Owning a pet brings immense joy, love, companionship, and fur into our lives. However, alongside the pleasures of being a pet parent, there often comes an unwelcome guest - guilt. Pet parent guilt is a common emotional experience that arises from the fear of not meeting our furry companions' needs to the fullest extent. Even veterinarians are not immune - I experienced it myself when I had to euthanize my dog, Alma, in 2021 after a valiant battle with cancer. It was gut-wrenching.
In this blog post, we will explore the various aspects of pet parent guilt and provide strategies to cope with this challenging inner experience.
Understanding Pet Parent Guilt
Pet ownership guilt can manifest from many different situations, such as feeling inadequate in providing proper care, feeling like you are neglecting pets' well-being, or not spending enough quality time with them. Separation anxiety guilt may arise when leaving our pets alone for extended periods, leading to worry and doubt about their emotional state. Guilt related to a pet's health may emerge when we feel responsible for their ailments, believe we could have done more to prevent them, couldn't do more because of financial limitations, or feel like you chose euthanasia either too early or too late. Additionally, guilt may weigh heavily when we perceive our pets' behavior as problematic because they are bored and lacking exercise opportunities and mental stimulation.
Whatever the reason you feel guilty, the short and the long of it is that that emotions are real, and they can really affect your level of happiness. They can also affect your physical health, your relationships, your career, and your ability to reach your potential. Whatever happened, it is in the past, and you are worthy to forgive yourself and move on.
Sometimes 'moving on' can be really challenging. Here are 7 ways you can help yourself move past your harsh inner critic that is masquerading as guilt and heal:
1. Awareness and Acceptance: Recognizing that pet parent guilt is a common sentiment can help alleviate its burden. You are not alone in feeling this way. Understand that it stems from a place of deep love and concern for your pet's well-being. Accept that perfection is unattainable, and it's natural to occasionally experience this feeling we call 'guilt', especially if you were raised with caregivers that relied heavily on guilting themselves or guilting you. Guilt is a conditioned response and honestly, humans used to say it was good for motivating positive change, but I'll take it one step further:
Feeling bad out of guilt is a waste of your energy, just like doomscrolling is a waste of your energy. If you did something 'bad' then accept that, learn, and move on. Don't waste yourself on berating yourself for it, instead, use your energy to improve yourself...which leads to the next point.
2. Education and Responsibility: Take an active role in learning about your pet's needs, whether it's regarding nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, or behavioral training. Stay updated with reliable sources, consult veterinarians, and join pet communities for advice. By being well-informed, you can make informed decisions and feel more confident in your pet care choices. I have a whole plethora of educational articles that are available to you for free so that you can become the most BA MOFO highly educated pet parent on the planet. True story.
3. Prioritizing Quality Time: While we may lead busy lives, it's crucial to carve out dedicated quality time for our pets. Engage in interactive play, cuddle sessions, or leisurely walks. These moments strengthen the bond and reassure both you and your pet of the love and attention you share. Most dogs need 30 minutes to 1 hour of exercise and play time daily, cats need 3-4 15 minute play sessions per day.
4. Enrichment and Stimulation: Pets thrive on mental and physical stimulation. Provide them with appropriate toys, puzzles, and activities that cater to their species and breed characteristics. Incorporate training sessions or explore new environments to keep their minds engaged and their bodies active. I'm thinking things like:
5. Seek Support: If pet parent guilt becomes overwhelming, reach out to supportive friends, family, a support group, pet loss support hotline, or online communities. Share your concerns, seek advice, and realize that you are not alone in experiencing these emotions. Sometimes, a listening ear or comforting words can go a long way in alleviating guilt.
6. Professional Guidance: If guilt persists and affects your overall well-being or significantly impacts your pet's life, consider seeking professional help in the form of therapy. Regarding your pet's health, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist can provide expert guidance, tailored solutions, and reassurance.
7. Self-Compassion: Remember to extend kindness and compassion to yourself. Acknowledge that you are doing your best as a pet parent and that mistakes happen. Sometimes this is the hardest part, especially if you are in the habit of judging yourself too harshly or you don't routinely practice self compassion. Remember when things go wrong, your psyche naturally wants to determine what went wrong, and many humans will instantly blame themselves or others. We also experience big emotions that are uncomfortable and may unconsciously project that onto others because it hurts too much, or we will turn the violence on ourselves in the form of harsh self judgement and guilt. Instead, challenge yourself to embrace the journey of learning and growth, and allow yourself to make adjustments along the way.
Pet parent guilt is a complex emotion that arises from a place of deep love and concern for our furry companions. By understanding and addressing this guilt, we can nurture a healthy bond with our pets. Remember, being a pet parent is a journey of constant learning and adaptation. Embrace the joy and unconditional love that our pets bring into our lives and focus on the positive experiences shared with them. And if you are experiencing pet parent guilt, please be kind to yourself - treat yourself like you would a best friend or a loved child that is going through the same situation. Would you be that harsh to them? I don't think so.
Let go of perfection, prioritize their well-being and yours, and cherish the moments spent together. So much love to you. ?
Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well known international influencer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 16 years experience in private practice and over 10 years experience in veterinary media work, and is a certified veterinary journalist.