Pets for Christmas?

We’ve all heard the well-known Dog’s Trust slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ This campaign has been running for many years – I certainly remember seeing it on car stickers when I was just a young ‘un – in fact, the phrase is so widely known it’s almost become engrained in the vernacular. But, despite hearing it repeatedly over the years, sadly not everyone takes heed.

Let’s have a think about what this saying really means… and why it doesn’t just apply to dogs.

Buying someone a pet is a wonderful gift, there’s no denying it, but it goes without saying that clearly they shouldn’t be wrapped and placed under the tree! Pets should absolutely NOT be hidden away for presentation on Christmas morning in any way, shape or form – an animal would be hugely overwhelmed to be the subject of a grand reveal and all the excitement that surrounds it. They need to be settled into their new environment slowly and sympathetically, not during the chaos and emotion of Christmas Day. If you want to do it on Christmas day then the ‘gift’ should be the announcement or promise of a pet rather than the actual creature itself, but whether you choose to do it as a home-made ‘voucher’, a photo or a video of your pet-to-be, the surprise of telling someone they can have that long-awaited furry friend is priceless. HOWEVER…

A pet of any kind should only ever be a consideration as a gift if you have been thinking about getting one anyway (I say ‘you’ – I know this is a ‘gift’ but I’m assuming this would only be for yourself, your partner or your children … I would very strongly advise against buying a pet for anyone outside of your own household, for all the reasons I’ll outline below – you absolutely can’t make this commitment on someone else’s behalf.) Anyway, I digress. Where were we? Ah, yes… Maybe you’ve thought long and hard about getting a pet and Christmas is the perfect opportunity. Perhaps the dates tie in well and you’re on annual leave anyway – you could announce it on Christmas Day, collect your new fluff ball after Christmas, and spend the rest of the holidays helping it to settle in with the family. It could be an ideal time. But, whatever you do, don’t get to December and suddenly think, ‘Ooh, what shall we get for little Sammy? I know, a nice fluffy bunny! He likes little Johnny down the road’s pet rabbit.’ Getting a pet of whatever size, shape, species or breed, is a big decision that requires research, planning and plenty of thought… it’s not something to do on a whim or because your kid’s mentioned it once or twice. I mean, kids ask for all sorts of things they don’t really want.

(I remember asking Santa for a submarine one year so I could look at sea creatures through the window! Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get one.)

There are an awful lot of things to think about before making the commitment to getting a pet. Such as: where it’s going to live – is there a suitable location within your home? What type of hutch, cage or bedding will it need? You need to consider the time and effort required for its care and wellbeing and whether you can spare this time around work and other commitments – who will feed it, clean the cage, walk it, wash it, play with it, groom it, give it regular attention and tend to its every need? Are you around all the time to look after your new pet or will you have to use pet-sitting services while you’re at work or on holiday? Are these available where you live and do they have space for a new client? Which, of course, brings me on to the ongoing costs of caring for an animal – its food, veterinary care (including routine immunisations and regular flea and worming treatments as well as insurance or a contingency fund for unexpected illness or injury), grooming, bedding, toys … these are all in addition to the cost of purchase, of course.

You also need to thoroughly research what type of pet you would like. If you’re looking at a small pet, would a hamster be more suitable or a gerbil, or mouse, or guinea pig? Their temperaments all vary, as do their needs and life spans. Even within one species different breeds can have very different personality traits, so it’s really important to look into which type of pet is going to be right.

This also applies to cats and dogs obviously, and with 100s of breeds to choose from – from purebreds to mixed-breeds – you really need to think carefully and look into the most suitable match for your family and lifestyle.

Then of course, there’s the question of whether to buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue centre. Again, give it some really serious thought and do your research. Always buy from a reputable breeder or adopt from a known animal shelter / charity. Re-homing a pet is a wonderful thing to do but you may need some additional time, patience and experience to help your new companion to settle in and work through any fears, anxieties or insecurities that they may have acquired as a result of past experiences. An animal shelter will be able to help and advise you on this, but always be honest about how much (or little) experience you have in caring for an animal and how much time you can dedicate to their training, so that they can help you to find the paw-fect match.

And, there’s the question of how long you’re committing to care for this new family member. Look at the average life-span of your intended new pal. Dogs can often live for around 12-13 years, cats for 12-16 years, rabbits 8- 12 years, guinea pigs 5-7 years, hamsters 2-3 years … just be aware that, although this is a Christmas gift, it’s absolutely vital that you’re pledging your care and attention for its entire life. You ABSOLUTELY CANNOT change your mind in a few months or years; no animal deserves that. They don’t come with a 28-day refund policy. Your furry friend will make a wonderful addition to your family and will give you soooo much joy, but PLEASE be aware of how long-term a commitment you’re making. For example, if you’re buying this as a pet primarily for your children will they have moved out or gone off to university during the pet’s lifetime and will this change your future plans? If you were planning on a 6-month world cruise the minute the kids left home you may have to think again.

I would never try to put someone off having a pet, I think it’s a wonderful experience for so many reasons and can teach us all a great deal. My three little fluff balls are such characters and they bring so much fun to our family. As Jesse grows up, I love seeing the way he interacts with Ziggy, Poppy and Betty – and how they reciprocate his affection. Kids (and adults!) can learn a lot through caring for animals and they give us a great deal in return; it’s a relationship like no other. HOWEVER! I do think it’s vital that new pet owners understand exactly what they’re taking on – and that means considering every aspect: the good, the bad and the ugly. Caring for any pet is not without its challenges and it’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly – never buy a pet on a whim or just because your kids have asked for one. They, and you, need to really think about whether you’re willing to make the commitment to a pet for better, for worse, until death do you part.

So, no matter whether it’s bought for an occasion or not, for Christmas, a birthday or any day in between … a pet really is for life and it’s your job to make that a happy one