Make sure the whole household is prepared for the responsibility of pet ownership.

It’s one of the most heartwarming advertisements during the holiday season. A little toddler, eyes bleary with sleep, stumbles downstairs and looks under the Christmas tree, where a box is bouncing on the floor. He lifts the lid, and voila! An adorable puppy with a bow around his neck pops out, and Mom and Dad smile happily as boy and dog collapse on the floor in a puddle of giggles. It’s adorable, and guaranteed to make pet lovers wistful for just such a moment themselves. But is giving a pet as a gift the right thing to do?

As a veterinarian, I have always promoted the conventional wisdom that pets should never be given as gifts, that no surprise is a good surprise, and that the outcome for these pets was fraught with peril. Then, my husband surprised me with a Golden Retriever, and all my preconceived notions went out the window.

For years, every holiday article on this topic has stated, “Pets should never be given as gifts,” thus shattering the hopes of animal lovers wishing to have a happy holiday moment themselves. The idea was, pets given as gifts are going to be less attached to their owners and more likely to wind up in shelters. After observing trends in relinquishment patterns, the ASPCA wondered if that was truly the case. The data surprised everyone. In fact, pets received as gifts were less likely to be relinquished to shelters than pets obtained in other ways, and owners were not found to be any less attached to those pets.

That isn’t to say you should run out and give a bouncy puppy to your elderly neighbor who has never expressed an interest in pets, or bring a kitten home to your family in the hopes your allergic husband will grow to love it despite the medical issues. But it does give some hope to people who have been told for years that there is never an appropriate time to bring a pet home as a gift. It’s all about the individual situation.

For people considering giving a pet as a gift, it’s crucial to know the people on the receiving end well enough to be confident of the following:

  • The recipient has actually expressed wanting a pet.
  • They are prepared for a lifelong commitment.
  • If the recipient is under 12 years of age, the parents are on board with the idea and ready to play a large role in the care of the pet.
  • If the pet is being given as a holiday gift, the new family is prepared to give the new family member proper attention during the hectic holiday season.

The most successful scenarios are those where the gift giver is a close family member.

Much of the controversy around pets as gifts has also stemmed from the concern that pets come from places such as puppy mills. It doesn’t matter how the pet arrives in the family, new pets should always come from shelters, rescues, or reputable breeders. Far from discouraging adoption around the holidays, many shelters are embracing the concept. From gift certificates redeemable for a new family member to shelters who actually have Santa deliver a lucky dog or cat to his new forever home on Christmas Eve, these facilities are embracing the holiday joy
a pet can bring to the home.

If a pet is wanted and loved, they will have a good life no matter which of the 365 days of the
year they came into the home.

Jessica Vogelsang, D.V.M., is a veterinarian and author from San Diego, California. She writes frequently on the topics of families and pets and loves coming up with solutions to help people establish long and loving relationships with them. She is the author of the best-selling memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin, available nationwide, and maintains her own website at She currently lives with her human family, her adorable rescue cat Penelope and her Golden Retriever Brody, a welcome and much loved surprise gift. Photo courtesy of Paul Barnett.