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Keeping up with the Jones’ Dog: Dealing with Dog Mom Guilt

Acupuncture, cold laser therapy, underwater treadmills, medicinal mushrooms, forest bathing walks, 10-step grooming routines, luxury orthopedic beds, accessories that fit the Pantone color of the year, and raw nutrition.

These might sound like the latest lifestyle recommendations from Goop. They’re actually what you see featured on the Instagram accounts of pampered pups.

Some of these activities and products can have an amazing and positive impact on our dogs’ lives. And it’s always interesting to see advancement in treatments for our best furry friends.

Don’t get me wrong. I want the best for my dogs and I go above and beyond daily.

But lately, when I go on social media and see people doing very expensive treatments or activities with their dogs, I feel the pressure and guilt of not doing enough for my dog.

Am I a bad dog owner for not doing these things? Am I a bad person for admitting that I don’t want to spend all my money on my dog?

The pressure to keep up with the Jones’ dog is something that I feel every time I go on social media.

do you feel dog mom guilt for not doing enough for your dog

As a content creator myself, I try not to be part of the problem. I share a lot of tips about how to save money on dog expenses. I also teach pet parents how to provide great mental enrichment for their dogs without buying any new gear.

But I’m just one person. And the culture of being “the best dog mom” is starting to take over.

When we bring a dog into our lives, no matter the circumstances, we agree to give them the best that we can. We do not agree to give them THE MOST.

In this post, I’m sharing an “old-fashioned” journal-style blog post about what it feels like to be a dog mom who exists online today. Please share your feedback and thoughts with me in the comments at the bottom of the page or get on my email list to keep the conversation going.

The pressure of being the best dog mom

I’ve been a dog blogger for almost 11 years, and a full-time dog blogger for about 5. I’ve been blogging in general for even longer than that. About 5 years ago I made Wear Wag Repeat my full-time job.

I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do. It’s very fulfilling to share content to support pet parents and petpreneurs.

But for the past year, social media has felt more like a burden than the supportive dog-loving community I spent years cultivating.

Tensions are running high. The immediacy and short shelf-life of content triggers many people to comment without carefully considering the implications of what they say.

As a content creator, we’re pressured to create new posts daily and to jump on the trends that everyone else is doing. If not, you risk being left in the dust.

This isn’t the blogging culture that led me down this career path.

has dog owner culture changed from dog blogging to social media today

In many interviews, I share that I went down this path because of the supportive community of dog bloggers who commented on my early blog posts. I can remember many of these people by name (or by their blog name!) thanks to the short comments they left nearly 11 years ago.

They made me feel welcomed and like we were all in this together.

But online culture has shifted. It does not feel like we are all in this together anymore. Now we are competing for likes, views, and the moral high ground.

In truncated social media posts we often only see a small part of the picture. Maybe nobody wants a long, thoughtfully composed blog post sharing authentic and raw feelings about the guilt of being a pet parent today.

But I wrote it anyway.

This post doesn’t feature any synchronized dances or text overlays timed to the music. But I hope it can still hold your attention.

Be Authentic… As Long as We Approve

On social media, the imperative is to “Be Authentic.” But is that really what people want?

I shared a post – with a Sesame Street audio, no less – about how I do not spend all my money on my dogs.

I was not trying to stir the pot. It was just my off-the-cuff reaction to the endless stream of posts I’ve seen for years with creators saying they spend all their money on their dogs. Add to cart, if you will.

But most of the 100+ people who commented on my post did not relate to my feelings.

my dog lucy, a senior chocolate lab is living her best life

Hours after posting, I was greeted with a stream of enraged commenters offended by my admission.

Many implied, or outright claimed, that I am a terrible person for not sacrificing everything to give my dogs THE MOST.

Some of the comments intended to shame me said…

  • I’m concerned that you’re ignoring your vet’s advice.”
  • “People using their dogs as influencers to get money but don’t get their dogs the help they need? OK…”
  • “I can’t be on board with this. I will spend whatever it costs to keep my dog happy.”
  • “For only $150 a month, a potentially life-changing drug, why would you not? This is basic pet care.
  • “We’ve spent more money on our dogs than on our daughter. Kidding…. Sorta!”
  • “I’m sure you’re profiting off your dogs. Don’t you think it’s worth doing the best for them? I would do it without hesitating.”

Of course, there were a few friends who understood where I was coming from and supported my post. There was one person in particular who thanked me “for having the guts” to share this perspective.

That person went on to share that she has a special needs dog who has a lot of expenses and that it’s a financial hardship for her. “I see so many of these things and feel so guilty for not spending more,” she added.

That is exactly why I shared what I did. I feel like talking about life with dogs online has shifted from sharing our experiences to help one another to a capitalism-fueled guilt trip to see who can do THE MOST.

