. They love us no matter how long we have to spend time away, and even forgive us when we misunderstand their barks or yowls. If they gave you a rating scale from 1 to 10, I can guarantee your pets would score you 100+ every time! testing this…
What is Pet Guilt and What Does It Look Like?
I’ve always viewed guilt as feeling like a failure, never measuring up, or letting myself (or others) down. I’m too impatient with myself, my family, probably my friends, and for sure my pets. These days, as an independent author, I set my schedule but even then, missing deadlines makes me feel guilty. I’m letting down my faithful readers who anxiously await the next installment in the thrillers, for example. But pet guilt can look like a lot of things:
- Feeling annoyed when your pet wants to play, and you’re tired from a long day at work
- Knowing you “should” brush out your pet’s fur AGAIN or clip their nails, but you can’t find the time or energy
- Scolding your pet aggressively to stop BARK-BARK-BARKING (looking at YOU, Shadow!)
- Stopping the car too suddenly, so they loose balance in the back seat
- Locking your pet out of the bedroom because he’s not letting you sleep (hey Karma, stop knocking stuff off tables!)
- Leaving your pet home alone for hours while you work or go out
- Cutting short outdoor playtime because of oppressive heat–then resenting the indoor “zoomies”
- Buying bargain foods because you can’t afford it anymore
- Lying to your dog about heading to the vet
- Crating them when you have company
- Feeling resentful because your pet’s meds/surgery cost way more than you thought it would
- Feeling guilty you can’t afford necessary treatment.
- Wishing you could go on a vacation whenever you want and not have to plan care for your pet while you’re gone
- Watching your pet age and not knowing how to help them
- Deciding if it’s time to let your old or very ill pet go on to Rainbow Bridge
- Replaying the loss over and over in your head, and what you wish you had done differently
- Deciding when it’s time—if ever—to get another pet after your pet dies
While guilt might be a natural human emotion, it isn’t always helpful. The experts over at Psychology Today warn that ”[…] in excess, guilt may needlessly burden those who experience it.”
I think that’s what happens often to us pet parents. We become burdened by our guilt and let it get the best of us. But so long as you love your cats and dogs, provide for their needs of food, water, shelter, and companionship–along with a few belly rubs and chin scritches–YOU DONE GOOD!
We are always our worst critics, but we can only do our best based on the information and resources we have. And your pets agree: YOU ARE ENOUGH! Hey, I work from home and Karma-Kat and Shadow-Pup still don’t have 24/7 access to me or my husband. It’s easy to beat ourselves up. But we can’t go back in time, so the “what if” or “I should have…” only inform the future when you CAN make choices based on experiences. That’s the only value those thoughts have. If you fall into that category, it’s time to stop the guilt trap!
5 Helpful Tips to Lessen Pet Parenting Guilt
Connect with other pet parents. You are not alone. Everyone who has ever loved a cat or dog has experienced guilt in some form or fashion–not better, or worse, but different. Share your feelings, discover what helped them–and you can help others with the guilt, too. No blame here, just a release of that tightly held breath to make room for the next…and the next…and the next, each fresher and sweeter than the one before.
Now that you know better, you can do better. We don’t know what we don’t know. Different experiences will help you become a better pet parent in the future. When Bravo-Dawg’s cancer diagnosis bushwhacked us, both love and guilt prompted us to pursue treatment. We still feel guilty that despite taking his leg (oh, my poor baby-dawg) and going through rounds of chemo, the #$%^! disease still took him from us at only age 3. I had written about cancer extensively–but after going through the experience I know even more about what’s involved. And how it impacts the whole family (human and furry). So if we should face that horror again, we’re better prepared.
Self-care is self-love. Self-care for me is shutting off the Internet, turning off the phone, finding a book to get lost in, or playing my cello and singing. Taking a walk with Karma-Kat so he can chase butterflies from the end of his leash. If I’m unable to function because of guilt, that impacts the rest of my family, including the pets. So for me–the work-aholic–I try to unplug and self-care at lease one full day every week. Find what works for you — a massage, or a girls’ (or guys’) night out with friends, a day in the canoe on the lake, whatever it may be. When those negative thoughts come, acknowledge them–write ’em down on a tissue, blow your nose on ’em and flush. (Makes me feel better!)
Add enrichment to their life where you can. While we can’t always drop everything and indulge in a game of Frisbee fetch, we can provide doggy enrichment to boost the happiness quotient. Hide treat-stuffed Kongs around the house to keep his mind and mouth engaged while you have to attend to the kids. Cat enrichment, equally important, can give your nocturnal feline something better to do than give you a new hairstyle in your sleep.
Practice forgiveness. I’m sure you’ve forgiven your pet for doing a “naughty” thing or two. How many times has your dog chewed up something he shouldn’t? Or your cat hacked up a hairball on the fresh laundry? At my house, we live in a state of constant forgiveness for our clueless furry wonders–cuz love trumps the goofs.
That same compassion you had for your pet you can give to yourself too. Way back *mumble mumble* years ago when I first worked as a vet tech, I often took our dog with me to the clinic. And because I didn’t want his exposure there to result in illness, I gave him vaccine “boosters” frequently to protect him. I still feel guilty about that—and have tried to forgive myself that over-vaccinating him caused terrible immune (allergy) issues.
But back to #2, now I know better! Part of why we feel guilt relates directly to how much we love them–and how much they rely on us. People who care deeply open themselves up to feeling responsible–and sometimes guilty–over our perceived failures. But to keep these feelings in a healthy range, I’ve got to use experiences as learning tools to help improve the job I do caring for my pets now, and in the future. Have you ever had some of these feelings? Try one of my tips and let me know how it went!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!