Pets as Gifts at the Holidays – “PAWS” for Thought

By Sharon Billings, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

Holiday Christmas Puppy in PresentTis the season for gift giving for many people!  And during this season, we see heartwarming social media videos portraying scenes where someone, perhaps sitting near a Christmas tree, excitedly opens a gift box and is surprised and thrilled when a puppy or kitten pops out.  Puppies and kittens are adorable, and everyone likes a surprise.  But surprising someone with the gift of a pet this holiday season, however well-intentioned, may not be a good idea.  In today’s blog post, we’ll present the top five reasons to reconsider, and perhaps resist the impulse, to give a pet as a surprise holiday gift.

Reason #1:  Teach your children well:  A puppy is not an XBox. 

Toys and games, wrapped up in a box with a bow, bring surprise and delight to the children who receive them.  Toys are taken out, played with, and put away again.  Naturally, kids may lose interest or outgrow such gifts and eventually replace them.  Pets, of course, are living creatures who require regular care and attention throughout their lives. Just as we consider giving age-appropriate toys for children to prevent choking hazards or to stimulate learning shapes/colors; careful consideration in giving a pet is no different.   Placing a puppy or kitten in a box and presenting him/her to a young child as a gift may serve to blur the distinction between toys and pets.

Reason #2:  Baby, it’s COLD outside

Winter months can be marked by cold, messy, muddy, rainy, snowy, windy weather!  Puppies and adult dogs will need to be house trained upon arrival.  Think of bundling up for those many potty trips!  Think of cleaning those wiggly paws umpteen times a day!  Wouldn’t you much rather be potty training your new furry family member in nicer weather?  Another benefit of a warm weather arrival time:  once kids are out of school for the summer, the whole family may have more time and fewer distractions as everyone adapts to new routines and tasks like feeding, grooming, dog walks, and litter box cleaning.

Reason #3:  Holiday Hubbub

The holidays can be a crazy, busy time!  Our lives are filled with changes in routine, travel, visitors, shopping, cooking, celebrating, and sometimes downright pandemonium!  Consider choosing a less chaotic and stressful time of year to help provide a smooth transition for everyone and to provide the new arrival with the needed time and attention to integrate smoothly into the family.

Reason #4:  Get It Right the First Time

We’ve all seen the long “returns” line at stores just after the holidays!  It can be difficult to select the perfect gift for someone no matter how well we know them and their likes and dislikes; sometimes we don’t get it right the first time.  Many gifts, for example sweaters in the wrong size or ties in an unflattering color, can easily be returned and of course they don’t get scared or lonely.    But each year, thousands of pets who are given as gifts are surrendered to animal shelters, and at an increased rate just after the holiday season.  Shelters may even suspend adoptions just before the holiday season to help avoid this situation.  Shelters often fill past their capacity with surrendered pets, many being unwanted gifts. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the shelter, some of those pets will never have a chance to find their ‘forever family’ and their last moments may be in that very shelter.  Involving all family members in the process of adding that furry friend will help to “get it right the first time” and bring home the perfect match for everyone!

Reason #5:  Just Say NO to Puppy Mills

During the holiday season, gift-givers may unknowingly support puppy mills.  With shelters suspending adoptions for the holiday season, shoppers may turn to pet stores or other sources to purchase pets.  These sources, in turn, may obtain pets from disreputable breeders or puppy mills that seize the opportunity to provide the “supply” for this demand.  Although the pet may end up in a loving home, each such purchase supports the puppy mill and helps it stay in business.  By waiting until after the holidays, adoption through a reputable breeder, shelter, or rescue would be possible.

Some Better Ideas: 

Of course, this doesn’t mean we must take all the fun and surprise out of the experience!  Here are just a few ideas of how you can add that four-legged family member in a way that will provide surprise and delight for your recipient and provide a smooth and happy introduction for that new kitty or puppy.

  • If your gift recipient has her heart set on a kitten or puppy of a specific breed, find a reputable breeder, arrange payment with the breeder and present your recipient with a “gift certificate” that will allow her to visit the breeder and choose her new bundle of fur.
  • Make it a family affair! Plan for the entire family to visit your local shelter or rescue adoption event after the holiday hubbub to find and bring home that new family member together.  If you already have pets and you’re considering an addition, this is a great way to let your current pet help make the decision in which new friend they like best too! J
  • Still want something to wrap up with a bow? No problem!  Just purchase some of the supplies – food dishes, leashes, collars or toys – to let your recipient know a special little (or big) someone is “on the way”.  We love the idea of engraving a fancy name tag with the recipient’s phone number on one side but leaving the opposing side blank. Wrap it in multiple boxes of descending size and watch the confusion transform into pure delight as they make their way through the boxes to find the name tag, just waiting for that blank side to be engraved. Let the fun puppy/kitty naming conversations ensue!