Should people only be able to share their lives with dogs if they can afford and choose to spend every last dollar they have on them?

According to the comments on my post, that seems to be the consensus

mary lou retton medical insurance couldn't afford

What does Mary Lou Retton have to do with pet care?

Bear with me here…

This month I saw a news story about Mary Lou Retton’s recent battle for her life. I grew up as a gymnast so I know her name well. She was the first American woman to win an individual Olympic gold medal in gymnastics in 1984. She was the image of success.

However, this past autumn, Mary Lou, at the age of 55, spent months battling for her life against a rare form of pneumonia.

Watching her interview on Today, her daughter shared that when Mary Lou was undergoing treatment they set up a GoFundMe to help pay for the treatment.

The Olympic athlete did not have health insurance because she could not afford the monthly payment.

Now, what does this story have to do with your dog?

In our country, so many people cannot afford basic health care or health insurance. And it seems to be extending to our pets.

The majority of the commenters on my recent “controversial” post explain that they have pet insurance. That enables them to get their dog’s medication or treatment for free or a small co-pay, for example.

That seems nice. But if the only way that the majority of my commenters can afford their veterinary dog care is with insurance then I think we have a bigger problem.

taking care of my two labradors is a commitment but does it mean i have to sacrifice everything

What if people can’t afford the monthly insurance payments? According to MarketWatch, pet insurance costs can range from $28 to over $90 a month for an adult dog. So the covered meds and treatments aren’t exactly free.

Or what if someone does not qualify? One of my dogs has a neurological disorder and is disqualified from most pet insurance plans.

I’m also curious if pet owners don’t push back on occasionally superfluous treatments because their insurance covers them. Why not give your dog ”the best” if it’s covered?

I can see how that could happen. And if that works for you, power to ya!

But pet insurance just doesn’t work for me. And I don’t think it should be the only way to afford to take care of your pet.

Girl Math, Girl Dinner, Girl Dog Momming

By now you’ve probably heard of the trends around girl math and girl dinner. The former is a way to justify what you spend on anything and everything by using creative math. The latter is a grazing, snack-style meal.

When these two trends converge, we get Girl Dog Momming.

what is girl dog momming, a new trend based on girl math and girl dinner

Girl Dog Momming is the unexplainable need to buy new toys, and new treats, take your dog to expensive treatments with specialists, and – now this is important – post about it on social media so that everyone knows you’re doing THE MOST and you would sacrifice anything in your life – even your own life – for your dog.

In Girl Dog Momming, people proudly share that they forgo doctor’s appointments for themselves in favor of paying for their dog’s care.

A Girl Dog Momming post might feature a behind-the-scenes video of the human’s processed cheese and crackers dinner while their dog gets grass-fed raw beef and obscure, expensive supplements.

Girl Dog Momming posts get tons of comments proclaiming “OMG same!” or “So relatable!”

While I’m being a little dramatic with this new made-up trend, the truth about Girl Dog Momming posts is that they make me feel like I’m not doing enough. And that I am not enough.

I can’t be the only one feeling the dog mom guilt.

The Constant Reminder That I’m Not Doing Enough For My Dog

There’s another element on social media that adds to the constant stress and guilt of trying to keep up with the Jones’ dog. It’s the posts about what we’re doing (or not doing) that’s killing our dogs.

Think I’m being dramatic? Every time I log on to Instagram I see a post that makes me feel like I’m actively putting my dog in harm’s way.

It could be someone telling me that if I don’t wash my dogs’ bowls with hot soapy water every single day that I’m exposing them to deadly bacteria.

I have 4 dog bowls in my home. They go in the dishwasher about once a week when there’s room and I rinse the water bowls out when I refill them.

I know I do a good job. But in the back of my mind are these posts telling me what a bad job I’m doing because I don’t have the time or capacity to handwash the bowls every single day.

When you’re burned out, taking care of yourself or your family can feel impossible. There’s a great TedTalk from KC Davis with 1.4 million views about this. KC is a mom who felt like a terrible person because she couldn’t keep up with constant cleaning while feeling overwhelmed by life.

After sharing her struggle on social media, KC was flooded with comments from people who could relate. She heard from people who also felt overwhelmed by laundry or dishes or walking the dog because of depression, ADHD, grief, or emotional overwhelm.

Hundreds of thousands of people told her that these daily care tasks were overwhelming to them.

But according to KC, “Not cleaning doesn’t make you a bad person.”

