Anyone who has ever watched a 5-Minute Crafts video can attest to one truth: just because you see something on a viral video doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That also applies to gifting a pet during the holiday season.
And yet, here we are. Gearing up for “surprise puppy” season.
As a general rule, surprising someone with a pet is just a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for a gift. You should not do it.
Not convinced? Here are a few of the reasons why gifting a pet isn’t the best idea… and some ways to mitigate the potential harm if you have your heart set on a Christmas puppy or kitten.
A pet is a long-term financial obligation
Like really, truly- an OBLIGATION. Yes, there are plenty of gifts you can get people that give them ample opportunity to spend money. That new PS5 isn’t much good without games. That American Girl doll is cute, but wouldn’t she be EVEN cuter with a full set of historical costumes? Wow, your dream SUV with the comically large bow on top is so shiny! … But you can’t drive it without filling the gas tank on a regular basis. And don’t even get me started on how much I’ve spent on paints since I got an easel for my birthday.
The difference is, if you couldn’t afford it or didn’t want to spend the cash, you could just… put the PS5 or the easel or whatever away until you could. That’s not the case with a pet. They have real physical needs that cost real money and they don’t stop when it’s not convenient. They can’t just park the dog in the garage and take the bus if feeding them becomes a struggle.
The obligation isn’t only financial, either. There’s a huge time and energy cost to taking proper care of a pet. By gifting someone an animal, you commit them to something big. It’s like telling your friend “Merry Christmas- as your gift, I’ve signed you up to coach middle school sports… year-round, seven days a week, for the next fifteen years. Aren’t you thrilled? And it’s going to cost you, on average, over a thousand bucks a year!”
Unless you’re the one who will be financially responsible for the pet (e.g. it’s a gift for your child), just don’t do it.
If you have a friend or loved one who has been wanting a pet, but hasn’t gotten one, there’s probably some very real reason. Try talking to them about it- are they worried that they travel or work too much? Are they concerned about pet hair in their carpets? Maybe they don’t drive and can’t figure out a good way to transport a pet to and from vet or grooming visits.
Instead of giving them an animal as a gift, try removing one of those obstacles. Can you offer rides to vet visits? Free pet-sitting? Daily walks? Would getting them a Roomba and some couch covers be the difference between “wish I could…” and “welcome home, Fido”?
It’s a matter of chemistry
So let’s say you actually are planning on being responsible for this pet. For example, let’s say your partner or spouse has been wanting a puppy and the major obstacle has been, mostly, that you weren’t on board. Or you take care of an elderly relative and would take care of their pet as well. In that case, why not pick out a pet and surprise them with it?
The problem is, picking a pet for someone is like picking a boyfriend or girlfriend for someone. On paper, you might think someone ticks all the boxes. But just because he’s a blue-eyed 6’4 surgeon doesn’t mean it’s going to be everlasting love. There’s a lot more to a person than that. Likewise, there’s more to a cat or dog than just being the right colors, breed, or age. Often, the secret ingredient is just chemistry- that indescribable connection between person and animal.
Get creative! There are lots of ways you can make a pet a gift and also allow someone to be involved in picking them out. For example, there’s often more to getting a new pet than just stopping in somewhere and picking one up. Along with paying the adoption or purchase fee, you can do the leg work for your loved one ahead of time. Are you going for a purebred puppy or kitten from a breeder? Do your research and speak to the breeder of your choosing so that everything’s ready to go. Are you going with a rescue? Find out about their policies and see how much of the application process you can complete ahead of time and what you might be able to expect in terms of pet availability. For example, there are often fewer young kittens available during the winter months and, if you’ve got your heart set on something really specific (especially if it’s a baby of a fancy/popular breed or color), it may not be as easy to find as you might think.
Your new pet doesn’t want to be screamed at.
I get it. That’s part of what makes those viral videos fun. It’s not just the puppy peeking out of the box- it’s the kids squealing with excitement and squeezing the poor perplexed little thing til its eyes pop out. It’s the old man, overcome with emotion, surrounded by his entire extended family, sobbing his heart out while he bear-hugs and smooches his new baby. It’s the shrieks and tears and “oh my gaaahhhhhdddd is that real?” that people love to watch.
But the second you take into account that the animal is also a living, breathing thing with its own boundaries and comfort needs, those videos become a lot less fun. It’s stressful for a pet (yes, even a little baby!) to be in this kind of setting. Everything is strange and new to your pet and they need some time to take it all in. Introductions to a new home and family should be as low-key as possible. And a Christmas celebration… is not ideal. Between the company, the decorations, the disrupted routine, the new toys, and the over-excited kids, it’s just too much to put on a brand-new animal.
Okay, so you’re planning on a Christmas kitten or puppy for your own children. You’re the one who will be responsible for it. You’re the one who is in charge of choosing it. And you know what?… Go for it. But there are ways to surprise the kids and get the shrieking out of the way before the living animal gets involved.
Try wrapping pet accessories. Let your kid open a litter scooper, a tennis ball, a roll of poop bags, a box of heartworm preventative, a scratch pad, nail clippers, and other necessary and mundane pet care items and see how long it takes them to catch on to what the REAL gift might be. It will still be an unforgettable surprise and you’ll still get a cute video if that’s high on your priority list, but by the time the real pet arrives, everyone’s had a chance to get used to the idea and talk about proper behavior around animals.
In the end, is gifting a pet the best idea? Getting a pet is a big event and is always going to be an unforgettable moment. Whether it’s a surprise or a decision made together with a loved one, whether it’s Christmas Eve or the middle of July, it’s always going to be something special that stays with you forever. The important thing is that the animal is set up to be loved and well-cared-for for the rest of their lives.
If you want to remove obstacles to pet ownership for a friend or loved one, let us help! For the frequent traveler, the workaholic, or anyone who just needs a bit of backup, we’ve got you! Check out our website for more information on pet-sitting, dog-walking, and let-out services.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.