When the holiday season is in full swing and the flurry of shopping takes over, we might be tempted to get a pet for someone on our list. All veterinarians have clients who have been gifted dogs, cats, birds, hedgehogs, snakes, bunny rabbits and many other species of pets that they never expected and did not really want. Our practice has seen families where the spouse has purchased a surprise puppy or kitten for the family without informing their partner. Many times, that partner is extremely unhappy about the unexpected surprise. Usually, these pets have to be re-homed or go back to the shelter.
Pets can bring joy and companionship into someone’s life, but they are also a responsibility. They require time, energy and money in order to be cared for properly. Even people who plan ahead and research pet ownership before plunging into it are somewhat stunned by the portion of their time that needs to be devoted to walking the dog, cleaning the cat litter box, feeding, training, veterinary care, grooming and cleaning up pet fur around the house. Imagine how someone not expecting the pet as a gift would feel once the reality of pet ownership has dawned upon them.
If the gift is an exotic pet, there can be even more work involved. Birds require entertainment, social interaction and a variety of toys to keep them from being bored. They require a varied diet, including lots of vegetables, fruits, protein such as eggs, cooked brown rice and beans, and cage cleaning every day. Reptiles need a very specialized environment, which depends on appropriate lighting, temperature and humidity, and their diet varies greatly between species. Birds and reptiles are sometimes looked at as an ornament to add interest to a room with no thought about the noise, mess or work that will be involved.
It is important to remember that the main reason animals are abandoned or taken to shelters is because they are unwanted. According to the MSPCA, 11 million animals are surrendered to shelter each year. Only 10 percent of all puppies and kittens born in the U.S. each year will find a permanent home. The sad truth that is not advertised by the pet production industry is that more than 80 percent of all newly acquired pets are either in a shelter or dead within two years of the acquisition.
Consider the following before giving a pet as a gift:
Does the person want a pet?
Can the person afford a pet? Ongoing expenses for a pet include food, bedding, litter, leash, toys, licenses, grooming, regular and emergency veterinary care, and, possibly, pet insurance. The ASPCA estimates the annual cost for these items at $580 per year for a small dog, $875 per year for a large dog and $670 per year for a cat. Of that amount, annual veterinary expenses can range from about $190 for a cat to $350 for a dog.
Does the person have room for a pet? If you are thinking about giving a dog, does the recipient have a fenced yard?
Does the person have time to properly train and care for a pet?
Is the person allergic to animals?
Is the recipient allowed to have a pet in their home? Will they have to pay a pet deposit?
Will the person have to make a drastic lifestyle change to accommodate the pet?
Does the recipient have the time to properly care for a pet? Average time required for minimum daily care could range from 30 to 60 minutes for a cat to one hour or more for a dog.
Are they ready to care for a new pet during the cold, wet winter months? During cold and inclement weather, the dog will still need to be walked outdoors. Pets should not be left out in the yard for more than five to 10 minutes in freezing weather.
The best home for a pet is a home for life.
If, after giving much thought to these questions, you still think a pet would make a good fit, consider doing some research to find out which animal might make the best pet for that person.
Also, consider waiting until after the holiday rush so that you can take the person with you to pick out the pet. Your recipient will get the pet he or she wants, and the animal will go home to a much more welcome and calm environment. We recommend you look for your dog or cat at a shelter such as Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem (www.northeastanimalshelter.org) or PALS (www.palsanimallifesavers.com). Nevins Farm in Methuen is an MSPCA shelter where many rabbits, guinea pigs, cockatiels and other exotic pets may be adopted.
A listing of all the animal shelters in Massachusetts can be found at www.secondchanceanimals.org/localshelters.htm.
If you search online, make sure you are dealing with a rescue organization and not a puppy mill posing as a rescue organization or a breeder. A reputable rescue organization will have dogs or cats homed temporarily in foster homes in the Massachusetts area after being rescued. You should be able to speak to someone who can give you the medical history and background of the pet and how it was rescued.
Always talk with your veterinarian if you have any questions about getting a pet for someone you know as a holiday gift. If you don’t have a veterinarian currently, schedule a consult appointment with one and spend some time talking about your future adoption or purchase. All veterinarians support humane treatment of animals and will welcome your questions.
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and is the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem (www.creaturehealth.com). She is a member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists. Email your pet questions to email@example.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”