Do Pets Make Good Holiday Gifts?

It happens every time the Holidays roll around — people decide to give pets as gifts. But is it a wise choice? When I was in 3rd grade I hounded my parents to let me get a pet. They finally relented after months of nagging and there he was one day, my holiday present, “Tiger”. He really was “my cat” and I even took him with me when I moved out of the dorm in college, but you can be sure my parents were responsible for a great deal of the care from the time I was 7 until I was 19.

Tiger lived with me for 7 more years after college, but not all pets given as gifts have the same happy story. Owning a pet is a significant commitment, and like any major decision, it’s wise to consider all the factors before proceeding. If you’re considering giving a pet as a gift, here are some suggestions to help you avoid problems:

1) Make Sure The Person Wants A Pet

A pet should never be given as an “unexpected” gift to someone; they should have already made the decision that they want a pet, and most importantly, that they have the means to properly care for it. The holidays are not an ideal time to get a pet for a number of reasons: People are generally far too busy to properly introduce a new pet into their home while trying to keep up with all the demands of the season. With parties to attend, houseguests, etc., a new pet can easily be lost in the shuffle or worse, neglected.

A better choice is to give a coupon, picture or certificate that can be handed over and opened at gift time, then arrangements can be made to have the pet arrive after the holidays have passed.

2) A Pet Should NOT be an Impulse Purchase

Do not buy a pet on impulse from a shopping mall pet store. They may look adorable and in need of a home, but unfortunately, these pets are usually stressed, immune suppressed and often come from mass breeders (puppy mills) with questionable breeding practices.

If you are going to get a pet, it is much better to plan ahead and take the time to research your choice of animal. For a dog, find a responsible breeder, or better yet find a shelter or a rescue group. I am a firm believer in rescuing animals from a shelter or from one of the many responsible pet rescue groups.

3) Consider Fostering or Getting Pets other than Dogs and Cats

Animal rescues are always looking for responsible people to provide foster pet homes on a short-term or long-term basis until they can find them a “forever home.” There are also lots of choices other than dogs and cats, especially if the pet is for a child. Fish, turtles, mice and guinea pigs are all excellent, easy and economical choices that kids can enjoy and love without creating much of an impact to your daily routine.

4) If The Addition Of A Pet Is Inevitable, Be Sure To Prepare Your Home

Puppies, and especially kittens are very curious, so “pet proofing” your home is essential. Lock away all household chemicals, keep any potentially poisonous houseplants or breakables out of reach, tie back any electrical cords and keep doors closed. Many holiday decorations like tinsel, mistletoe, wrapping paper and table decorations can be problematic, while certain foods, including chocolate and raisins can be lethal to your pet.

Establish an area in the house where your pet can peacefully relax and sleep. It is much easier on the pet if you can consistently offer them a “safe haven” as they settle into their new home.

5) You Need More Than Just Food and Bowls

There’s a whole laundry list of things you will need, so stock up at the pet store before your new addition arrives. For example, owning fish requires a variety of cleaning and water treatment supplies, as well as chemicals and back up parts. Small, furry pets like gerbils and hamsters need nesting material and other “cage furniture” to give them a rich environment. Dogs and cats need toys, bedding, collars, tags, grooming accessories, and a tracking chip.

Choose a vet, and also locate the nearest emergency veterinary hospital that is open 24/7. All new puppies and kittens need a series of vaccinations. Make sure you get any records containing your pet’s history — this will help a veterinarian determine exactly which vaccinations are needed.

A pet can be a wonderful addition to your household. Since begging my parents for that first cat almost fifty years ago I’ve had animals in my life ever since. As a trainer, I have seen lives change as thousands of pet owners experience the love and joy that comes from owning an animal. However, I have also seen many situations where a pet given as a gift or bought on impulse does not turn out to be a benefit, but in fact, quite the opposite. If you are giving someone a new pet this year for the holidays, I believe it is best for everyone involved when a pet is a planned addition by a willing and prepared owner.