Giving Animals as Christmas Gifts

Audra Stillabower, CVT, VIS
Veterinary Information Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline®

As the holiday season is upon us, the excitement of giving and receiving presents is felt by many. What would be cuter than a puppy or kitten with a bright red bow under the Christmas tree and the happiness on children’s faces? While it is a thoughtful gift, there can be a downside to gifting pets. I worked in a shelter environment for 8 years, and there is a spike in owner surrendered pets before and after holidays. While disturbing, many people will surrender their old pets before the holiday to make way for new pets and afterwards, many well meant “gifts” are returned.

While returning a gift to a store is relatively easy, returning a living animal to a shelter could very well mean that the pet may be euthanized due to space issues. To help prevent these returns to the shelter, here are some tips to think about before you gift that pet.

Do you know for a fact that the person wants a pet? Have they talked at length about wanting a dog or a cat or is it something that you think would enrich their life? Pets do bring joy but not everyone has time for a pet. They may lead busy lives and not be home to take care of them. They may have allergies, or they may not have the finances to take care of them. The main point to remember is that pets need to be a good fit to the person. An elderly person taking care of a rambunctious, large breed puppy or young children with a fragile pet may not be the best fit. While everyone wants the surprise of giving the gift, it would be best to bring the person with you to pick out their pet together. This way, they can pick the pet they want and ensure that they are getting the right animal for them.

Are you giving the pet to your children? Is the pet so they can learn to care for their own animal? While at the shelter, there were a lot of pets surrendered with the excuse, “my children won’t care for the pet”.  Children can learn to care for their pet, but kids are kids. They forget sometimes to clean and feed. Giving a pet and expecting the child to care for the pet exclusively and when they forget to do that, giving the pet up to the shelter is traumatic for the child and the pet alike. Give the pet as a gift to the whole family. Expect that you will care for the pet too and teach your children proper care as well.

A pet can cost a lot of money. Crates, toys, food bowls, leashes, beds, cages, litterboxes, medical care.  The list goes on. Does the person you are giving the pet to have the money to care for their new pet? Do they have any supplies for the pet? These are some questions to ask yourself before buying. Giving a pet without any of the supplies means that the person will have to buy everything themselves and it could cost hundreds of dollars. Has the pet been to the vet for a wellness exam or vaccinations? It is best when buying the pet to also buy the supplies and give a gift certificate or offer to pay for the first vet visit to help offset costs.  Here’s an informative link on how much it costs to own a pet over their lifetime. The amounts are eye opening and are usually greatly underestimated.

The holidays can be a busy time, such as holiday parties, family members coming to visit, baking and cooking holiday goodies and trying to get all the gifts bought and wrapped. Bringing a pet into that hectic environment can be stressful to them. They are in new surroundings and trying to acclimate. The children are excited and want to pet and love on their new pet. Keep an area in the home for your pet that they can escape to and relax for periods of time. Putting them in a quiet room with no interruptions can help calm them. Instructing the kids to leave the puppy alone while they are in their crate so the puppy learns that they have a safe, quiet place to rest can help. Keeping your kitten and their litterbox in a single room in the house while they get used to their surroundings can help as well.

Where should you get your pet? There are a lot of options out there for purchasing a pet. National shelters like the Humane Society and local animal shelters and rescues are good choices. When adopting a pet from a shelter, you are rescuing them and potentially saving a life. If a shelter runs out of room and they are a shelter that euthanizes, pets are at risk. By adopting, you are saving that pet and emptying a cage or kennel so that a new animal can be saved as well. Pet rescues will often get their pets from the shelters. By adopting a pet from a rescue, they are able to take another pet from the shelter and potentially save a life. When you are looking for a specific breed of animal, check the rescues first. If you cannot find your pet there, you can check with reputable breeders in your area. It is recommended that you do some research on the breeder. What should you avoid? Pet stores and puppy mills. Some pet stores will purchase from puppy mills. Often these operations have poor conditions for the animals that are neither socialized nor kept in good health.  Check out the link below from the HSUS on puppy mills.

As Sia sings in her new Christmas song, puppies are forever. Your pet becomes a part of your family and that means as they grow from that cute puppy or kitten into an older pet, they may have more health needs. It is important that they are still cared for and loved for life. It is hard to see old pets surrendered to the shelter when they have lived their whole life in a home. They are scared and confused and in a loud and stressful environment.  Keep in mind that cats can live up to 20 years and depending on the dog breed, they can live on average up to 10-13 years. Having a wonderful new family member and keeping pets out of the shelters should be the main goal for us all this Christmas season and all year long.