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Answers from vets about your dog:

Think Carefully Before You Give Pets as Gifts

Reviewed by Dr. Jane Robertson, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Posted December 16, 2014 in New-Dog Checklists

Puppy laying inside a Santa hat

Many people receive pets as gifts during the holidays. In the past, shelters and animal rescues have been against this practice. Their concern was that people who receive a pet as a gift are more likely to relinquish their pet to the shelter because they were not prepared for the responsibilities of pet ownership. The good news is this long held belief may not actually be true. Recently, the ASPCA surveyed pet owners and reported that 96% of people who received their pet as a gift believed it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to the pet. In addition, 86% of these animals were still in their homes.

Similarly, studies have found that animals received as gifts were not any more likely to be returned than other pets. The ASPCA’s website highlights a study by New et al. It identified the source of approximately 2600 dogs and 2300 cats from 12 shelters across the United States. They found that dogs and cats received as pets were less likely to be relinquished. Likewise, “Scarlett et al. identified 71 reasons given for relinquishment. ‘Unwanted gift’ was listed only 0.3% for dogs and 0.4% for cats entering the shelters surveyed.” These studies suggest that the concerns about giving pets as gifts may not be supported. Nevertheless, while there is no doubt that pets bring joy, love and friendship, animals require a significant investment of time, money and emotion. So before you go out and get pets as holiday gifts for your friends and family, there are a few things you should know first.

What to think about before giving a pet as a gift
The decision to give someone a pet for a gift should never be taken lightly. Remember, cats can live up to 20 years, and dogs can live between 10 and 20 years depending on the breed. Considering how much time, money and care pets require, that’s quite a commitment. So before you decide to give someone a pet for the holidays, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do these people really want a pet?
  • Are they allergic to pets?
  • Do they have time for a dog? Or a cat?
  • Are they allowed to have a pet in their residence?
  • Can they afford to care for a pet, including veterinary expenses?
  • Do they have time to train a dog?
  • Do they have a yard and enough space in their home for a dog?
  • If they don’t, will they be able to walk their dog 3 to 4 times daily?
  • Do they have a pet-friendly home?
  • Are they prepared for the responsibility of pet ownership?

[The ASPCA adds this: "The ASPCA recommends the giving of pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly. We also recommend that pets be obtained from animal shelters, rescue organizations, friends, family or responsible breeders -- not from places where the source of the animal is unknown or untrusted. Read more here.]

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may consider giving a friend or family member a shelter pet this holiday. By doing so, you are giving a best friend for life, and giving a deserving shelter animal a new lease on life.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.