Pet Guilt

If you have children, you might be familiar with guilt. It seems like no matter what you do, you feel guilty about it. If you stay home with your children, you feel guilty that you can’t afford things. If you work out of the home, you feel guilty about missing time with them. If you buy them nice things you feel guilty that you might spoil them. If you can’t buy them what they ask for you feel guilty about that.

Many people find similar guilty feelings when they have a pet. It’s best to confront and deal with those feelings as soon as possible and explore them before you even get a pet.

Attie and Sophie say "Don't leave us alone!!"

When you adopt a pet, you become their whole world. You are responsible for all their care- food, water, physical exercise, mental stimulation, and the proper environment for your pet. If they get sick, it is up to you to figure that out and find out what to do about it. They are tiny creatures that trust you to make sure they are healthy and happy.

Sometimes that feeling of guilt is good because it prompts us to do better. Just feeling guilty is not good or productive. Ruminating over the past is not a good idea, but changing your behavior, or making some other change, if you are not doing the right thing is an optimal response.

Spending Time With Them

dog all alone Photo by Dina Nasyrova: by Dina Nasyrova:

Many people worry that they don’t spend enough time with their pet.  They worry that the pet is lonely and bored because of this. Some people got pets when they were working at home and spent lots of time with the pet. Now the human has to return to the office and the pet is left at home alone. Some people crate their dogs for 8, 9, 10, or more hours a day because they don’t trust the dog to roam around the house without destroying things and that’s how long the human is away on a daily basis. Some people might get bored of the pet, or the human gets sick in some way, or gets added responsibilities.

Skink blue tongue. Likes to be alonePhoto by Tom Fisk

Some animals don’t mind being alone. You can search through the animal descriptions in my Best Pet for Me list to find out about the sociability needs of different pets if you are thinking about adopting and are trying to decide on a good pet if you are quite busy. Many reptiles and fish are fine existing without a lot of human contact, but each species is different.

dogs - two of them with a toy Photo by Sam Lion: by Sam Lion:

If you already have a pet and you feel guilty about leaving them alone a lot, you might want to consider getting them a same-species friend. That could backfire and the two animals might hate each other, but a lot of the time your pet will enjoy the company.

You can also look into toys and other stimulating objects for your pet. Rotate their toys so they don’t get bored. You could also look into getting a pet sitter or dog walker to come by and spend a bit of time with any type of pet during the day. If you have a dog, there are doggy daycare facilities you can take them to several times a week. Pet sitters and daycare might be too expensive for you, but it is something to consider.

If you have a vague feeling of guilt that should should be spending more time with your pet, search yourself for the reasons behind this feeling. If it has some basis, switch things up so your pet gets the attention they deserve. If you find that it really doesn’t have a basis, try to figure out why you are making yourself feel guilty for no good reason.

Spending Money On Them

Cat enjoying an expensive dinnerPhoto by Daniela Constantini

There are so many ways you can spend money on your pet.  Some pet food is very cheap, but other brands of pet food can be quite expensive. The companies that make the more expensive food want you to believe that their food is so much better for your pet. Sometimes that might be true. Some pets are finicky or they have special health problems. Sometimes the cheaper food is actually better for your pet.

You can also buy expensive toys and habitats for your pet.  There are tons of cute guinea pig enclosures and decorations. I just made a cage for my guinea pigs and I buy a lot of things on sale for them. I end up giving away most of the toys I buy my cats because they don’t like them. Cats can amuse themselves with just a box sometimes. Dogs may like bones from the butcher shop.  My pigs eat juice pulp that a local juice store would just throw away if I didn’t take it first.

Cat in a box with two girls watching Photo by cottonbro studio: by cottonbro studio:

Sure you can spend money on your pets, but they might appreciate cheaper things just as much. Don’t stress if you can’t buy the most special and expensive accessories and food for your pet. Don’t get lured in by advertisements. Your pets mostly want food, safety, good hygiene, and love.

Providing Them With The Best Home

dog unhappy on a crate Photo by Vitor Monthay: by Vitor Monthay:

Sometimes people feel like they can’t provide a good home for their pet and they feel bad. This could be time spent with them or money spent with them, but there are other parts of the environment. Sometimes multiple pets have to be kept separate because they don’t get along, so the pet may be cramped. Sometimes, because of other humans in the living area, the pet is restricted too much. Sometimes cage cleaning can’t happen as often as is optimal.

