Pets as Gifts and Gifts for Pets: A Vet's Advice for the Holidays

A vet weighs in on what to consider when giving a pet as a gift, alternative gift suggestions for pets and owners, and some favorite animal-care books.

| November/December 1989

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    Giving a kitten or puppy to an unsuspecting friend isn't fair to either the gift or the recipient.

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If dogs and cats could talk, I wonder what they would say about the way we humans behave around Christmastime. If you think we give each other a lot of useless junk for the holidays, consider the silly trinkets so often given to family pets! Before I suggest some alternatives, though, I'd like to mention yet another questionable pet-related holiday tradition.

Giving Pets as Gifts

I've always told my clients that there are two times not to give pets as gifts: 1) as a surprise and 2) for Christmas (or, for that matter, for any holiday; I hate to think how many innocent chicks and ducklings are given away for Easter).

It's always fun to surprise someone—but don't do it with a living being. When you give someone an animal you're also giving that person the responsibility for the creature's life—for its care and keeping, 24 hours a day. Unless you've talked to the "giftee," there's no way to know whether that person is willing to assume the responsibility. And if you're thinking about giving an animal to a child, not only should you be certain that the youngster is sufficiently mature to accept the responsibility, but you should also be ready and willing to help out and—if things don't turn out as planned—to assume the role of primary caretaker.

So please: no gift-giving surprises of living creatures. It's a different matter entirely, of course, if you've talked the idea over with everyone in the family, and all have agreed to share the responsibility on a continuing basis. But even then, I suggest waiting for a less hectic season than Christmastime. The winter holidays are unquestionably the worst time of year to introduce a pet into your home life. There's a constant rush of visitors in and out, the kids are home from school, there is lots of food on the table, and all kinds of decorations and wee heirlooms are on display that are not only breakable but potentially dangerous and often toxic to inquiring young animal mouths. Better to reconsider, and opt for getting a pet when activities around the house are at a more normal level—and when people have the time to adequately assume the responsibilities involved in caring for a new member of the family.

Alternative Pet Gifts

By all means, give your pet one frivolous gift to unwrap and keep for itself—a rawhide bone for Spot, a catnip toy for Calico. But I hope you'll consider, too, more practical gifts that can help improve your pet's (and your) quality of life.

For example, there's no better gift for a dog, in my opinion, than a training program that teaches proper social behavior. In today's world pets must be well mannered, for their own health and safety and for the sake of the people (and other pets) around them.


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