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Pets as gifts: Nice sentiment, bad idea
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Since the holidays are a time of giving and love, many pet owners may feel compelled to give others the chance to have the love of a pet. While the sentiment is a good one, the idea is not.
"Pets take a commitment, and you can't make that commitment for someone else," explained Dr. Cory Langston, service chief of community practice at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Pet ownership involves a great deal of responsibility, and there are many issues to consider. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, adopting a pet means making a life-long commitment, which can easily be 10 to 15 years for a dog and up to 20 years for a cat.
"We see this all the time. People get a new pet and are excited about it, but then they get busy and the animal is ignored. This is a problem especially for dogs," Langston said. "They are very social and need interaction with humans. If they are ignored it can lead to behavior problems."
Young animals have a limited socialization time. During this time they will develop habits concerning their attitudes toward humans and other pets. Since the holidays are often hectic, this is not the best time to introduce a new pet into a household.
Whether a pet is social or a loner, all need proper care. Pet owners have many choices to make -- choices that require both time and money. Someone who receives a pet as a surprise gift does not have the time to make the best choices.
"There are financial issues to consider, because a pet will need shelter and care," Langston said. "We see pet owners who will spend thousands on the health of their pet and some who don't want to spend $25."
Young animals will need a series of three to five vaccinations. Even mature pets require annual veterinary care for parasite prevention, vaccinations to prevent diseases and screening for developing diseases. Spaying and neutering are vital to both the animal's health and to population control. Pets need a good diet, a comfortable shelter, and a constant supply of clean, fresh water. Flea and tick control are also important. All of these can be costly, and a burden for those who are not financially stable.
"Also, you should think about the age of the pet, and whether you would prefer an adult or a juvenile. Adult pets can be much more enjoyable for some people," Langston explained. "Everybody loves a puppy or kitten, but they can be very trying at times."
The breed of a dog is also an important issue, so research the breeds, whether you are choosing a purebred or not. Find out what mix of breeds a dog is likely to be.
"Some breeds are more intelligent and active and must have sufficient exercise," Langston said. "Long-haired breeds are going to require grooming to prevent or remove mats in their coat, while shorter-haired animals are less maintenance intensive."
Parents planning to add a pet to the family during the holiday season should consider these questions from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
- Why do you want a pet? Discuss likes and dislikes, and what everyone plans to do with the animal for the next 15 to 20 years.
- Who will do the work? No matter how mature a child is, adults will need to provide constant supervision and act as a back up for the pet's needs.
- What about all of the changes? Puppies need a lot of attention and training, and often chew anything within reach. Young animals have needle-sharp nails and milk teeth, which can unintentionally cause pain or damage.
Think before you adopt or give a pet to save all involved a lot of time and trouble.