Pets as Christmas Presents: 6 “why nots” and 2 “how tos”

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I remember when I started volunteering for animal charities — a great deal of adopted dogs and cats who were adopted as Christmas presents were returned by their adoptees.

Only a teenager at the time, I struggled with the concept. My dear dog “Pantufa” (Slippers), who was my best friend since I was 10 years old, had been a Christmas present. But how did my family know we were a good fit before his arrival?

Today, I am an Animal Behavior and Welfare Consultant and my job is to counsel families on these issues, helping them to positively prevent and treat behavior problems and to develop strong relationships with their pets. As a professional, and after years of experience in animal shelters, I now have a clearer view on how to make this dynamic a win for everyone.

So why is it a bad idea to get a dog or a cat as a Christmas present?

Why not:


Choosing a new family member is quite the responsibility! This is a decision that will probably last for 15 years or more. A new pet will be a big part of the family’s everyday life. Compatible personalities and lifestyles are key to ensuring a perfect fit and happy relationship. But even if you are ready to take on this task and surprise your child or parent would like to be in on such an important choice?


A recent study in the field of anthrozoology suggests that families who received a pet as a present are 3 times more likely to keep an emotional distance from the animal. This probably happens unintentionally but the lack of involvement in the acquisition takes its toll. A weaker emotional bond predisposes someone to care less about the animal and, worst case scenario, a stronger probability of neglecting–and possibly abandoning–the pet.


And what if the family is not ready? Presents come with tags or in the form of gift cards for a reason. We do tend to miss the mark quite often when it comes to guessing our loved ones’ wishes! Now, imagine having to decide whether to keep or return a pet.


Consider the amount of things on your calendar around Christmas. You’re probably pretty busy all through to January. Would be a good time to bring a helpless new creature into your life? And, from the pet’s perspective, it will be a very overwhelming environment to transition, too!  Don’t make important decisions (like adopting a pet for your family for Christmas) when there is so many things happening at once. Decide on adoption when you and your family have had to process and make the truly best decision.


Because of the unsuccess of pets as Christmas presents, most charities (and good breeders) close adoptions during the holidays. What remains open are dubious pet shops and online sellers. Avoid such vendors in order to prevent illegal pet trade.


This brings us to money. Caring for a pet is not free. Adopting a new dog or cat also means paying an adoption fee, not to mention vet costs, pet needs (bed, food, leash, etc.) and regular expenses. Your best friend will require a big chunk of your budget. Be prepared and able to handle the expense.

How to:


If you are now in trouble because you need an amazing present for that friend who is just crazy about animals, my advice is to buy merchandising from a charity or make a donation on his or her behalf. For example, you can support Dogs of Portugal, the organization for which I volunteer, the money raised will be put towards the senior dogs living in a Portuguese shelter (Cantinho da Milu).


If your family has long been considering a new member and has thought it through, adopt a pet! Start browsing websites, visiting shelters and gathering information.

Book the adoption day for after all the fuss. On the 25th, surprise the young ones with a wrapped dog collar, tag and harness or a cat scratching tree. The grownups can treat themselves to a pre-adoption consultation with an animal behavior consultant or veterinarian to prepare for the pet’s arrival. These professionals can guide families into implementing successful new relationship.

Happy holidays and merry adoptions!


Rita Jacobetty is an animal behaviour and welfare consultant, volunteer with animal welfare organisations and affiliate member of the Shelter Behavior division of IAABC.


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