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While pets can make wonderful holiday gifts, first make sure the person getting the new furry family member is up for the long-term commitment that comes with caring for an animal companion.


“A pet should never be given as a surprise,” said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian and director of continuing education for the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “After the novelty of a new pet wears off, there is still the daily need for feedings, walks, litter box changes, trips to the veterinarian and more. All of these things need to be taken into consideration before giving a pet.”


Dogs and cats can live up to 10-15 years, and sometimes longer. Animals depend on and trust their owners to take care of them. For anyone considering given a pet to a child, consider the following:


  • Is the child old enough to help with the care of the pet?
  • Do the parents have the time and desire needed to help with pet-care responsibilities?
  • If parents veto the idea of giving a dog or cat to a youngster, a small pet is not an alternative answer. Even small pets, such as a hamster or gerbil, live for several years.


“Pet care is not for someone whose heart is not in it,” Biggs said. “Unlike a larger animal, parents may not notice an empty food or water dish on a regular basis if the cage is kept in the child’s room. Lack of care can be deadly.”


The same holds true for giving a pet to an adult. For example, some adults may think their aging parents would enjoy the companionship of an animal. While this may be true, do the parents have the time and resources for proper care?


“When older adults are on a fixed income, the additional expense of a pet may put too much strain on the budget,” Biggs said. “Also, aging parents who aren’t in good health probably may not be able to take care of even a small pet.”


If after talking to the intended recipient and the idea of a pet is appealing, Biggs recommended letting the soon-to-be-owner choose the animal. The recipient may prefer an older animal that already is house broken. Other recipients may treasure the bonding time they would have with a new puppy or kitten.


“There are many animals at shelters that would love to be part of a caring home,” Biggs said. “A visit to the local animal shelter can be a special family outing in and of itself. Such a visit also allows an individual to make a connection with the pet from the outset.”

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