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Giving pets as gifts: What to consider and how to do it right

chihuahua mix held behind man's back and wearing  red bow © Bajneva - Shutterstock

The idea of a loved one opening a box and discovering an adorable puppy inside is a lovely one - but is a living being a responsible gift to get someone?

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

You’ve seen it time and time again in the movies or perhaps just in home videos on social media: People gifting their loved ones with adorable pets. 

While these videos are undeniably cute, there is a sad reality behind them. Often, the number of pets in shelters rises after the Christmas period when people realise that owning a pet is harder work than they thought. Puppies and kittens end up being discarded like simple toys being returned to the store. In fact, this is such a big problem that some shelters block their adoptions during the Christmas season!

Getting a pet as a gift isn’t always a bad idea, but how can you make sure you’re not contributing to the problem? If you’re considering getting an animal as a gift for someone, here’s what you need to think about:

Should you gift someone a pet?

While it’s a thoughtful idea, there’s lots to consider before you get a pet for someone. 

Consider the time and financial commitment

Of course, as you probably know, animals are a huge commitment. Dogs live 10-15 years on average and when they first arrive in your home, they’ll need lots of training. They’ll need to be taken out for walks every day, rain or shine, as well as groomed, fed, and looked after when you go on holiday. Plus, having a pet is very costly financially. It is estimated that UK dog owners spend on average £90-£150 per month on their dogs. And while this is an average cost, you should also consider unexpected expenses such as those linked to illnesses or injuries. 

Ensure you will be one of the caregivers

You should really only consider getting a pet for someone who you are very close to, and better still, live with. In this way, you’ll know for sure whether the person actually wants and is ready for a pet. Plus, you know that you’re willing to help them take care of it. This means while one person is getting surprised with an animal as a gift, at least one other person is aware and prepared for the responsibilities involved. 

While children often dream of getting a dog, they don’t necessarily have the physical and/or mental maturity to handle a dog by themselves. Before their teen years, you’ll probably be doing most of the care when it comes to the dog. And if, on the other hand, you’re getting a dog for an elderly person, just make sure you’re ready to take the dog under your wing if your loved one’s health declines or if they pass away.

Giving pets as gifts: Do’s and dont’s

If you agree with all the above statements and are still set on getting a pet as a gift, here are a few pointers to get you started:

Don’t: Gift the pet at Christmas or on birthdays

Any celebratory period can make new pets very stressed. The noise, the crowds, and the general hysteria is just too much for them to handle. When pets first come into the home, they need to be in a quiet and reassuring environment. Plus, in the beginning, they’ll need your undivided attention. So if you do decide to gift a pet, just make sure it’s not during a busy period of the recipient’s life. In addition, your loved one is much more likely to be surprised if you offer your ‘gift’ during a non-celebratory period!

Don’t: Place the animal in a box

Remember, when you first bring a puppy or a dog home, it’s a whole new experience for them. Puppies have never been separated from their mums or siblings, and they’re suddenly feeling very scared and vulnerable. If, on top of that, you place them inside a small, dark box without getting them used to it beforehand, your puppy may become even more scared. You don’t want this to be their first impression of being home with you.

Instead, you can place the puppy in a crate with a comfortable bed and a few treats in a quiet room, and lead your loved one to them. Or, you could hold the puppy in your arms and gently introduce them to your loved one.

Don’t: Scream or yell

Again, a new puppy or a shelter dog is very nervous when coming home for the first time. The last thing you want to do is to startle them with screaming or yelling. While your loved one may be surprised and very happy with their gift, it’s important they remain calm for the sake of their new pet. If you’re set on surprising them with a puppy or dog, just tell them you have a surprise for them, but no matter how excited they are when they see it, they have to be very quiet. Alternatively, you could go for a different type of gift:

Do: Gift a voucher or check instead of the animal itself

While offering a puppy is much more sensational than telling someone you want to get them one - this is really what you should do. For example, purchase some of the things your puppy will need, like a collar, a food bowl, a bed, and a few toys. Gift these to your loved one and enjoy watching them slowly realise what’s happening…they’re getting a dog! 

Tell them you’ll cover the adoption fee for whatever pet they choose at the shelter. That way, your loved one still gets a terrific surprise, but can also choose their future pet themselves. In addition, this ensures your new pet won’t be placed in a box or confronted with any excited (but scary) screaming when they first meet their new owners. And of course, it gives the receiver of the gift a chance to refuse the present if they don’t feel ready - something they absolutely can’t do with a living being.

Do: Adopt if you can

While it can be tempting to purchase a puppy for your loved one, consider this: By adopting from a shelter, you’re getting two gifts! One for your loved one who gets a new pet, and one for the shelter pet who finally gets a forever home. Isn’t that a nice thought?

Do: Consider alternatives

If you think getting a new pet may be going a little too far, why not consider something else in a similar field? For example, you could give a donation to an animal charity or sponsor an animal in your loved one’s name. 

So what do you think? Would you ever get an animal as a gift for someone?

Frequently asked questions

Can I give my cat to someone else?

How do you recommend a pet to someone?

Why pets should not be given as gifts?

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