If you would like to get a loved one a pet, you should go for it. However, it might be a good idea not to gift a pet quite exactly. Many animal shelters sell gift certificates that cover their rescue fee. Giving a gift certificate to cover the cost of adoption allows pet parents time to research what they’re looking for and adequately prepare for the exciting arrival of a new companion animal. Both parties can pick out the new addition together, making the gift even more special. Always encourage the potential pet owner to research the type of pet they want. But keep in mind that generalizations about a particular breed or species won’t always cut it. Every animal is an individual, just like every person is an individual.
Consider a pet’s age, size, and energy level before committing to one. Puppies and kittens need more training than mature pets, and their care is usually more expensive. Small dogs are better for households with people who can’t lift heavy objects, such as big bags of kibble or a squirmy, large-breed dog during bath time. Skittish cats can be trip hazards in a home where anyone has mobility issues, as can larger untrained dogs who regularly bump around. And some breeds, like Border collies and Savannah cats, need loads of exercise.
Gifters who have an inkling of what type of animal may be an ideal match for their loved one should also encourage them to meet the potential pet first. If the encounter goes well, some shelters let adopters foster a pet for a weekend to ensure it’s a perfect pairing.
Consult everyone in the home. The recipient’s desire to own a pet isn’t the only opinion that matters. Pets can be messy, expensive, trigger allergies, or annoy existing animal residents. Everyone affected should get a say before bringing a new life into the home. The last thing you want is someone in your family not being supportive of adding a new member to your family
Adults and children in the home should agree on the type of pet they want and how to divvy up the responsibilities, from mealtimes to socialization. Those who have limited experience with animals might prefer a calmer dog, or a mature cat who’s already trained to use a litter box. If allergies are a potential problem, a visit to an allergist can help figure that out. A truly hypoallergenic dog or cat doesn’t exist according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Although, some individual dogs may cause fewer allergy symptoms than others. Many people think that pet allergies are caused by a dog's or cat's fur, but the real source of pet allergies is often a protein that's in the saliva and urine of dogs and cats.
In the U.S., there are more than 15 hairless and low-shedding, hypoallergenic dogs for people with allergies. If you love dogs but suffer from allergies, you should check out the small-to-medium-sized dogs that are considered the best match for mild allergy sufferers. Bichon Frise, Poodles and Portuguese Water Dogs are some favorites, however, there is a long list of potential breeds that can mitigate allergy sufferers.
Assess how existing pets may react to a new addition too. Pets who are less territorial may be more tolerant of a new animal, though that’s no guarantee. A slow introduction can prevent fearful or aggressive behaviors. Installing pet-friendly calming diffusers or sprays, like Feliway for cats or Adaptil for dogs, throughout the home may help ease the transition.
Consider the financial costs. Caring for a pet isn’t cheap. One new pet owner’s 90-pound American bulldog mix got too excited when the letter carrier appeared and smashed through a windowpane. Treatment cost $700. It’s a more extreme example, but pet experts agree that unexpected costs come with the territory. Unforeseen expenses aside, the American Pet Products Association, an industry trade group, estimates that pet owners will spend $75 billion on their animals in 2019. Crudely divided among the roughly 84.9 million US households with at least one pet, that means each home spends about $883 annually on routine expenses like pet food and grooming supplies. Potential pet owners who can afford a pet’s care may still appreciate a little help. Experts suggest offering to pay for immunizations or spay-neuter surgery — in lieu of giving someone an actual animal — to lighten some of the initial costs associated with getting a pet. Other considerations might include gifting a Pet Insurance Policy.
A pet is a lifetime companion whether you buy, adopt, or rescue a pet for someone else, remember that such a gift is a lifelong commitment. An animal will be in the recipient’s life for 10 to 20 years, sometimes more. Every decision a pet owner makes, from where they live to who cares for their pet when they’re ill, impacts their pet’s life too.
Pet owners should have a backup plan in place in case of changes to their health, finances, family dynamics, or housing situation. Some breeders and rescues welcome animals back, no questions asked, so inquire about their policy before you bring a new pet home. Owners can even establish a pet trust and designated guardian so their pet is cared for even after they die. Gifting a pet to someone else can be done thoughtfully when the gifter understands their responsibility to both their loved one and the pet. Ultimately, no pet should be a complete surprise to the recipient.
Dr. Lamb is the Veterinarian at the Manchester Animal Hospital.