Pets are not presents

Responsible pet adoption during the holidays can be summed up very simply: pets are not presents. Many dogs and cats given as gifts end up at animal shelters shortly after the New Year, facing an uncertain future.

black dog with bowYou might find it difficult to resist surprising your kid with a puppy or kitten, or presenting a pet to your parents, but the reasons not to do so are more compelling:

A pet is forever

Although lifespan varies by species, breed and other factors, nearly 40% of dogs live more than 10 years and the average indoor cat will live between 12-15 years. The recipient might not be prepared for a gift that requires a long-term commitment. If you’re getting a pet for the family, be sure to first have an open discussion about who will be responsible for various aspects of the animal’s care. That litter box isn’t going to clean itself, nor is the dog going to take itself out for a walk every day.

Pet parenthood changes your lifestyle

In many ways, pets are like children. They’re completely dependent upon you for food, shelter and medical care, and thrive on routine and structure. Giving a dog or cat as a gift demands the person receiving it change the way they live in unalterable and sometimes unpredictable ways, which is why a pet should never, ever be a surprise.

Pets cost money

The average pet will cost between $9,400-$14,000 over a typical lifespan, according to an estimate from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). This might be more than your recipient bargained for – or can afford. Giving a gift that will cause financial hardship is neither fair to the recipient nor to the animal dependent upon that person for its care.

Why pets end up in shelters

There are many reasons pets are relinquished to shelters, but chief among them is that their owners are no longer able to afford them. Due to the ongoing weak economy, dogs and cats are being surrendered in record numbers across the country, including many senior pets who have known only one family their entire lives.

It’s heartbreaking when people run out of options to care for their four-legged family members; it’s irresponsible to foist that responsibility upon someone who is unprepared financially for that commitment.

Paradoxically, the epidemic of animals being relinquished due to economic concerns comes at the same time that Americans are forecast to spend nearly $51B on their pets in 2011, almost $2.5B more than they did in 2010.

Just how much is that doggie (or kitty) in the window?

Whether giving or getting, prospective pet owners need to educate themselves about the financial commitment involved in bringing home a dog or cat. While costs will vary by species, breed, size, overall health, region of the country and other factors, the following are average yearly pet care estimates from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

  • Small dog: $1,314
  • Medium dog: $1,580
  • Large dog: $1,843
  • Cat: $1,035

These costs include food, medical, training and grooming fees, in addition to toys, licensing and equipment. The figures assume premium brand kibble for dogs, various preventative vaccinations, pet health insurance and microchip implantation. Your costs will vary depending upon where you live, how you choose to care for your pet and the animal’s overall medical condition. And just like for people, pet health care costs are on the rise as newer and more expensive medical treatments are available to keep Fido or Fluffy in tip-top shape.

How to help needy pets during the holidays…and beyond

There are millions of animals sitting in shelters today that need your help. If you’re unable to adopt and have decided that “gifting” a pet isn’t the right thing to do, consider:

  • Joining Petfinder’s Foster a Lonely Pet for the holidays program to give a shelter dog or cat a much-needed break from the stress of shelter life.
  • Making a donation to your local shelter, rescue, humane society or SPCA; in most cases it is tax deductible.
  • Donating in-kind goods; many shelters need used blankets, sheets and towels to make the animals in their charge more comfortable, and often need donated food, toys and medical supplies. Call or check online for your shelter’s “wish list” items.
  • Volunteering at your local shelter; you could help walk dogs, maintain kennels, assist in adoption events and even help answer the phones.
  • Donating to a pet food bank in your neighborhood. If there isn’t one specifically designated for pets near you, ask your local human food bank if they accept donations for pets – many do.
  • Starting a pet food drive, either for a pet food bank in your community or in conjunction with other charity drives that may be taking place through your work, house of worship or other organization.



  1. “Uncertain future” ? Lets be brutally honest here.
    most pets in shelters are killed. The actual numbers are staggering. I don’t understand why people find this acceptable.
    On the other hand I suppose that is better then dropping them on the streets somewhere. Or leaving them behind in am an abandoned house or apartment.

  2. I have given a pup to a friend as a x-mas gift. It was the best thing ever for him as he lived alone and retired. The pup was his best friend and it got him out of the house. This was about 9 years ago and they are still best friend and his health actually improved by the friendship and the exercise and also his mental disposition. For him it was the best thing that ever happened to him!

  3. The one thing here that stands out to me is the estimation that the average cat may live between 12-15 years. That’s all? I work at a vet clinic where a large portion of our feline patients are between 12-19.
    I’m just concerned that this article undersells the commitment needed for our feline friends, especially since companion animal healthcare improves all the time and we are able to increase the number of good years in our companions lives quite a bit through education of their parents.
    Four-legged friends are like children; they can be expensive and complicated but you love them more than life itself, most often. Don’t adopt unless you’re dedicated to them.

  4. Hi P4P,

    I strongly agree – pets are not presents. I cringe every time I hear that someone says they’re going to surprise another person with a dog or cat for their birthday.

    There’s nothing wrong with it if a person asks for it. Then you can take them to a shelter to pick one out.

    But too often someone will spring it on them. So much can go wrong.

    They might not want a pet. The pet may be a dog when a person likes cats only. The pet could be the “wrong” size, age, gender, etc…

    This is part of the reason pets end up in shelters – the person doesn’t want the pet. So sad.

    Good explanation and good warnings about not being frivolous and irresponsible in regards to giving a pet to someone as if it’s just a gift like any other gift. It’s not. It’s a living being, it has to be wanted, and it’s a big responsibility that not everyone is prepared to undertake.

    I like the tips on how to help shelter animals near the end of your article. Shelters and shelter animals really need our help.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

  5. Thanks for sharing this informative post. Pets are not gifts and they should never be treated as such. It simply irks me to know that these poor animals may very soon be abandoned and left to fend for themselves and many would end up dying. I believe that certain laws have to be implemented to protect these poor animals and relevant education on this aspect would certainly help as well.

    Glenmore Park Vet


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