Each year, with the best and most generous of intentions, people give pets as Christmas gifts. But if you search for “pets as Christmas gifts” on Google or Bing, you’ll find more warnings than support of the idea.
At Brownsburg Animal Clinic, we dedicate ourselves to promoting and supporting successful pet ownership. We believe at any time of year, giving a pet as a gift to another person—particularly as a surprise—can potentially turn out to be bad for the people and pets involved. We also believe, with proper consideration and preparation, giving a pet as a gift can result in a happy, mutually-satisfying relationship for the life of the pet.
And research backs us up.
One study published in the journal Animals examined whether receiving an animal as a gift had an impact on the owner’s love for or attachment to the pet and found no significant difference in attachment to pets between gift recipients and people who had acquired their pets themselves. Some owners feel an even greater attachment to the pet received as a gift because a loved one was the giver. Surprise gifts of animals were acceptable to 75% of those who had received them and some said the surprise itself strengthened their attachment.
Other studies have looked at whether cats and dogs received as gifts are more likely to be surrendered to a shelter than those acquired in other ways. Contrary to what you might expect, it turns out animals given as gifts have a significantly lower risk of ending up in a shelter than dogs and cats purchased or acquired by the owners.
In light of these facts, why do so many people warn against pets as Christmas gifts? Here are the major reasons:
- Bringing a companion animal into a household creates a major responsibility for the lifetime of the pet, which could be 10 to 15 or more years for a dog or cat. Caring for a pet takes time, money and commitment. Only the primary caregiver can decide if he or she is willing and able to take on the responsibility for a pet.
- Matching the right pet to the household and lifestyle of the owner(s) requires thoughtful consideration. Pets vary in their needs for time, space and attention, exercise and training. Making a sound, thoughtful choice is key to the longterm success of the relationship, and only the prospective owner can say what his or her true requirements and preferences are.
- Children who receive pets as Christmas gifts may not be ready, willing nor able to take responsibility for the animal’s care. Older children may take on much of the care, but the adults in the household should expect to be the primary caregivers.
- Holidays can be hectic, and there are often additional household hazards, such as ornaments, electrical cords, potentially harmful plants and foods, to endanger a pet. Bringing an animal into the household at such a busy time of year places unnecessary stress on the pet and can make the adjustment more difficult than it would be at more “normal” times of the year.
We agree these are all critically important considerations. But we believe, with some creativity and common sense, the gift of a pet can work. Here’s how:
- As appealing as the image of a kitten or puppy under a Christmas tree can be, we strongly prefer the idea of representing the pet with a stuffed animal.
- New pets need lots of gear–food, food bowls, collars and leashes, beds, carriers, crates and healthful, safe treats. All these can be waiting under the tree in anticipation of the new pet.
- Matching the pet to the household and owner requires some thoughtful consideration and can benefit from research. Another great holiday gift, instead of the pet itself, is a book about choosing a pet.
- Finally, once the new owner has considered and clarified the type of pet he or she will most enjoy and appreciate, we strongly encourage giving the pet the gift of a great new home by acquiring it from a shelter or rescue organization.
At Brownsburg Animal Clinic, every one of us is dedicated to enriching and supporting our clients’ relationships with their pets. We consider all our animal companions to be gifts, providing us unconditional love and enriching our lives with their playfulness and winning ways. If you are the giver or a receiver of a pet this Christmas, we will be happy to support you in making the relationship a success.