Are you thinking of giving a pet as a gift?


To many people, a puppy or kitten is the perfect symbol of the true spirit of giving. They represent wonderment, innocence, exuberant energy, unconditional love, and hope for the future.

While pet Guardianship is undoubtedly rewarding, getting a pet as a gift for someone else, whether at Christmas or any other time of year, is never a good idea. Unfortunately the holiday season is full of people who give pets as gifts, only to regret their well intentioned but inappropriate choice later. Groups as diverse as the Humane Society of the United States, canine behaviour experts, the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Animal Rights Activists, breed rescue groups, veterinarians, obedience training instructors, and responsible breeders are in strong agreement that live animals should never be given as gifts.

Excitement of the Holidays

With numerous visits from family and friends during the holidays, the house is filled with excitement. For a new pet who is trying to adjust to the new routine and environment, being placed in this situation is bewildering and frightening. The animal is already experiencing stress from being removed from parents and littermates or having come from the breeder or animal shelter. What he or she needs is a quiet, calm environment where patterns can be established to get everyone off to a good start.

A gift animal can be neglected-or overwhelmed-amidst all the excitement of the holidays. Animals, especially babies, need special care and attention when moved to a new environment and during the holiday season pets can be quickly forgotten amidst new toys and games. Unsupervised for even a moment, new pets can get into a lot of trouble, from simply soiling in the house to destroying things or even injuring themselves. The holidays, with numerous parties and social events, just do not permit a new Guardian the time necessary to properly bond with and supervise a new arrival in the formative first days as they adjusts to their new surroundings and rules of the new household.

Consider the Cost

Becoming the Guardian of a pet is expensive. Beyond the initial “gift”, the recipient may not appreciate or be able to afford the time and expense of ongoing care. The Calgary Humane Society estimates that for a mixed breed, medium sized dog, a Guardian’s annual budget will be approximately $1588.20 (cat – $879.45; rabbit – $528.05). That does not include the initial, one-time costs that the person receiving the pet will have to pay, of approximately $332.24 (cat – $272.32; rabbit – $323.14) for spaying/neutering, microchip or tattoo, dishes, leash, etc. This estimate does not include emergency medical care, initial vaccinations, obedience classes, the cost of fencing, scratching posts or beds. It also does not include the cost of their time needed for walking, playing with and caring for the pet.

Incentives and Gimmicks

Ethical rescues and responsible breeders will not adopt pets to anyone planning to give them as gifts. They understand that gift animals face an uncertain future and want to ensure their animals go to forever homes that are prepared for the commitment and challenges of pet Guardianship. Unfortunately, backyard breeders, puppy mills, and the pet stores they supply are all willing to sell animals intended as gifts, some even offering incentives and financing plans to encourage impulse purchases. Each year there are advertisements for “furry little stocking stuffers,” a statement that indicates the animals were produced simply as a moneymaking scheme, without the care that truly responsible breeders put into each of their litters. And regardless of what a pet store will tell you, NO responsible breeder would ever permit their puppies or kittens to be sold through retail. Pet stores get their animals from backyard breeders, pet mills and commercial kennels/catteries or brokers who are in the business to sell puppies and kittens. The animals are a commodity to them. Pets from classified ads, backyard breeders, or pet stores have not been tested for the genetic diseases common to their breeds. They will not have had hip x-rays, blood tests, and eye certifications. The breeders are also unlikely to either know or care about the breed standard, to carefully choose parent animals for sound temperament, or to consider the reproductive health of the parents when breeding. You will never be able to find out exactly where that animal was born.

You may not intend to support puppy mills or have the recipient of your gift face the cost and heartbreak of a mentally or physically sick animal, but this is the unfortunate reality when you give a pet as a gift. Additionally, that puppy you thought would make a good gift at eight weeks old could become an 80-pound unmanageable teenager at eight months. What will the new Guardians do when the holidays are over? What happens when they have to go back to school or work, and they’re faced with caring for a growing, exuberant puppy or kitten that needs obedience training and lots of exercise?

Plan it Out

Gift pets often are impulse purchases, in a spirit of giving and generosity that goes with the season, but without the hard self-assessment that goes into asking oneself if the recipient has the time, energy and the inclination to give the necessary commitment to raising and socializing and educating that puppy or kitten. Better to get that new pet at a less emotionally charged time of the year, when the decision to add an animal to the family is a less impulsive and more carefully considered one, uninfluenced by seasonal generosity, which might just fade a bit after the tree comes down and the lights are put away for another year.

Pets are Family not Objects

Many families who have both pets and children do so because of what they want their children to lean about care, responsibility, love, loyalty, and respect for other living beings. A puppy, kitten, hamster, bird, fish or other creature with needs and feelings of their own should not be introduced by parents to their children in the same category as a Christmas or birthday toy.

Children need to learn that a pet is a family member who will undoubtedly enrich their lives, but who will also have needs of their own, which all the rest of the family – including the children – are making a commitment to meet. A pet that appears under the Christmas tree is more likely to be thought of by children as an object, as a toy-like thing rather than as a living, feeling family member. This will not teach one of the most valuable lessons there is to learn from a pet, which is respect for and concern for others in the form of attention to their needs.

Toys can be ignored, discarded, broken and mistreated. Many Christmas toys are forgotten in the back of a closet by Valentine’s Day. Sadly, the Humane Society of the Unites States estimates that approximately 50% of all pets given as gifts are surrendered when the animal is between 7-14 months old.

Also consider this when thinking about giving a pet as a gift:

  • First-time Guardians who receive a pet a gift are unprepared for the dramatic lifestyle changes an animal can make.
  • Since an addition to the household will affect the entire family, everyone should be consulted.
  • Most adults prefer to choose their own pet to match their lifestyle and personality.
  • Impulse buying at Christmas often overlooks the long term commitment involved in bringing a pet into the family. The commitment must extend throughout the animal’s lifetime, which will be years, even decades for some.

Instead of Giving a Pet…

Consider giving a pet gift certificate – many shelters offer gift certificates. Alternatively, wrap up the accessories – a collar, leash, toys, or a pet care book – with a card offering to assist in the adoption of the pet of their choice. That way, after the holidays when everything has calmed down, the new pet can be selected carefully and given the attention he or she needs and deserves.

Unique Pet Guardian Gifts

What gift could you give for the pet lover that has everything? There are many pet-related non-profit organizations and charities. Consider making a donation to one in that person’s name (or their pet’s name). If you know someone on your wish list that has an animal that isn’t spayed or neutered, how about getting a gift certificate toward the procedure? You could also visit your local shelter and sponsor a spay or neuter procedure for someone who cannot afford it.