5 Things to Consider Before Putting a Pet Under Your Christmas Tree

For a while, you’ve been toying with the idea to get a puppy, and the little one is just out of the “crawl over and pull their fur” stage. Or maybe the family thinks a guinea pig is a great idea, so you are contemplating a big cage with a few rodents from Santa (sidebar: I’m pretty sure guinea pigs are mammals) to put under the tree Christmas morning.

It’s a lovely idea in theory. I live in a zoo, by plan. We share our house with one guinea pig, one bunny, one cat and one dog. The only reason we don’t have more furry friends running around is that my husband has a pretty strict rule about the animals not outnumbering humans.

I guess he has a point. But that cute little dachshund pup I fell in love with, and immediately named, a few years ago is still in my heart. If I ever see her again, I’m bringing her home. You complete me, Jenny Maguire Pup!

But I digress. I love animals; I believe a home with pets is a happy one, and I’ve enjoyed watching my two children bond with each of them in different ways. When my daughter’s anxiety is at a peak, she buries her beautiful face deep into our bunny’s soft fur. When my son has excess energy to burn, our dog Maddie is right there with her favorite fetching toy. She never minds a snuggle.

kidsmaddieThey come to the vet with me, to see what happens when one gets sick or needs a checkup. And when one of our cavies got sick and died, they were there too.

There are a lot of benefits to including a pet in your home, and the excitement of presenting it as a Christmas present is enticing. Unfortunately, every year animal shelters become overrun with the abandoned pets that seemed like a good idea at the time, but quickly became a burden. So before you choose to wrap kitty in a bow or put a puppy in a box, here are five things to consider.

Cost

If you are a budgeter, like me, then you already know to factor in more than just the initial cost of a pet. You may pay upfront for a license or cage, but there are also ongoing costs to consider. Putting the monthly costs aside (food or litter, for example), most animals need annual vaccinations and a veterinary checkup. This can run several hundred dollars per year. There is also additional wear on carpets and flooring, more cleaning products, and possible damage from scratching or chewing to consider. Finally, if you travel, you now have the added expense of either staying somewhere that is pet-friendly or boarding. I use a pet-sitter, and she’s great, but this added expense often means we take shorter trips.

You will also want to set aside funds for an emergency. Fun fact: did you know bunnies can carry a parasite that will cause their little heads to tilt? When aggravated, they can tilt so far they go into a roll they can’t stop. It can cause stress, illness, and injury. We learned this the hard way, and the treatment for our BB cost almost $500. Our dog tore her ACL once running to attack the door when a package was delivered (she’s more on the cute side and less on the smart side). Three surgeries and six months of her on bed rest later, we were out almost two grand. We consider pets a privilege, and luckily we squirreled away funds for animal emergencies, but that was a huge dent in our finances.

If you are already struggling financially, or if a major setback would put you in the red, please consider waiting to add a pet to your household. The Louisiana SPCA has volunteering and camp options that would still allow you and your children to spend time around animals, without bringing them home.

Time

Dogs require walks 1-2 times a day, or a large backyard and interactive exercise to keep them stimulated and healthy. Cats also need human playtime (no matter what their eyes say) and frequent litter changes. Even the ferret in the corner will demand you pay attention to it.

While it’s a nice idea to say “this is your pet and you will take care of it” in reality Mom and Dad may have to step in and assist. It also takes longer to clean a house with pets, and sometimes it’s a nasty job.

If you plan on getting a puppy for Christmas, factor in the time and energy to train them properly. Puppies are like toddlers who ate sugar all day then wiggled out of their diapers. I’m just saying.

Other Animals

One of the saddest sites at animal shelters is the number of older dogs and cats who didn’t fit in with a family’s new lifestyle. Older animals do not survive long in shelters, and it’s a sad and avoidable problem! If you are going to introduce a new animal to your house, please make sure he/she will get along with the animals that already live there. As much as I loved Jenny Maguire Pup, she would have attacked our bunny and sent her into a spiral. They can’t live together, and this was BB’s home first. So she takes priority. I’m not kicking my husband out of the house because our guinea pig Punch-Out prefers me. Yet.

Other Humans

If little Jane is allergic to cat dander, then her brother doesn’t get a kitten. It’s a tough rule, but it’s a no-brainer. If someone in the house is afraid of dogs to a point that cannot be reconciled, please don’t introduce a dog to the family. Ultimately, the human will win and that poor furry friend will have to find a new home. This isn’t fair for any party involved.

Please Adopt

If you are seriously considering a pet for Christmas, eliminate the surprise factor and head to your local shelter to choose the perfect pet for your family. Avoid puppy mills or chain pet stores, who often mistreat animals or get them from a source that bred irresponsibly. Consider local, reputable locations instead. Let everyone meet the new member of the household and, if it’s an option, bring them home for a trial run.

Congratulations on your New Pet!

While I didn’t focus on fish, lizards, snakes or rats I still believe the same considerations apply to them. Whether you’ve decided on a furry friend or a scaly one, having a pet can be a joyful and rewarding experience. But, like all experiences, there are additional factors beyond the initial awwww that should be considered.

Ultimately, if you are responsible and mindful, you will introduce more than just “a pet” to the house. You will gain a family member. One that sometimes sticks her nose where it shouldn’t go, or knocks your water off the table because you didn’t feed him. One that poops right by your door so you step on it first thing in the morning, or chews through your favorite shoes because the house is too quiet.

But also one that will cuddle next to you and stare at you as if you are the most important person in the world when you’ve had a bad day, and send your child into squeals of delight when they roll on the ground together in play.

catgabe

And, when they are too sick to play, they will lay right by your little one’s side so he doesn’t feel alone. That makes all the extra work worth it.

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Jen is an author and a member of the events coordinator team for New Orleans Mom. She divides her attention between books, friends, family, and Mardi Gras. When she’s not working, Jen enjoys being active and adventurous. She can be found walking at the park, taking yoga classes, and swinging Kettlebells around the city. She loves chats at coffee shops with a good friend and insists on having a family fun day at home once a week. Those days are for couch time, completing puzzles, or playing video games with her two kids, husband, and a variety of furry critters... plus the occasional frog.

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