With a little bit of active considered planning and an acknowledgement of the commitment required to care for one, pets can be a wonderful gift to give your family. Before buying a pet, remember that its not all about those cutsie, fluffy kittens and puppies you see in commercials. Sure, that can be part of it, buts its like a marriage, there are swings and roundabouts. Having a pet is a serious responsibility so before surprising the family with a new pet, consider the following.

Age of the recipient
A 4 year old child pleading for a kitten or puppy, is doing so because of a tv ad. They do not understand the responsibility. Kittens and puppies poop, need constant care and attention, have medical expenses, pine, chew things up, they bite. You don’t get to take a day off because you are over it. Understand, if you are considering buying a kitten or puppy for a person of this age…. you are really buying it for YOU as YOU are going to be the one caring for it. For a young child, consider a mouse, a hamster, a guinea pig or the like

Is your pet present going to be happily received?
Do your kids really want a pet? Contrary to popular belief, every little boy does not want or need a dog. Just because your little one enjoys playing with Grandma’s poodle does not mean he’s ready or even wants to take on full-time care of a poodle himself. If Johnny is pleading for a puppy, perhaps ask a neighbour who has a dog, if Johnny can come around and pick the dog poo up off the lawn every day for a week? Or spend an hour washing and combing a dog with a coat full of prickles, and something odoriferous they have recently rolled in? You’ll soon find out, how much your child wants a dog when faced with the care requirements.

Have you checked your budget?
$800 for a puppy is a lot isn’t it? If you think it is, remember that food bills for a medium sized dog may be more than that per year. Then there is vaccinations, registration, cost of replacing chewed shoes. Then there is unexpected vet bills if your pet gets sick or is injured – these can run into the thousands.

How committed are you and the recipient of the pet present.
If you buy an item of clothing on a whim, it goes in the closet to be forgotton. Buying a pet however, is a commitment to care for it for the duration of its life. In sickness and in health. Is the recipient a teen? Dogs usually live for 12-15 years, cats often even longer. A parrot can live 100 years! You’ll likely end up caring for their pet, long after the teen themselves has grown up and flown the coop

Simple things like a weekend away means finding a carer for your pet, placing it in care or finding some suitable pet friendly accommodation. Many landlords will not let you have a pet, so being a renting pet owner can be very tricky.

What else may eventuate?
A lot. Dogs and cats invariably will vomit inside at some point, or urinate or defecate somewhere inappropriate. Flea infestations, cats will scratch furniture. (Editor – I once went away for the weekend and left my house, cat, and dog in the care of a house sitter. house sitter “lost” my cat, which had strayed into my bedroom, the door of which blew shut. Exit my cat two days later, and a room full of cat urine, faeces, and endless damaged. My dog pined, and ate my favourite lounge chair. Yes, that’s right. He ATE it.)You may get a dog that is lovely to you are yours, but which wants to kill any other animal and chase the milkman. Your dog may wish to bark all night, and all day as well.

OK. Well let’s buy that Pet as a Present anyway
OK, so you’ve read all the way through this article, and are still planning on going ahead with the pet present purchase. Couple of tips.

a. Don’t wrap them. They will probably die.
b. Don’t tie them up under the Christmas tree. They’ll probably be scared, and will poop and wee on the other presents and carpet, as well as chew up the Christmas lights. Nothing worse than the kids running down stairs to an electrocuted pet on Chrismas day.
I appreciate it takes a little but of the fun and romance out of it, but a gift voucher from the pet shop if a rodent style pet is desired, or from a registered breeder, if a dog or cat is desired, may well be the way to go. Then the new owner can play a role in choosing their pet as well.

Bringing Home Your New Family Member
Before you go pick up your new pet, get your family involved in deciding what type, size and breed of animal you’d consider. Research the likely temperament of your pet. Remember, even within pet types, there are vast differences between different breeds.
Once you’ve got an idea what you’re looking for, where should you go? If you are after a pedigreed animal, track down a breed association(plenty listed in the links section of this site) and find a breeder near you. If you are less fussy about your pet’s genetic credentials, try a pet shelter. Each year, millions of abandoned pets go to the great big farm in the sky because of pet owners who no longer want them. By adopting a pound pet, you give it another shot at life.
There are other great reasons for going to a shelter. The cost is low, and there are often discounts on spaying and neutering Many will have good selection of pets and knowledgeable staff to make sure you’re getting the right animal for your family.

When you’ve done it right, your child will likely end up with a long-time friend and companion.

Age-appropriateness of Pets
Under 3 – If you’ve got pets, introduce your babies to them, and your pets to them, but don’t get children this young pets of their own.
3 to 10 – Rodents are best. Mice, guinea pigs etc. They are easy to care for, don’t require daily feeding/watering/walking/brushing. They are cheap to look after, will often be happy to be handled….. and I know it’s a little heartless…. but they are relatively short lived so if you find out a pet is not for you and your family….. you don’t need to keep caring for your rodent for more than a few years. Young children can feed and water them, bring them vegetable treats etc,
Consider an aquarium as well, fish are wonderful pets though the joy is in watching their behaviour, no fish is going to enjoy a cuddle. Light on care requirements, but tank water does need changing at least every week.
10 to 13 – At this age, a child is mature enough to manage looking after a cat or dog and taking on the many tasks that come with such a pet, feeding, walking, brushing, training etc I’d look at short haired breeds that require infrequent brushing(Editor – though these will likely shed more) Rabbits now also come into the equation. Remember, you are still in charge, kids will still forget to feed a pet at this age, and to check their pet has water.
14 to 17 -A difficult age for pet present buying. Many children leave home soon after this period…. and cannot take their pet with them. Also, often they are very busy with activities and school. If buying a pet for the first time now for a child this age consider an aquarium or an aviary. There is some work involved, but nothing like that required for the care of four legged pets.