Christmas Pets

640px Christmas cat

December always brings a rush of new pets to the hospital. While I’m wholeheartedly supportive of having a new pet for the family, I worry about the circumstances surrounding holiday additions. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum: owners that educated themselves well in advance of the needs of a new pet, and those who received a gift for which they had no time to prepare. The former is a recipe for success. The latter is a recipe for disaster, regret, and bad feelings.

Right up front I’ll question the wisdom of offering an animal as a surprise gift. If the recipient (or the recipient’s parents/guardian/etc.) aren’t aware of the incoming pet, how can they possibly have a good, appropriate environment ready for a new pet? There’s a heck of a lot to consider!

All pets need shelter of some kind that’s safe for them to be in, appropriate kinds of food, water, and in some cases medications. These basic elements of care are the minimums! We should always aim to do better!

Has the breed/type/species of pet been researched? Does the giver know what’s required for proper care? Do the recipients? Will the time it takes them to figure things out be detrimental to the new pet?

Do the new owners have the time required for training? How about for exercise and interaction? I have to spend a couple of hours a week tending my fish tank, which is far less than one should spend with a dog or cat. If work schedules don’t permit the proper time for housebreaking or care, who will handle those critical tasks?

There’s also the need for veterinary care. Puppies and kittens need an initial ‘new pet’ exam, stool checks, vaccines, and parasite prevention. Puppies and kittens are seen every 3 weeks until they’re about 16 weeks old for those services. Exotic pets like lizards and fish may not need a trip to the veterinarian, but they certainly need to be watched carefully for signs of stress and illness, then treated appropriately if they occur.

As much as I wish veterinary services could be free, they’re not. Nor are all of the supplies that are required to care for a new pet. During the holidays, budgets often run tight, which can compromise a new owner’s ability to provide the necessary care for a new pet.

Lastly, when the holidays are done, life returns to the normal routine of work, school, and sunset by 6pm. We’re still locked in the cycle of winter, which can make housebreaking a bigger challenge for new dogs. School is in session and most adults are back to work full-time. Who does that leave to let the puppy out partway through the day? Who will walk a new pet when it’s 20 degrees outside and snowing? Who gets the task of cleaning out the litter box every day? How about changing the fish tank water weekly?

At this point I’m sure I sound like a total Grinch! I’m willing to take that on if it saves a family and a pet from the heartbreak that can result from unexpected gifts. While it may seem like a great idea at the time, please, please take the time to consider things from the pet’s perspective. If there’s ANY room for doubt, ANY question about how things will go over with the receiving family, hold back. Avoid the purchase, skip the disaster.

Alternatives are out there for the taking. Books on ownership, breeds, care, or husbandry can all help guide a family toward a well-thought-out addition. Most importantly, the pet will be far better off when it can come home to an environment that’s ready and fully welcoming.

If a new pet is part of a well-thought-out holiday plan, then you have my congratulations and best wishes! We hope to see you soon for that first checkup!

A few extra notes for this week and the upcoming weeks:

•I hope that everyone will have a safe and happy holiday season. Stay tuned for tips on cold weather, food, and decorative hazards!
•The hospital will be OPEN on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24th) from 8am to Noon; and New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31st) from 8am to 2pm.
•The hospital will be CLOSED on Christmas and New Year’s day.

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