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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Think twice before giving a pet as a holiday gift

Shoppers have their lists and they are checking them twice as they venture out to do some holiday shopping. While some people have a new bicycle, clothing, perfume or games on their lists, others may be scouting for a new pet to give a family member or friend.

Before giving a pet to someone, make sure the gift will be welcome, said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.

“Pets can make wonderful gifts and are a terrific addition to a family, but should never be given as a surprise. Despite the gift-giver’s intention, the gift may not be well received,” Giedt said. “Not everyone has the time, energy, money or interest needed to properly care for an animal. Many well-meaning grandparents might want to give the grandkids a fuzzy puppy or kitty for Christmas, but they need to get the OK from the children’s parents first. If someone receives an animal they aren’t ready to take care of, that animal could end up abused, neglected or abandoned.”

A pet is more than simply a gift; it is a long-term commitment for the life span of the pet. It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to live up to 15 years or more. Animals depend on and trust their owners to take care of them. It would be irresponsible to give a pet to someone who is not ready for or who does not want this type of commitment.

“After the novelty of a new pet wears off, there is still the daily need for feedings, walks, litter box changes, trips to the veterinarian and more,” Giedt said. “All of these things need to be taken into consideration before giving a pet.”

For those who are considering giving a pet to a child, consider the age of a child. Is he or she truly old enough to help with the care of the pet? Do the child’s parents have the time and desire needed to help the youngster with pet-care responsibilities? If the answer is no, reconsider this gift idea.

If parents veto the idea of grandparents giving a dog or cat to the grandchildren, a small pet is not an alternative answer. Even small pets, such as a hamster or gerbil, live for several years. This is a big time commitment for someone if their heart is not in it. And, unlike a larger animal, parents may not notice an empty food or water dish on a regular basis if the cage is kept in the child’s room. Remember, the lack of care can be deadly.

The same holds true for giving a pet to an adult. Some adult children may think their parents would enjoy the companionship of an animal. While this may be true, do the parents have the time and resources for proper care?

“When older adults are on a fixed income, the additional expense of a pet may put too much strain on the budget,” she said. “Also, while you might think your dad would enjoy a big, friendly dog, he might prefer a small breed, or even a cat. If your parents aren’t in good health, they probably don’t have the ability to take care of even a small pet.”

However, if after talking to the intended recipient, and the idea of a pet is appealing, let that person be the one who chooses the animal. The recipient may prefer an older animal that already is house broken. Other recipients may treasure the bonding time they would have with a new puppy or kitten.

“It’s no secret a pet can bring so much joy into a home and can even help children learn about responsibility,” Giedt said. “However, before you put a colorful bow on a cute puppy, kitten or any other animal, make sure the pet is going to be welcomed into the home.”


Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
159 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078