Pros & Cons Of Giving Pets As Presents At The Holidays Or Any Time


During the holiday season, the theme of giving pets as presents shows up in commercials, giving rise to the idea of giving a dog, cat, or other animal as a gift. The typical scenario in these commercials starts with a lone holiday shopper or family walking in the snow. They see a cute puppy in the window of a pet shop, go in and buy it – coming out with an adorable, squirming bundle of fur. The problem with this scenario is that an animal should not be an impulse purchase, let alone a surprise to the recipient unless the recipient has made it clear they want a pet.

Due to the rate of returns of pets given as holiday gifts, many shelters actively discourage giving pets as presents, especially if it’s going to be given as a surprise. However, there are multiple perspectives on whether giving pets as presents is a good idea or not.

Some animal shelters have dubbed January as “the great pet dump-athon” when the reality of owning a pet sets in, and recipients of pets as presents surrender the animal to a local shelter.

As a result, shelters have developed a plan designed to minimize returns of pets as presents that includes:

  • Gift Certificates for a Shelter Pet: The recipient can come and choose their own pet.
  • Time with A Pet Counselor: Shelters often require that would-be pet givers spend time with a pet counselor who knows the animal being considered as a gift, to outline the animal’s characteristics, needs & personality, to make sure the pet will be a good fit.

Many animal shelters have had enough experience with giving pets as presents that they have policies against giving pets as holiday gifts. One theory is that people bond less to an animal that’s given to them vs. one they chose themselves.

However, there’s another side to the coin. The ASPCA conducted a research study in 2013 to determine if giving a dog, cat, or other animal as a holiday gift affected return rates. The ASPCA surveyed 222 people who had received their pet as a gift. A total of 96% said obtaining their pet as a gift either had no impact or increased their love for their pet. In addition, 86 percent of the pets received as gifts were still in the home; 14% were no longer living with the person who had been gifted with a pet.

An earlier study from 1999 also showed that giving up pets was higher when the animal came from a shelter, a friend, a pet shop, or a stray, compared to receiving the animal as a gift. This 1999 study studied & found the main reasons for giving up a pet.

  • 18% gave up a pet because of allergies
  • 10% gave up a pet because of “no time for the pet”
  • Only 0.3% of dogs and 0.4% of cats were dropped at shelters because they were an “unwanted gift.”

When it comes to giving pets as presents, common sense is key for the gift to be successful. Here’s a short checklist that will help you decide if it’s right to give pets as presents:

  • Personality Compatibility: Think about the circumstances of the individual or family to whom you want to gift an animal. What type of animal would have the most compatible personality?
  • Designated Caregiver: Who would be the designated, reliable caregiver for the animal? Does this caregiver truly want a pet?
  • Affordability: Can this person or family afford to feed & provide veterinary care for the animal? (This would affect whether to give an animal, as well as what size of pet.)
  • Travel: Does this person or family travel a lot? Who would care for the pet while its family is traveling for business or pleasure?
  • Allergies: Does anyone in the household have allergies to animals? (This is one of the top reasons why pets are given up.)
  • Desire: Does the recipient of a pet as a gift truly want a pet?

If everything rings true, and a pet is going to be a great gift for someone, then the question is: Where’s the best place to get a pet as a present?

  • Animal Shelters: Animal shelters are a great place to find quality pets, who’ve been vetted, socialized & brought to a state of health.
  • Breed-specific Rescue Groups: If the recipient has an affinity for a specific breed of dog or cat, then checking with breed-specific rescue groups is a good option.
  • Reputable Breeders: If you want to give a purebred dog as a gift, research reputable breeders. Anyone can breed a litter of puppies. The reputable breeders will be known and respected as a dog show judge or as a member of a local dog club, and they will not need to advertise on Craigslist to sell their puppies. Reputable breeders often have waiting lists for puppies.

No matter how cute that puppy in the window looks, pet shops are one of the worst places to purchase a pet, either for yourself or as a gift. Most pet shops get the pets they sell from puppy mills, where the mothers are bred again and again until they are worn out. Conditions often are poor and socialization & puppy training typically are non-existent. As a result, puppies from puppy mills often have expensive health problems, behavior problems, and they often die young after incurring expensive veterinary bills.

There are pros & cons to giving pets as presents at the holidays, or any time. Carefully consider the person for whom you want to gift a pet & make sure that gifting them with a pet is the right thing to do. To ensure success, make sure that the person to whom you want to gift a pet truly wants a pet, and is prepared to care for it for years to come.

If you’re planning on gifting a pet to someone at the holiday and you know it will be loved and wanted, consider also giving the gift of veterinary care. Contact Mile High Animal Hospital of Aurora, or call us at 303.693.6484 if you want to gift veterinary care along with a dog or cat.


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