In the mom community, KC has found supportive and understanding people. I know that depression, ADHD, grief, and emotional overwhelm aren’t exclusive to moms of human kids. Dog moms are affected by this, too. So can we get some of that support and understanding when it comes to dog mom guilt?

if you feel dog mom guilt you're not alone

Yelling ‘Fire’ in a Crowded Comments Section

It’s one thing to keep up with daily tasks related to caring for your dog. But the latest round of posts making me feel like I’m not doing enough are lists of dog food brands that are allegedly killing our dogs.

And each day the list grows. To top it off, the brand I use was just added to the list.

It’s like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded comments section of dogstagram. Cue the panic scrolling!

But where do I find the answers? Instagram is designed to make it difficult for users to leave the app, so there are no links in any of these posts. The data that I have seen these users share is very vague with no dates or batch numbers of the food.

The data they’re sharing is horrifying. Stats like, “While eating XYZ food 3 dogs have died, 15 have had blood in their vomit, etc.”

Anytime I see data like this I want to zoom out and get more information.

Those 3 dogs who died, what were their other health issues, if any? Was there an accident that caused the death? Did the dogs consume 100% of that food or did they get other treats, chews, etc.? What was the batch number of the food?

So far I have not been able to find any additional fact-checked information about this latest panic. All I know is that every time I see a post about it, I get that dreaded “I’m not enough” feeling.

I do not have enough time or resources to investigate the safety of my dog’s food. What am I supposed to do with this information? What do I feed my dogs tonight?

It feels like I’m not doing enough to keep them safe because our food is on this list.

Do What You Can for Your Dog When You Can

The pressure of keeping up with the Jones’ dog isn’t a feeling isolated to me. I know because there’s an episode about this topic on the With a Dog Podcast, hosted by Carly Parish.

In the episode, Low Effort, High Impact Dog Mom, Carly shares her main pillars of the low effort, high impact dog mom lifestyle:

  • Don’t spend extra money on your dog
  • Cater their training to encourage downtime and independence
  • Don’t try to keep up with other dog parents on social media
  • If it’s not broke don’t fix it
  • Do what you can for your dog when you can

Carly starts the episode by saying, “I feel comfortable with how I meet my dog’s needs and that I don’t need to do more.”

She emphasizes that low effort isn’t negligent.

with a dog podcast hosted by Carly Parish

When we bring a dog into our lives, we commit to provide for them. This commitment is a social contract but it’s on its way to becoming a law.

A proposed Animal Bill of Rights that could go into effect in California reads:

  • Dogs and cats deserve to be free from exploitation, cruelty, neglect, and abuse.
  • Dogs and cats deserve a life of comfort, free of fear and anxiety.
  • Dogs and cats deserve daily mental stimulation and appropriate exercise considering the age and energy level of the dog or cat.
  • Dogs and cats deserve nutritious food, sanitary water, and shelter in an appropriate and safe environment.
  • Dogs and cats deserve regular and appropriate veterinary care.
  • Dogs and cats deserve to be properly identified through tags, microchips, or other humane means.
  • Dogs and cats deserve to be spayed and neutered to prevent unwanted litters.

This call for humane treatment and respect for a pet’s physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being is totally reasonable. Although I’m sure even common-sense guidelines like these have critics!

Please take note that this “Dog and Cat Bill of Rights” does not claim that you need to sacrifice your own physical, mental, and emotional health in favor of your pet’s.

You are not committing to do THE MOST. You are committing to do the best you can.

I Tried Giving My Dog THE MOST and it Didn’t Work out So Great

There are so many extra products out there when it comes to spending money. Treats, collars, toys, puzzles, supplements, and on and on and on. For years I gave my dogs an elaborate bowl full of food, toppers, and supplements.

There are a lot of dogstagram accounts that share what’s basically molecular gastronomy and Michelin star plated meals for their dogs. I’ve felt the pressure that if I’m not adding raw eggs, rabbit ears, or mushroom extract to my dog’s daily bowl I’m not doing enough.

Then I had the opportunity to do a food intolerance test with my dog Lucy and get a personalized consultation with a canine nutritionist. I know that’s pretty extra in and of itself. But I was gifted this service in exchange for a blog post, and I’m very thankful for that.

What I learned in that experience is that Lucy does not need the CBD oil, turmeric powder, and the other rotating slew of supplements I was serving her. In fact, she has a high intolerance for many of them. They actually cause inflammation in her system.

By trying to keep up with the Jones’ dog, I wasn’t improving her quality of life.

This experience, and what Carly shares on her podcast episode, tie in with another piece of advice from KC’s TedTalk: “You have to give yourself permission to do a little.”

giving my dog the best food for them, mental and physical enrichment and keeping them safe

My Dog Is Fine

I know that goes against the Girl Dog Momming urge to do THE MOST.

But you know what? My dog is OK. They’re going to be fine.

