Are you considering getting a pet as a holiday gift this year — maybe because of all the time your family is spending at home lately (sigh), or just to brighten a year full of challenges and anxiety? SHOULD you get your kids a pet for Christmas (or any holiday)?
A couple of years ago, we offered advice on how to decide if you’re ready for a pet in general, and today we thought we’d discuss getting a pet as a holiday gift.
Psst: Here’s a recent discussion that had some great advice from readers about caring for a pet when you already have a busy life!
As someone who worked in animal welfare for years, I have to make this request: Please consider saving a life by adopting from a rescue group or animal shelter rather than buying from a breeder or pet store. At the very least, educate yourself about the criteria for a good breeder and the cruelty of puppy mills, the origin of most pet store puppies. Search Petfinder and Petango for adoptable pets in your area in addition to local shelter and rescue websites. If you’re looking for a purebred dog, you can very often find them available for adoption (less so with cats).
Some shelters and rescues have been criticized (including by some within the field itself) for being too strict with their adoption criteria, but try not to get discouraged — if you’re having a tough time adopting from an organization even though you know you’d provide a great home for a pet, try another group. (Note that some people in the sheltering field believe that pets given as gifts are more likely to be returned, but research has found that that’s not the case.)
Should You Get a Pet For Your Kids for Christmas? What to Consider
Consider waiting until after the holidays to add a pet to your family.
Yes, this option isn’t quite as exciting as, say, surprising your kids with a puppy on Christmas morning, but the busy nature of the holidays isn’t an ideal setting for caring for a brand-new pet. Some animals, especially cats, can get overwhelmed by the flurry of activity — and you really don’t want to add to the excitement (and stress) with puppy housetraining or unexpected behavior issues, such as destructive chewing.
Choosing and/or picking up your new pet along with your kids can be a really fun family activity, anyway — something all of you will always remember. Sure, a surprise is great (and an excellent opportunity for cute photos), but your kids will love being part of the process.
You can still present your kids with something tangible on the day. Some animal shelters offer gift certificates, and if not — or if you’re buying a dog or cat from a breeder — you can make your own certificate to give to your kids instead. Another nice option is to gift wrap a few pet items — a leash, toys, etc. — and watch your kids open them and figure out the surprise.
Make sure you’re not letting the excitement of giving your kids a pet distract you from the everyday reality of caring for an animal.
This is especially important if you’ve never owned or fostered a pet yourself. As we mentioned last time we talked about family pets, prepare to take charge of most of your new pet’s care, even if your kids have promised to walk, feed, brush, and clean after a new dog, for example. If your children do turn out to be very responsible about their pet care duties, you’re still the one who’s going to be dealing with a whining puppy in the middle of the night, and if your kids are still young, you’ll be cleaning the litterbox, walking the dog, and so on.
For kids old enough to help out with pet care, here’s a helpful age-by-age guide to pet-related chores from Parents, a list of children’s books about caring for pets from Book Riot, and advice on making a family pet contract from Lifehacker.
Remember that the cost of adopting or buying a pet is just the beginning of a long line of pet care expenses.
If you’ve never had a pet, you may be surprised at how expensive pet ownership can be. As we mentioned last time, even if basic expenses such as food and supplies won’t be a concern for your family, routine and unexpected veterinary costs can be very high. You should be aware that many dog and cat breeds are predisposed to minor and major health conditions that may lead to expensive treatments.
I strongly recommend purchasing pet insurance — and that you enroll your pet as soon as possible so that post-adoption health issues don’t get classified as preexisting conditions. (Yes, pre-existing conditions are even a thing for pets, unfortunately.)
Realize that a puppy or kitten, while adorable, may not be the best choice for your family right now (or ever).
Seeing my parents care for, housetrain, and otherwise train the puppies we had when I was a kid pretty much convinced me that I never want to care for a puppy, no matter how fuzzy and cute they are. It is a LOT of work. Young kittens, while lower-maintenance than puppies, are very fragile and not a great choice for kids who haven’t learned to be careful with a pet.
We adopted two of our cats at about 8 months and 1.5 years of age, and (after our son was born) adopted the other two as older kittens, and we never regretted the decision to not adopt a tiny 8-week-old, no matter how much I loooove kittens.
Have you ever wondered if you should get your kids a pet for Christmas or another holiday? If you HAVE gotten a family pet for a holiday, would you do it again? What advice do you have for other working moms thinking about adopting or buying a pet at the holidays (or any time)?
Stock photo (dog with Santa hat) via Stencil.