Looking to fill your family's Christmas morning with some extra-furry magic? For years, the idea of presenting a floppy-eared puppy or a fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand kitten to children as a holiday surprise has been met with firm finger-wagging from the veterinary community.
"I don't generally advise giving pets as gifts," Susan Zohner, a veterinary technician, told POPSUGAR. "The holidays are usually pretty stressful for people, and they're stressful for pets, too. But these days, there are a few more exceptions where it might actually make sense."
Zohner, a parent herself (she's got two kids, three dogs, and two cats!), now works with Figo Pet Insurance and is passionate about families adopting animals in the safest of scenarios. With 18 years' experience and nearly a decade in emergency vet care, she outlined when it makes sense - and when it doesn't - to unveil a pet underneath the Christmas tree.
When It Makes Sense to Give Your Kids a Pet on Christmas
The pandemic has changed many people's professional lifestyles, particularly surrounding remote work. Now, many companies are permanently offering flexible hours and indefinite work-from-home options that make it more feasible for those considering a pet.
"With a lot of people in a lot of jobs that have transitioned to home and they're going to stay home, there is a good chance that people are going to be home more than they would've five years ago," Zohner said. "If that's your home and that's your family dynamic, where there are people consistently available during the day, that's a situation where the holidays may be a better time for you to get a pet."
What's more, she said parents - particularly those who have opted out of traveling this season - might find this time period better than others. Why? Often, parents take time off while their kids are without childcare or on holiday breaks from school and daycare.
"Their kids are on break, so there's more time," Zohner said. "Especially if you're not up for traveling this year, if you're going to be around, that's actually a pretty fabulous time to welcome a new family member because you have those two weeks to decompress and establish a routine."
When It Doesn't Make Sense to Give Your Kids a Pet on Christmas
If, however, traveling is going to be an aspect of your family's holiday season, it's best to hold off on debuting a pet.
"It's hard when you adopt something and then you've changed their environment, brought it home, changed their environment again, and then dropped them off to another strange environment," she said. "If it's going to be a busy time, it might be better to put it off until January."
Even if you plan to stay home but still anticipate a lot of hustle and bustle, it might be best to wait. "These animals that get introduced on Christmas morning . . . the lights and noise and people can be overstimulating."
She also noted that one of the most common emergency vet visits is trauma - namely animals being hit by cars. "When you have busy holiday gatherings and people are coming and going, the traffic of that front door opening and closing is dangerous, especially if you have kids who may not be the best about making sure to be aware of anything slipping out the door," she said. "That's a big issue when it comes to newly adopted pets. They are in an unfamiliar environment, they haven't had a chance to fully decompress, and now they have all this commotion at holiday gatherings. They are lot more likely to flee because they're stressed and scared and have no idea where they are. Cats are the biggest victims of this, but dogs are up there, too."
The same goes for another common emergency around the holidays: ingestions that lead to digestive issues. "A lot of these things aren't typically on people's radars because it's not what they normally have on hand," she said of dishes that incorporate raisins, for example, or chocolate-heavy desserts.
Also, during gatherings, parents aren't as aware of what table foods new pets are consuming, either because they've been unknowingly dropped or fed to animals by well-meaning children.
Alternatives to Giving Your Kids a Pet on Christmas
"Let's say you have a busy holiday season and you're not going to be home much, but you still want to give your kids a pet, you can get gifts in preparation for that new puppy or kitten," said Zohner, who often advises clients give their kids a how-to book on pets. "Get them something age-appropriate that they can read up on, that can drill in that sense of responsibility, and help them get a little bit more prepared."
She also suggests wrapping a collar, a leash, or some dog toys to get them excited for the eventual arrival of a furry family member. If you've already picked out the pet, you could give a framed picture, but just the knowledge of what's to come is usually enough for little ones.
"That's where a lot of parents' hearts are," Zohner said. "They want that big surprise, and they may not necessarily think of all the ramifications of that."