It’s the week after the holidays. You received everything you wanted this year… and then some. A well-meaning relative decided that you needed a new pet in your life and gave you one as a gift. What are you going to do now?
Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that whether or not you decide to keep the pet, you have a few options.
“It is never a good idea to give a pet as a surprise gift,” notes Stickney. “There is no such thing as a ‘free’ animal. Proper care of a pet requires a lot of time and resources, which the receiver of the pet may not be able to spare.”
If you find yourself the surprise recipient of an unwanted pet, do not panic or do anything drastic, such as turning the animal loose. This can cause problems for not only the animal, but also for any people who find the animal.
“Never turn the pet loose,” states Stickney. “The weather can be very unfriendly to abandoned animals, especially during the winter. In addition to freezing or becoming ill, they may be hit by a car, starve, or be attacked by other animals. Pets are not accustomed to finding their own food or shelter, so turning them loose is usually a death sentence.”
Rather than turning your predicament into somebody else’s problem, try giving the pet back to the giver. If he or she can return the pet, then the situation is out of your hands. If that fails, however, another option is to take the pet to an animal shelter. Adoptions tend to be higher during the holidays, especially for puppies.
If, however, you are too worried about the fate of the animal to leave it at a shelter, you can still find it a suitable home if you have the time and patience. Fostering is a big responsibility, but it can be very rewarding once you place your pet in the perfect home.
If you decide to foster the gift pet until a home is found, there are several different avenues you can go through to locate that home.
“You can post an ad online,” says Stickney. “Petfinder.com is one site that allows the public to post animals that need homes. If the animal is a purebred, you can also ask breed-specific groups if they will post the animal for you on their site as a courtesy listing. Additionally, there is the Craigslist pet section, but be careful when meeting people or when giving your pet over to them. You never know who is on Craigslist.”
Keep in mind if fostering a young pet that it will need vaccinations and socialization. You may potentially keep the animal for a month or more while a home is located, and you will need to make sure that you stay up to date on its puppy or kitten shots. It will need at least three series of vaccines and deworming; these usually take place at six weeks, nine weeks and twelve weeks. If it is to be spayed or neutered, this should be done before six months.
“The first three months are very important for socialization,” explains Stickney. “Puppies need to be safely exposed to new stimuli, such as people and other friendly animals, so that they will be better adjusted and less fearful adults. A well-trained dog is a happier and more relaxed individual.”
If you decide that you would like to keep the gift pet, there are several things that you will need to do. Keep in mind when deciding to keep the “free” puppy or kitten that the first five months can cost up to $500 in expenses. Flea and heartworm preventative, the latter of which is especially necessary in the south, are additional costs.
“Before you bring a puppy home,” says Dr. Stickney, “there are a few things you will need to purchase. These include food and water bowls, puppy food, appropriate chew items such as a small rawhide or squeak toy, and a crate for house breaking and for providing the dog its own area. A kitten will also need food and water bowls, kitten food, and a litter box, particularly one with low sides for a smaller kitten.”
If you have existing pets, you will need to slowly introduce the new pet to them. You will also need to take the new pet to a veterinarian within a week for a physical examination and to get it dewormed and vaccinated.
“Puppies and kittens come with their own unique warnings,” adds Stickney, “especially around the holidays. Be prepared for some destruction and messiness. If you have guests visiting, be sure to alert them to the presence of the puppy or kitten so that they do not accidently step on or sit on your new friend. Also watch that your pet does not climb underneath furniture, like recliners, where it can be squished.”
Additionally, kittens may try to climb Christmas trees or swat ornaments. They, and puppies, may chew on tinsel. If tinsel is accidently swallowed, it could require an emergency surgery. Puppies may gnaw on electrical cords, causing a severe shock. They may also try to get into treats such as dark chocolate, which will make them very sick.
Providing a new home for a pet can be a big commitment, so pet ownership should never be an unexpected gift. An unwelcome pet needs to be cared for until a suitable solution is reached and should never be dumped to fend for itself. Do your research, and if you decide that you have the resources to take in a lucky kitten or puppy this holiday season, make sure to provide for all of its needs so that it can grow into a healthy adult companion.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.