Pets as Presents

There are lots of reasons why people think of giving a pet as a present. But pets don't really make the best gifts, especially surprise gifts. While you may have good intentions, these "gifts" often are in an animal shelter a few months down the road. Here are some things to consider and remember before making that purchase.

Pets are Alive!  When you give someone a pet, you're giving them something that's going to be alive (hopefully) for a long time. An animal needs food, love and attention. A pet is a gift that requires a lot of time, commitment and cost, so it's one that requires a lot of thought before you agree to take (or give) that kind of responsibility.

Promises, promises!  When considering a pet for a child, remember it is the adult in the home who will end up being responsible for caring for the animal. Kids make many promises when begging for that cute puppy or kitten, but you simply can't expect a child, age 5, 10 or even 15 to understand and provide the lifelong care that pets need every single day.

Aunts, uncles, and grandparents, be sure to speak with mom and dad to be sure they are up to this task. It's not fair to the animal to be given away later, or tied outside forgotten because your child didn't keep the promises they made.

The gift that keeps on eating - As great as it sounds to get a puppy for the holidays, finding out that puppy comes with a $40,000 bill might dampen the experience. According to, the typical 50 pound dog can cost anywhere between $4,000 and $40,000 for food and medical care over its life. If you dropped  a several-thousand-dollar expense on someone for the for the holidays, you probably wouldn't be invited back.

And growing - You will need to buy food, toys, and provide yearly veterinary examinations. Puppies and kittens need 3 rounds of initial boosters and a rabies vaccination. They need their boosters to be repeated every year, and will need to be spayed or neutered. None of this is cheap.

There's a much better way – Like most things in life, there's always a better way. Check with your local shelter to see if they have adoption certificates. Think of it is a gift card for the pet you wanted to give. The person you're giving it to can go down the shelter and find the pet that's perfect for them… one they'll love, but can also afford. And they can take their time both picking out their pet and arranging how it will be cared for.

But I thought you wanted…When considering a pet for someone outside of your own household, remember that your idea of the perfect companion may be very different than the person for whom you're buying. Even if they specifically requested a certain breed, every animal is individual, with his own personality, temperament, and exercise needs. The recipient should have an opportunity to meet the pet in question to be sure he's the right one. It's also important that pets already in the household get along with the new animal, and vice versa. The only way to know this for sure is for the existing pets to meet the prospective new one prior to bringing them home.

You want a puppy when? Remember that the holidays are a very hectic time for most families. Consider the time required to properly housebreak and train a new puppy - it is a never ending job that requires constant attention! Do you really want to deal with adding a new pet when you are already busy with 1000 other tasks?

Something to unwrap – Instead of surprising someone with a new pet this Christmas, buy bowls, a bed, a collar and leash; and place a note inside that states you will pay the adoption or purchase price of the animal of their choice. This allows the caregiver of the pet to take an active role and bring home the animal of their dreams. As many rescues and shelters do not condone giving pets as gifts, this also opens up the option of adopting an animal instead of purchasing from a breeder.

Think it through – Don't get a new pet on impulse. Think what traits you are looking for in a new companion. For example, labs and golden retrievers are known for being great with children. While this is true, both breeds are in the sporting group which consists of dogs who have a very high energy level and need for exercise. If you aren't up to providing adequate exercise (this entails much more than allowing your dog to run in a fenced yard, or just taken for a leisurely walk once a day), this would not be a good choice. Under exercised dogs will often become hyperactive and destructive in their homes, which are two of the main reasons these breeds are later given away or taken to a shelter.

Adopt! When thinking of adding a new pet, consider adoption. There are 364,604 adoptable pets from 13,824 adoption groups in need of loving homes at Most are young, many are purebred, and many are also former Christmas gifts who have lived longer than their novelty did.