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What you should consider before gifting a pet this holiday season

Many pets end up back in shelters after the holidays are over.

One component of the holiday season is gift-giving. If you like to be super prepared, you might ask friends and family for their ultimate wish list months in advance or even make sure you’re at all the sales events to get the best deals. 

But if someone you’re gifting to, whether an adult or child, has a pet at the top of their list, you’ll want to make sure they’re ready to take on this responsibility. Animals are long-term commitments that require a lot of care and attention. 

Gifting a pet to someone who might not be ready opens up the possibility that the animal will end up back in the shelter. We spoke to our on-staff veterinarian and shelter partner representative to learn what you should consider before gifting a dog or cat this holiday season. 

Is it common for people to adopt pets during the holiday season? 

Yes! The practice of gifting pets during the holidays is likely perpetuated through movies or commercials, Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. 

“The holidays are a sentimental time, and anyone who has lost a pet during the year may want a pet in their home for the holidays,” Chrissy Devlin, certified veterinary technician and pet health counselor at our shelter partner Brandywine Valley SPCA (BVSPCA), adds. 

While it’s common for people to welcome pets home during the holiday season, it’s also unfortunately not unusual for animals to be returned to shelters shortly after. 

According to Chrissy, the recurring reasons why people return pets is because they weren’t prepared or realized they didn’t have enough time to parent them. Returning a pet (usually, dogs are taken back to a shelter more than cats) affects the animal and the rescue organization. 

“Shelters do their best to rehouse pets after they’re returned, but it can be overwhelming when they're already filled to capacity,” Chrissy shares. “It’s sad for pets because they find that feeling of love and security, and then it's taken away from them.”

What should people consider before gifting a pet to someone else? 

There are three main things you should think about before adopting a pet: the person you’re gifting it to, the animal and the future environment they’ll live in. These are the questions you should ask yourself, Dr. Singler and Chrissy share: 

The parents

  • Who will care for the pet?
  • What’s their lifestyle? 
  • Will they be home enough to pay attention and care for the pet? 
  • Are they financially prepared for the expenses that accompany pet parenthood? 
  • If the recipient is a child, are they mature enough to care for the animal? 

The pet

  • How old is the pet? 
  • Are they spayed, neutered and vaccinated? 
  • What’s their health status? 
  • What are their personality traits? 
  • How much mental and physical stimulation do they need? 
  • Does the animal shelter require an application before you can adopt the pet? 

The environment 

  • How much space is available inside and outside the house? 
  • Are there any restrictions regarding having pets in the house or apartment? 
  • Are there young children or other animals in the home? 

Before adopting a pet for someone else, it would be beneficial to sit down and ask these questions to ensure you’re setting the recipient and the animal up for success. 

RELATED: Here’s what you need to know about your pet’s first vet visit

Are there any additional items you should give when giving an animal as a present? 

If you’re giving the pet to someone as a surprise, there are some items that Dr. Singler recommends you purchase to help make the transition easier for the pet and the new parent. You’ll want to ensure you have the necessary supplies, like food and water bowls, litter boxes (one for every cat plus one), harnesses, leashes and an identification tag. 

“You’ll also need to purchase vet-recommended dog or cat food, beds and toys,” Dr. Singler adds. “Cats benefit from having a cat tree or somewhere high to get away and scratching posts. Dogs might enjoy a crate or kennel to keep them safe, out of trouble and to help with potty training.”

Signing up for pet insurance when adopting or right after you welcome the dog or cat home is a great way to prepare for unexpected vet bills, Dr. Singler explains. 

Tips for ensuring a pet’s smooth transition into a new home

The holidays are usually a busy time for people, but during the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s imperative to ensure your new pet feels comfortable in their new space. Creating a routine (especially for dogs) can help them feel confident and actually might make it easier to potty train them, Dr. Singler explains. 

“Be sure to use lots of positive reinforcement and give plenty of TLC,” Dr. Singler says. “Take advantage of any time off work to spend a little extra time with your new pet to help them feel comfortable in their new home. “

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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