Are Christmas Pets a Good Idea?

By PetMD Editorial on Dec. 14, 2010

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Holiday movies, TV shows and ads make it seem like the best time to give or get a new pet is Christmas morning. Cute little puppies and kittens festooned with big, floppy ribbons—who can resist? But what we see on the screen is a very well-orchestrated and edited best-case scenario.

Not all Christmas pets live up to the hype, and bringing a new animal into the home during such an exciting holiday can lead to the opposite of a positive beginning. There are a lot of variables to consider before deciding on bringing home a Christmas puppy or Christmas kitten.

Above all, don’t get swept up in the excitement, forgetting that pets are lifelong commitments as new members of your family. This shouldn’t be a snap decision that’s made in the spirit of the holidays.

Is Your Family Ready for a New Pet?

Discuss how a new kitten or puppy will change your family’s life, and how it will affect children—even older children. It is easy to imagine that the older a child is, the easier it will be to enlist them in the care of the pet, but older children tend to have more social engagements and may not have a lot of time to spend with a new puppy or new kitten.

A pet can change a lot of the family’s day-to-day arrangements, like schedules (walking, feeding, training), sleeping arrangements (who gets to keep the pet in their room), pet safety precautions (remember that anything left on the floor is fair game to a dog or cat, especially when they are young). And then you’ll need to make sure that family members can handle the responsibility of litter box duty, potty training and cleaning up pet messes.

You should also assess your finances to determine whether you will be able to pay for regular vet visits, dental cleanings, vaccinations, chronic illnesses, diagnostic tests, prescription flea and tick preventatives, prescription pet medication, dog food, cat food, dog toys, cat toys, cat litter and all of the other pet supplies you’ll need.

Is It Okay to Surprise Friends With Christmas Pets?

A pet should NEVER be a surprise for the receiver if you are thinking of gifting them to someone outside your own home. Discussing the vague possibility of adopting a pet is not the same as a real conversation about the responsibilities of pet ownership.

Whoever will be feeding, cleaning up after and paying veterinary bills for a new pet needs to be actively involved in the decision of adopting them.

Choose a Pet That’s Best Suited for Your Family 

If you have thought about all the new responsibilities and you think your family is ready for a new pet, do diligent research on which type and breed is best suited to your family and home. Never choose your new pet based on cuteness or wishful thinking. If you don’t already run and hike, a dog is not going to change that.

It may be that the pet you think is most unlikely to be the perfect fit is the very one that is. For many families, an older, calmer cat or dog that’s already trained may be more practical than a new kitten or new puppy that needs a lot of attention and training (not to mention that puppies need nighttime potty breaks).

That is why you should also take some time to visit your local animal shelter. There are many dogs, cats, puppies and kittens looking for a forever home, so you’re sure to find the perfect pet for you and your family.

Christmas Day May Not Be the Best Day

If you’ve found the right pet for your family, when should you introduce them?

Many people feel that the most wonderful way to present a new puppy or new kitten is by surprise as Christmas pets, but the last thing you want is a frightened, cowering little animal that is overwhelmed by all of the excitement and holiday chaos. You don’t want this to be their first introduction to your family.

Christmas morning is especially chaotic, with everyone tearing into gifts and leaving hazardous ribbons, wrapping paper, candies and small toys all over, all of which look to an animal like good things to chew on. And loud toys can be disturbing to even the most seasoned holiday veteran.

You don’t want your first night (or any night) with your new pet to be spent in a veterinary emergency room with your pet suffering from obstructed breathing or blocked intestines. For all of these reasons, anytime near Christmas might not be the ideal time to surprise the family with a new pet.

Prepare Your Home for Your New Pet

In order to properly introduce a new pet, you will need to prepare your home in the same way that you would prepare it for a newborn baby. Leave no dangling cords or curtain or blind pulls, no small toys on the floor, and no candies or other foods within easy reach.

There is a lot to do in preparation, and a lot you won’t think of until after the fact. Then there are all of the necessary pet supplies, including food, a crate, a leash, beds, a collar, etc. One of the most important preparations is to create a quiet place for your pet to sleep, eat and just get away from things when she is feeling overwhelmed.  

If you will be traveling or hosting large parties during the holidays, it might not be the right time to bring a new pet into your family. Pets need attention and training from the moment they enter your family, and the holidays already stretch your time and patience.

Is There an Alternative to Adopting a Pet?

Instead of surprising your family with Christmas pets, you might want to wrap up a stuffed animal or some other pet-related accessory as a pet promise. This will let your children know that you are prepared to adopt a pet, but now is not the right time. In fact, you may find that many of your local shelters will not permit adoptions during the holiday season to discourage spur-of-the-moment gifting.

In the meantime, you can take your child to an animal shelter and spend some time volunteering so they can see what it means to look after a pet. You can also make a donation of cash or let your children help pick out food and/or pet supplies to donate.

Many animals end up in animal shelters because they were Christmas gifts. No animal should be given as a last-minute gift when the toy of the season was sold out. Even if it’s not a last-minute decision, reconsider adopting a dog or cat right around the holidays.

Pets are amazing, and every family can benefit from sharing their home with these furry bundles of love. But make sure that you, and everyone else involved, are ready for the lifelong responsibility of a pet.

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