There is always going to be a better home for your pet than what you can provide.  There’s always going to be much much worse homes that your pet can have, as well. I always work hard to provide my pets with the best home I can give them. They have my best and that’s what I can do. They are used to their home and are thriving, so that’s what I pay attention to. I think about other homes they might have had that are much worse when I start feeling like I am not good enough.  We are a unit - me and my pets. I’m in charge of making the best environment for them and I worry about that, rather than what I could be doing better in a fantasy world.

There are times when you just can’t provide them with a good home. Maybe your situation changed - new baby, new apartment, or something else. In that case, it is your responsibility to find a great new home for your pet. If you need to rehome your pet, check out my rehoming tips.

Other Humans

person sneezing Photo by Andrea Piacquadio: by Andrea Piacquadio:

Maybe other humans you live with are allergic to your pet.  There are hypoallergenic pets you can get to eliminate these problems.  But if you already have an allergy-producing pet, you can get pet dander wipes, an air filter, HEPA filter vacuums, and other strategies to minimize allergens in the environment. You could also keep your pet to an area of your home that the human doesn’t go into if that’s possible.

Other issues with humans include humans who don’t care for your pet or are even openly hostile to the pet. If you live with these people, or they visit frequently for long periods of time, this has to be dealt with in some way so that your pet doesn’t suffer.

You could feel guilty about the time you spend with your pet that is not spent with other humans, or that you don’t spend enough time with your pet because you are engaging with the other humans. Just like with other sources of the guilty feeling, you should examine why you are feeling this way and explore solutions.

Guilt Over The Past

dog that is sad Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash by Leohoho on Unsplash

You might look back and think about pets you’ve had in the past and how you didn’t treat them properly. Maybe you were too young for such a big responsibility and your parents didn’t help you properly. Maybe you just weren’t into having a pet at the time and you didn’t realize it, or you didn’t like that particular pet and didn’t know what to do about it.  Maybe you just didn’t know the proper care of your pet, you did what other people told you to do, and now you realize you were wrong.

There is nothing you can do to change the past. There are exercises you can do, such as writing a letter to your former pet apologizing to them. You can also use the guilt you feel to spur you on to treat your current and future pets better.

Health And End Of Life

dog at the vet Photo by Mikhail Nilov: by Mikhail Nilov:

It’s important to have a relationship with a vet so that when something goes wrong with your pet’s health, you have somewhere to go where they know the pet. This isn’t always possible for a number of reasons. If your pet is sick, it can be really scary for both of you going to the vet for the first time. It’s hard to know if what the vet is telling you is the correct thing, or if you should get a second opinion.

Many times pets suffer in silence so you don’t even know if they are sick before it is too late. Many people feel guilty that they didn’t realize the signs of disease, or didn’t take action soon enough. The cost to treat a pet medically might be prohibitive for the pet’s human, and sometimes the treatment doesn’t even make the pet better.

dog - very sick at the vet Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: by Tima Miroshnichenko:

People may feel guilty for putting their pet down when the pet is suffering. Or they feel guilty for keeping it alive while the pet was suffering but the human couldn’t let the pet go. A pet owner might feel guilty that they didn’t try every possible treatment to possibly give their pet a longer life. Or they feel guilty for putting the pet through painful medical treatments that didn’t work.

All of these guilty feelings need to be processed so you can feel better and do better in the future.

My Guilt

I’ve definitely experienced many of these types of pet owner guilt. The cats I had as a child all had great lives, but I feel I could have done better by many of the other pets I had. 

My gerbils and guinea pigs had short lives. The guinea pig was alone in a small cage and now I know that guinea pigs are happier with other guinea pigs around. My pet rabbit also lived alone in a small cage. When I left for college, he stayed home and my parents let him escape.

My chameleon didn’t have a great habitat and I think it got too cold. I didn’t really like the dog I was training to be a seeing-eye dog and I feel guilty that I never bonded with her and that I rejected to own her when she was rejected from the program.

Cat Marshall very sick

I feel like I ignored the symptoms of my cat, Marshall, and then I subjected him to lots of painful treatments to try, unsuccessfully, to save him. My rabbit, Amber, had a nice life free roaming in my backyard, but I think she was lonely too much. 

These are a few examples of pets that I feel guilty about. I have done something called animal communication that helps me connect with their spirits and ask for forgiveness.  I have also resolved to do better in the future.

Do you have some kind of pet guilt? What do you do about it? Leave some comments and share.

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