Most of us are familiar with the "12 days of Christmas" jingle often heard this time of the year, in which someone's true love gives to them an ark's worth of animals – from calling birds to French hens to swans a singing. But not everyone is prepared to welcome a menagerie home during the holidays. A cute, fluffy kitten or tongue-wagging puppy may look like the perfect Christmas present (especially when they're staring at you with those big, buy-me eyes), but the decision to bring a pet home is best made after the holidays, for a number of reasons:
Holidays are hectic
Pets are living creatures that require care, food, shelter and lots of time and personal attention. The holidays can be hectic, with time hard to come by, so it is difficult to give a new pet, especially a puppy or kitten, the time and attention it requires while you're worried about wrapping presents and picking up your Santa suit from the cleaners.
The decision to add a pet to your family should be best left until after the stress of the holidays dies down and you and your family can think about whether or not bringing home a new pet makes sense; waiting until after the holidays will make the pet’s transition into a new home easier, as he won’t have to deal with guests or dangerous holiday hazards such as chocolate, mistletoe or ornaments.
Pets are not toys
Giving a pet as a gift can also send the wrong message, especially to a child. A child may equate that pet as a gift, "something to play with," rather than an animal that requires very specific needs to survive. Toys that children receive at Christmastime are commodities – goods for which there are demand – such as the hottest new toy on the market or the latest gaming system. If a pet is given as a Christmas gift, a child may become disappointed with the work involved with the "gift" (it’s certainly more work than a Zhu Zhu Pet) and could lose interest after a short amount of time.
Don't bite off more than you can chew
Much like retail stores, animal shelters swell with “buyers” around the holidays, and fill with "returns" after people realize they've bitten off more than they can chew (or when the new pup has bitten off more than he can chew of the family room couch). People fall in love with the novelty and cuteness of a puppy or kitten and often forget about the other things that come along with a new four-legged friend, such as trips to the vet, food, intensive potty training, etc.
One of the biggest things that people don't account for is the cost of owning a pet. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Pet Owners Survey, dog owners spend $235 and cat owners spent $196 on routine veterinary visits (vaccines and wellness exams) annually. I would say those are incredibly conservative numbers. In many cases, the cost of pet ownership can run in the hundreds to thousands per year, especially if your pet gets sick, injured, or otherwise. Those costs can be offset greatly by investing in pet insurance and following a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and plenty of exercise, but there will still be some cost involved to the owner.
As a veterinarian, I'm interested in helping you make the best choices possible for your pets, which is why I recommend you wait until after the holidays to make the decision to bring a new pet home. Be sure to plan ahead - everyone in the family should agree on the new pack member, and a pet doesn't have to be unexpected to make a wonderful gift. The process will be easier once holiday hazards are gone, and you will have given the person responsible for the care of the animal enough time to prepare, both mentally and financially, for the new arrival. And when the time is right, get ready with your family for the new member with these tips:
Get the facts
Do your research to find which pets are compatible with your family's lifestyle. Think about the size of your (dog)house, setting aside time for training, planning for pet care while you travel and how often the family is around to choose the right pet and make the transition smoother.
A new pet comes with more than just four legs and a tail. They'll need all the "extras," like a leash, dishes, bed, crate, carrier, treats, toys, ID and litter, to name a few! Go shopping before your pet comes home so he can feel comfortable in the new space.
Eliminate the hazards
Pets are curious about their new digs, and they have no problem sniffing out every inch of the place. Be aware of what toxins lie about, and make sure to keep them out of paws' reach. A locking-lid trash can is a must-get to keep garbage where it belongs, and use baby gates to block off-limit rooms.
Hit the books
Whether you're a first-timer or a been-there-done-that pet parent, read up on the latest puppy and kitten care. Beginner manuals are a great refresher of the basics. Do some homework to get the most up-to-date standards of veterinary care, and learn about your breed to find out what health conditions they're prone to along with their grooming, feeding and exercise needs.