Pets as Presents: Plan and Talk First

It’s tempting to give a child a pet as a holiday present. Before you head off to choose a precious puppy or cuddly kitty, consider the sugges­tions and questions that follow.

Always Discuss First

Surprising your children — or anyone else — with a new pet is never a good idea, according to Marc E. Rosenberg, DVM and co-owner of County Line Veterinary Hospital in Marlton, NJ.

“This is something that should be discussed at length with the recipient prior to acquiring the new pet,” says Angela Messer, operations director for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA). Among a pet owner’s considerations:

Do you have time for a pet? Animals can’t be ignored when life gets hectic. They require daily food, water, exercise and companionship. Caring for a kitten, puppy or other young animal requires extra time and attention.

• Why do you want a pet? If the kids have been begging for one, get their commitment to participate in the responsibilities that go with pets.

• Are there any allergies in the home? Many people are allergic to cats, dogs or other types pets.

• Are there any living restrictions? Some apartment complexes forbid pets or have size requirements. Some landlords require declawing of cats.

• Do the personalities of the pet and owner match? “It’s like getting a spouse unseen,” jokes Dr. Rosenberg. “If you don’t have interaction in the beginning, how do you know this is the pet that’s right for you?”

• Is the home properly set up for a pet? For example, if you plan to let a dog out into your backyard, are there appropriate fences?

• Can you afford the pet? The cost of obtaining a pet is small compared to the expense of feeding, training and providing medical care.

• Have you considered the breed? With dogs, active families may enjoy the a Labrador retriever’s high energy rather than a basset hound’s laid back nature. Researching and meeting several animals helps you make a good choice.

• Have you shopped together? “The best thing is to take the children shopping with you to see if they really want a pet,” suggests Edward Wagner, owner of Seaford Pet Emporium in Seaford, DE. Pet stores often ask questions to help you make the right choice.

Supervising Kids

Children may embrace the companionship a pet can provide, but a parent or guardian must supervise its care and teach the kids how to participate.

• Kids have a learning curve. A child must learn how to feed, bathe and exercise the animal. Dr. Rosenberg notes that bunnies for Easter are a popular gift, but people often don’t understand how to care for them.

• You’re in charge. “The child may be responsible for the animal’s daily care but the parent or guardian will ultimately be responsible for ensuring the pet receives the necessary care and purchasing the animal’s food, toys, treats, bedding and veterinary care,” says Messer.

• It’s a shared responsibility. Giving a pet to a child can be a wonderful tool in teaching responsibility, but a sensible adult must watch over the care and intervene when needed.

Pet Alternatives

If you aren’t certain your kids are ready for a pet, here are some animal-related alternatives.

• Pet books. Give your child a book about pets. You’ll find suggestions at

• Animal art or a large stuffed pet. A child not ready for the real thing might enjoy an adorable stuffed animal or a beautiful picture to decorate his room.

• Volunteer in an animal shelter. Bring your child to a shelter to volunteer with you. “Donating your time as a gift with an adolescent is a great way to find the right pet,” suggests Dr. Rosenberg. “The adolescent will see what it really takes to care for a pet.”

Terri Akman is a local freelance writer.

Categories: Solutions