In the caption of the Instagram post that inspired this saga, I used a new canine osteoarthritis medication as an example of how I’m not spending all my money on my dog.

That drug, Librela, has been approved for use in the USA for less than a year. At my dog’s annual checkup in January, our veterinarian asked if I had heard of it. She knows I’m a dog blogger and that I like to research.

Librela is the first antibody injectable to treat joint inflammation due to osteoarthritis.

To be clear, our vet did not tell me that this new drug is vital to my dog. Just that it’s an interesting treatment to check out.

I was interested so my vet looked up how much it would cost for us. She sheepishly told me it would be over $100 for the injection, plus I would have to pay for a visit. Another roughly $100. Every month. 

It was clear to both of us that this is cost-prohibitive for a dog who is doing just fine. More than fine! Our vet calls Lucy the Golden Child. 

my 12 year old dog is the Golden Child according to our vet

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it

As Carly says on her podcast, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

My dog Lucy is turning 12 years old in February. This afternoon we’re going on a 3-mile hike in the snow. She’ll have kibble for dinner, get a good night’s sleep next to me in my bed, then we’ll wake up tomorrow and go for another hike.

She gets daily joint and fish oil supplements plus prescription anti-inflammatory Galliprant 4 times a week. She has some lumps and bumps, but she doesn’t limp. I’m sure she doesn’t feel as spry as she did 10 years ago, but that’s called aging.

I can say Lucy has a pretty great life. And I know I’m doing enough.

I hope this post makes you feel like you’re not alone in having dog mom guilt and shame when you go online. Maybe this takes the edge off a bit.

Let’s find a way to support each other as dog moms. I’ll keep doing what I do to share the information I gather from experts and in my pursuit of knowledge.

Speaking of… as I finish writing this post, I just discovered a 2023 study on dog owner guilt. The data is fascinating and so relevant!

The researchers found that dog-owning women under 30 are most susceptible to dog owner guilt. And this guilt is linked to them developing depression and anxiety.

Dog mom guilt is very real and I want to explore this more. But I will share more about that study in another post, this one is long enough!

In the meantime, can I just say that it feels really good to be real and raw in this post instead of writing a finely tuned keyword-optimized article. Sometimes I miss the old style of blogging and the community we had!

Please comment below or get on my email list to continue this conversation. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think and how this post resonates with you.

Did you like this post? I a lot more where that came from, check them out:
Burt, A Love Story
Holistic Care for Senior Dogs and How Much It Costs
How Acupuncture Benefits Your Senior Dog
How a Special Needs Rescue Dog Changed my Life
Podcast Episode All About My Dog Lucy

 

4 Comments

  1. Suzy

    Thank you for stepping out & being “real”. We had an almost 8 year old lab that died of an aggressive neck cancer March last year & have a 7 month lab that we got in August. With the previous dog, and with our puppy, we do a lot of enrichment play (we follow your instagram page for enrichment ideas) we do daily walks, we chase her around the yard, we feed her a balanced diet recommended by the vet, she has her regular vet checks & heartworm & tick medication regularly. We spend so much time with her. She has one pet tag, one harness & lead, 2 beds, lots of toys to play with, but that’s it. She is happy & healthy so that’s all that matters. We aren’t prepared to go into debt for anything that she doesn’t “need”. She is loved & adored as is – me spending a fortune on un-necesssry pet pampering sessions isn’t going to change that.

    Reply
    • Tori Mistick

      Hi Suzy – thank you so much for sharing this. I’m relieved to know I’m not alone in giving my dog the best life by spending quality time together and giving them what they need but not necessarily spending a fortune on them. Thank you for following the enrichment posts!!

      Reply
  2. Kathy

    I appreciate your perspective on this issue. We have had dogs for 40 years except for the last 2 years. Adopted a puppy in October 2023 and were amazed at the explosion in dog treats and toys and special food for dogs. We have purchased some toys and are navigating the middle ground. We give the basics and Vet care and vaccinations. And spend a lot of time with our puppy.

    I like your blog and content. Thank you for sharing. Give the dogs a pat from me.

    Reply
    • Tori Mistick

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting Kathy! And that’s interesting to hear your perspective. I agree, so much has changed and I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on social media to do everything. But I was just thinking this morning, that the best thing about dogs is… they’re dogs!! They aren’t people and they don’t need to have the latest stuff. They’re very happy (just) getting our love, time and attention. I hope you have a great day!

      Reply

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Tori Mistick Labrador Dog Mom Blog

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Tori Mistick is a blogger, podcaster and certified Canine Enrichment Specialist. You might call her a professional dog mom! Tori has a soft spot for senior dogs and loves the color pink. Based in Pittsburgh, PA.

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