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What to Consider Before Getting a Pet for the Holidays (or Ever)

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The gift-giving season has arrived, and for many children (and adults), a cute, snuggly dog or cat is on the list of what they are wishing for. Even though we know that dogs and cats aren't staring at a calendar lamenting their holiday plans, there is something especially festive and heartwarming about giving a home to an animal over the holidays, especially if it means getting them out of a shelter.

Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy when it comes to whether or not gifting a pet for the holidays is a good, or terrible, idea. Thankfully, from the data currently being reported, it seems as though a Hanukkah Husky, Christmas Calico, or Kwanzaa King Charles Spaniel isn't such a bad idea ... as long as you do it the right way.

The key to adding a new pet to your life the right way, is by being prepared — not just on the day you bring your new animal home, but for every day after. A pet is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Below you'll find tips on what to consider before getting a new dog or cat for the holidays (or any time of the year), and how best to prepare for your new pet!

Our very own Dr. Jason Nicholas and his cohost, Mia, tackled this topic in episode 17 of our Paws & Play podcast. Listen to their discussion that goes over the pros and cons, things to take into consideration, and, if you decide to add a new family member, tips for setting yourself (and them) up for success:

Check Out Our 101 Tips Book Series

Pros of Getting a Dog or Cat for the Holidays

More Time to Dedicate to a New Pet

One of the biggest pros to bringing a new pet into your family around the holidays is that, generally speaking, people have more time off from work and/or school. So as long as you aren't traveling, and don't have a bunch of company coming to stay with you, there is more time to shop for supplies, start forming strong bonds, get going on training, and of course, continue their socialization.

How to Socialize Your New Puppy and Why It's Important

Interactive Checklist: 100 Things in 100 Days

It Gets the Whole Family Involved

The holidays present a great time to positively introduce pet ownership and the responsibility that entails. "I think it's such a common motivating factor for people getting pets at the holidays. They've got kids and the kids have been asking for them for a while and you know, the kids have achieved whatever milestone, their grades were good or they saved up, or whatever it is," says Dr. J. He suggests that instead of gifting the actual dog or cat on Christmas, print out a certificate and include it in a gift basket that has some supplies they'll need for caring for their new pet. This way they can take some time to prepare for their responsibilities and, even more importantly, be involved in choosing the new dog or cat!

FREE DOWNLOAD: Pre-Adoption Certificates

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Cons of Getting a Dog or Cat for the Holidays

Show Me the Money!

You know that saying about nothing in life being free? Well, when it comes to animals, no truer words have been said. Much like a human family member, animals have a lot of costs involved, including but not limited to food, vet visits, toys, collars, grooming supplies, etc. The holidays are a time when many of our wallets are already stretched thin, so it is very important to take a good look at your financial situation ahead of time and then determine whether now is the right time to get a pet.

Less Time Available

One of the biggest cons to getting a pet at the holidays is not fully evaluating the amount of time you have available, not just at the holidays but also going forward. It's really important to have a good sense of how your schedule will be impacted while raising a new cat, dog, puppy, or kitten once the holidays are over with.

And if you have children, even if the dog or cat is technically their responsibility, it is still YOUR responsibility, and you have to be ok with that up front.

7 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Adopted a Dog

Holiday Travel Plans

The first few months with your dog or cat are incredibly important for establishing bonds, routines, and house rules. If you have upcoming travel plans, it may not be the best time to bring a pet home. Wait until you have an extended period of time at home in your regular routine to bring home a new pet. This will help them settle in and make the often stressful transition period easier.

Chilly Potty Training

If you live in a colder climate and are getting a dog that needs potty training, be prepared for late nights, early mornings, and invest in a good flashlight, and a warm coat and boots for you and your dog. Some dogs really don't enjoy being outdoors in the cold, which can make house training take longer than usual and sometimes these dogs will have accidents inside. Be prepared for a consistent potty training schedule that might include frequent chilly forays outdoors, or consider training your dog to use potty pads

Houseguests

Having family over for the holidays can be overwhelming for anybody, but it can be especially overwhelming for a dog or cat who is still getting used to their new world. Too much, too soon can create lasting fears and socialization issues.

Your new pet, whether they've just come from a breeder or a shelter, a lot has just changed in their world. They've potentially been bounced around between multiple shelters or rescues. Or, if it's a kitten or a puppy, they've just left an environment where, hopefully, it was nourishing, and they had their mom and their litter mates around. But once they've joined your household, they have this new human family they've got to figure out.

