Top Tips for dealing with pet parent guilt

by Bryony Van Niekerk

Hello, my name is Bryony and I suffer from dog mom guilt. I feel guilty if we don’t go on a walk everyday (even if there is a literal flood). I feel guilty for leaving my dogs alone when I need to go out. I feel guilty for feeding them ‘junk food’ on occasion. I feel guilty for not being able to provide equal attention to everyone in my multi-pet household. I feel guilty for sitting here in my office writing this article while my dogs lie at my feet. Honestly the list could go on and on.

Mom guilt is the term used to describe the feelings one gets for not living up to, or meeting one’s expectations as a parent. Whether you are a human mom, cat mom, dog mom, bird mom, fish mom or plant mom- mom guilt is real.

It is human nature to want to be the best parent- have it all, do it all and make it look as easy and effortless as those bloggers on social media. But the reality is, we often can’t. We fall short. And that’s where the guilt comes in.

These feelings are completely normal. It does not make you less than. Perhaps there are areas that you can work on and that is also okay. There is always room for improvement and once you know better, you can do better. So cut yourself some slack (and a piece of cake) and read on to see how you can start to live a more guilt-free life.

Realistic Expectations:

Setting realistic expectations for not only yourself but for your pets is the key to setting yourself up for success. Decide what you would like to achieve in a day or a week with your pet- do you want to go on daily walks, make your pet home cooked meals, or perhaps even start training. Then figure out how these activities can fit into your schedule and how much time you can devote. There is no point in deciding you want to go on hour long daily walks with your dog but in reality, you only really have about 30 minutes in the afternoons. Failing to meet these unrealistic expectations is a sure way to open the guilty feeling floodgates.

Start with small, achievable goals and once they become part of your routine, you can build onto them.

Quality over quantity:

Like most things in life, quality is better than quantity. I would much rather have a small amount of decadent chocolate, than 10 slabs of waxy cooking chocolate. The same can be said for the time spent with your pets. What you do with your pets is far more important than the amount of time.

Make sure that whatever time you have set aside for your pets is meaningful and that it something that they enjoy as well. If you have limited time, don’t do heelwork when your dog’s favourite game is chasing balls. Similarly, if you go for a walk, allow your dog to be a dog and sniff. Don’t spend that time dragging them or getting impatient/angry because they want to stop at every bush.

Whatever you choose to do, be fully present and engaged. Talk to them, praise them and put all your focus on them.


Our pets thrive on routine. While they can’t tell time in the conventional sense, their circadian rhythms enable them to be able to predict when certain activities will happen. For instance, I don’t need a clock to tell me when its 3 pm because all my cats just magically appear in the kitchen at that time waiting for dinner. Similarly, Ollie gets really

restless and excited around 5 pm because that’s when we go walking.

The guilt creeps in here when we have to change these routines. Perhaps you changed jobs and the hours are longer, maybe you now have to go back into the office, or perhaps you just had a baby. These life changes can result you no longer being able to walk your dog at 5 pm, or give them the undivided attention that they are used to.

The good news is that our pets are adaptable. If you know that big changes to your scheduling are coming up, slowing start preparing your pets for it in advance. Adjust their routines bit by bit so that when the time comes, your pets have already adjusted and settled into their new norm.


As much as we want to do it all, sometimes it just isn’t possible. It is perfectly fine to source some outside help. If you work long hours, or are physically drained, there is no shame in hiring a dog walker to walk your dog a few times a week. Or perhaps you get a sitter to come and hang out with your pets if you will be away for more than 8 hours a day. Or maybe you buy the frozen dog food from Woolies because some nights you can’t face cooking? By seeking help, you can alleviate some of that guilt, so that when you do get home, you can shamelessly lie on the couch enjoying some quality snuggles, knowing that your pets needs have been taken care of.

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