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Pet given as gift for the holiday sitting under the tree

Holiday pet adoption: Tips before you buy

The mental image is a familiar one—a giddy puppy or kitten leaping among the pieces of gift wrapping on Christmas morning—a gift from a loving family member. It’s heart-warming, to be sure. However, the reality is that too often it is the pet that soon becomes discarded. 

Throughout the United States, animal shelters see up to a 5% increase in returns beginning just days after Christmas and extending into spring. That represents an annual total of tens of thousands of animals that are given as gifts but end up being surrendered to shelters. 

The reasons for this are many. Some purchase or adopt a puppy or kitten without considering the responsibilities of providing a forever home to a companion animal. Some are unprepared for the reality that puppies and kittens grow into cats and dogs. Others find that their new adoptee has health or behavioral issues, or doesn’t get on well with other pets already in the home. Despite the fact that the Animal Humane Society recently achieved the landmark goal of placing over 90% of its animals in forever homes, returned pets continue to face reduced chances for re-adoption and an increased risk of being euthanized.

Holiday Pet Adoption Tips

Regardless of these cautions, millions of Americans will give pets as holiday gifts this year. If you do choose to give a pet as a gift, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself, your family, and your home for the new adoptee—as well as to increase the chances that you will be able to keep your animal.

1. Decide whether you have the time, patience, and resources to provide for a pet. This may sound obvious, but many owners who return pets to stores or shelters admit that they hadn’t thought the purchase or adoption through carefully. Is your home pet-ready and free of potential hazards? Do you have the time to walk, train, and clean up after a puppy? Can you commit to your pet’s health, dietary and activity needs? Do you have other animals that will have to adjust to a new pet? These are important questions to ask before adopting.  
2. Prepare for the expense. The ASPCA estimates that neutering costs between $145 for cats and $200 for dogs. There are also initial healthcare needs—a basic medical exam and immunizations (estimated at $70 for dogs and $130 for cats). Add in new pet supplies: a collar and leash ($20 to $30), litter pan and food bowls (another $30), scratching post ($15), and crates/carriers ($100 to $200), and dog training ($110), and you have a total between $365 (per cat) and $565 (per dog). Then consider the annual expenses: food, healthcare and general wellness. According to the ASPCA, food costs run annually between $120 per dog and $145 per cat. Add in yearly vet exams (dog $235, cat $130), cat litter ($200), toy and treats (between $25 and $55), licensing ($15), pet health insurance (dog $225, cat $175), and miscellaneous expenses (between $30 and $45), and your total is approximately $700 per animal.
3. Involve your family in the purchase. As tempting as a holiday surprise may be, the chances that you will provide a forever home for your pet increase when your family gets to help in the selection process. For example, at Christmas you can present your family with an “adoption kit” containing some of the things your pet will need (food, bowls, collar, bed, leash, toys, etc.). Then, after the chaos of the holidays has faded, you can go as a group to meet and spend quality time with a potential adoptee. 
4. Avoid overstimulation. The holidays are hectic enough for people, so you can imagine how chaotic and frightening they can be for an animal. A great many early holiday returns of adopted pets occur because the animal simply has not had time to adjust to its new environment. A frightened or confused animal is far more likely to display destructive or even potentially aggressive behavior compared with one that is calm and relaxed. Pets adopted during a time of less upheaval, less travel, and fewer visitors have a far better chance of integrating themselves quickly into the family. 

Hopefully with these simple tips, you’ll be able to decide whether a new pet is right for you, and if so, that your adoptee is smoothly acclimated to family life. We wish you, your family, and your animal companions a joyous and safe holiday season!


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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