If that early bonding period is stressed or pushed to the limits too early with a lot of visitors and socialization done incorrectly (i.e. not at the puppy or the kitten's pace), it can make things a lot scarier for them, and that can really inhibit their social growth going forward.

Does My Dog Love Me? The Adjustment Period When You Bring a New Dog Home.

Houseguests can also bring other potential hazards into the home, with more doors opening and closing, bags, coat pockets, and luggage to get in to, and of course, the family members who insist on feeding table scraps or aren’t too keen on cleaning up after themselves.

Remember, this is a stressful time for an animal that has just been separated from the life they used to know, especially if they just left their litter mates and mom — that's really scary. So don’t be discouraged if your initial bond isn’t the romantic idea you had in your mind. Be patient with your dog or cat, and with yourself.

Children

Before bringing a dog or cat into a house with children, rules must be established and proper handling, petting, and personal space boundaries should be taught and practiced. There have been plenty of injuries sustained due to well-meaning children overestimating their strength and ability to keep an animal stable in their arms.

How to Introduce a Puppy or Adult Dog to Your Children

5 Lessons All Children Should be Taught About Living With Cats

Unfortunately, there have also been plenty of injuries sustained by children who haven't been taught how to approach an animal properly, or how to recognize when an animal wants to be left alone. Truth be told, adult humans need to be taught this lesson as well, so why not make this an exercise for the whole family!

dog body language infographic from the awesome Lili Chin cat body language infographic from the amazing Lili Chin
Click to download a copy of Lili Chin's fantastic infographic Click to download a copy of Lili Chin's fantastic infographic 

Learning how to read a dog or cat's body language is an incredibly useful tool regardless of it being your pet or someone else's, so may as well start early!

Places to Avoid Getting Your New Pet

  • Stay away from pet shops that sell cats and dogs! The puppies and kittens sold in pet stores come from puppy mills and disreputable sources more often than not.**
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Marketplace

**The only exception to this rule would be if the pet shop is featuring cats and dogs rescued from local shelters or rescue organizations.*

Online Pet Marketplace Red Flags You Should Run Away From

You can look at all of these places, but the odds are pretty slim of finding a healthy, well-socialized dog or cat . Rescues, shelters, and reputable breeders really are the places to go. And again, giving as much forethought, doing as much research as possible is crucially important.

How to Prepare for a New Pet During the Holidays

Having the right supplies to make your dog or cat comfortable in their new home is, of course, incredibly important, but the step that is probably even more important to take care of, is establishing the rules of the house, who is responsible for what, and making sure everyone in the household in on board and ready to abide. And of course, if you're doing this with kids, there's a whole other set of criteria that would make it "doing it right".

Free Worksheet Download: Establishing House Rules for a New Dog

Once you've established your house rules and everyone has agreed to taking ownership of their responsibilities, it's time to go shopping!

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Please take note: Some products are safer than others so make sure to do your research, and if you have a question, we have a lot of articles on our site to help steer you in the right direction. For example, don't even think about picking up a retractable leash.

Also keep in mind that the first product you buy may not be the one that sticks. For example, choosing the right litter box for your cat is really important, and so is having the right number of litter boxes. Cats can also be very picky about the type of litter they enjoy using, so you may want to experiment.

Get Your "Helpers" Lined Up Early

Since you're planning early and thinking about your post-holiday schedules, why not start looking around for a trustworthy sitter, or walker? Even if you don't need a kitty walker, having someone you can trust to check in on them, or stay with them when you eventually travel, will be great to have in place.

How to Find the Right Dog Walker

Finding a Boarding Facility or Pet Sitter for Dogs

Finding a Boarding Facility or Pet Sitter for Cats

And by that same token, if you don't have a trusted veterinarian yet, now may be a great time to start looking. Get referrals from friends, ask your neighbors on Nextdoor, or try your luck on Yelp.

Having a vet picked out before getting your new furry family member, and actually meeting that vet and their team, may be very beneficial, especially if they are open to talking about what type of pet might be best for your family situation and what things to consider. Especially if you're considering a pure breed, just to know what they might be at higher risk for. They may also know of rescues and breeders for you to consider and help narrow down your search.

Similarly, if you're getting a puppy, look into getting a trainer lined up for when they are ready for socialization classes. These trainers may be able to help you in the decision making process as well.

Adding a new pet to your life is a wonderful experience, and we hope that the resources we've shared will help make the process easier and less stressful for you and your family. Happy Holidays from all of us here at Preventive Vet!

New Puppy and Dog Quick Links

New Kitten and Cat Quick Links

Check Out Our 101 Tips Book Series

Topics: New Kitten, holiday pet safety tips, New Dog, new puppy

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.