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Giving Pets as Surprise Gifts…Here’s Why It’s a Bad Idea

With Christmas approaching and everyone getting all of their shopping done, there’s one thing that should never be on the gift-giving list: surprising someone with a pet as a present. While it may originally seem like a beautiful gesture to give your recently widowed aunt a little kitten or surprise your daughter with her first pet, it typically doesn’t end well for the animal. Too many of the pets who are given as surprise “gifts” in December end up in shelters before the first Spring thaw and sometimes as early as right after the New Year.

You may feel giving a pet to someone would be a kind and loving gesture. If you’re thinking about adopting a pet from a shelter you may also be convinced that it would be a way to save an animal as well. Here are reasons why pets shouldn’t be given as gifts:

It’s a Relationship

There has to be a connection between the new pet guardian and the pet. Just because you think someone may like orange cats doesn’t mean the orange cat YOU picked out is the right one. When you decide to add a pet to your life, you typically spend time at the shelter looking until your heart says you’ve found the one for you. If you’re rescuing an animal you’re still making your own decision about that emotional connection.

This is a Forever Home

The recipient of the pet may be overjoyed initially but unprepared for the lifelong commitment. How many times have you seen children thrilled at the surprise of receiving a puppy or kitten for Christmas but then the novelty wears off as the animal grows into an adult and isn’t as “cute” anymore. The recipient may also not be prepared for the lifelong care the animal will need. You may think that beautiful Persian kitten would be a great surprise but if the recipient isn’t capable or willing to do the necessary daily grooming, the cat will suffer.

three books and a quote about the author


It’s especially troubling for me to watch puppies and kittens given as surprise gifts because in many cases I know those animals will end up outdoors, in the garage or just forgotten once they’re grown up. Life for many animals given as gifts will end up lonely. Surprising someone with a gift may provide temporary joy but long-term unhappiness for both the new pet parent and the pet.

Lack of Preparation

Before a pet is brought in, pet-proofing and other preparations should be done. Getting a dog for someone who lives on a busy street and doesn’t have a fenced-in yard may just be creating more of headache for the recipient. Without proper preparation and safe-guarding, it can put the animal at risk.

There is a Financial Responsibility

Even if you acquire a pet who has had his first round of vaccinations or even his complete set, there’ll be a financial responsibility to maintain the pet’s health over a lifetime. In addition to food and pet supplies, there will be veterinary costs. The recipient may not be able or willing to invest in the maintaining the animal’s care. Regardless of whether you purchase a pet or adopt one for free, that animal will require a lifelong financial commitment. Surprising someone who is financially unable to care for a pet isn’t fair to the person and it certainly isn’t fair to the pet.

three books by author Pam Johnson-Bennett and a quote from Beth Stern


Lifestyle Change

Living with a pet creates a lifestyle change. Someone who lives alone may actually prefer that and not want the responsibility of caring for an animal. Pets need routine and the recipient may not want to live that way and may prefer their current lifestyle.

Bringing home a pet will mean that he’ll be totally dependent upon the pet parent for his food, water, healthcare, happiness, safety and companionship. People often make the mistake of thinking that a cat would be a good gift because of the impression that they’re low maintenance. As a result, the cat may end up lonely and may not receive enough enrichment to truly thrive.

The Hectic Holiday

Even if you’re very sure someone would enjoy receiving a pet as a gift, doing so during the holidays puts extra stress on everyone, including the animal. There’s so much going on during the holiday and a new pet in the home requires attention. You have to make sure the environment is safe, get everything set up and then work on helping the pet get comfortable in his new surroundings. It can be very easy to forget to walk the puppy or keep track of a kitten’s location when you have a houseful of company. The first few days the new pet is in the home should be without major distractions so you can help him adjust.

Here’s a Better Idea

If you want to help someone find a perfect pet match, wait until after the holidays and take the time to help in the preparation and any necessary education. Let the potential recipient decide whether a pet is what they want and if so, let them make the connection.

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