Pets as Holiday Gifts: The Do's and Don'ts

by Michaela Gardner

We’ve all seen the commercials around the holidays of a child’s dreams coming true... that commercial where they come racing to the tree to find a giant box with a big red bow on top and a puppy inside. Commercials that glorify the giving of adorable baby animals as gifts, however, can be dangerous. Who wouldn’t want to see such a reaction on their child’s face when they find the pet you swore you’d never get waiting beneath the tree? As fantastic as this scenario may seem, there is another side to the practice of giving pets as gifts during the holidays. 

I have worked at PetSmart in Athens for almost a year and a half now, and I have seen my fair share of pets purchased on a whim. There is an exponential increase of these instances around the holidays. I know what you’re thinking—”here comes a lecture”—but hear me out. There are many things about pets as gifts that I had never considered before I started working at PetSmart. Guinea pigs, hamsters, bearded dragons, giant fish tanks and rabbits around Easter... these are all examples of pets that suffer due to impulse purchases. 

But fear not, for there ARE right and wrong ways to approach the gift giving season when it comes to animals. To break it down, here is a list of do’s and don’ts to abide by when deciding whether or not a pet is the perfect holiday gift to give this year:



  • plenty of research
  • assess your living situation, and choose a pet best suited to it 
  • add up initial, monthly and annual costs of the pet you are considering 
  • sit down with children and have a serious discussion about the care involved 
  • consult with pet care professionals to seek guidance when deciding which pet is right for you
  • consider adopting your new pet from a shelter!



  • make an impulsive decision 
  • cut corners while stocking up on supplies
  • gift a pet to a child without discussing it with their parents and/or entire family first
  • surrender senior dogs or cats to the shelter in order to make room for a new puppy or kitten
  • purchase pets from flea markets, people’s yards or anywhere else that appears to be selling unhealthy animals (and beware of backyard breeders)


There are few things more joyous than bringing a new pet home. What better time than the holidays to build on that joy? In no way do I wish to discourage anyone from experiencing the happiness that pets bring. Instead, my goal is to educate, and I cannot stress the importance of research. This is going to be the first step, regardless of the pet you are interested in, from puppy to parakeet. No one wants to make an impulsive decision only to get home and realize the puppy they just purchased will grow to be over a hundred pounds, is full of energy, and probably isn’t suited for a studio apartment in the middle of the city. 

Another common misconception I have witnessed at PetSmart is that customers walk in under the impression that they can purchase a new Guinea pig with all the supplies for less than $100. Before you commit, put together a shopping list of the supplies you will need for whatever pet you desire, and browse the internet or local pet stores for prices on each item. From there, evaluate which of those are start-up costs and which will be weekly or monthly costs, and compare this to your budget. Take the opportunity to continue evaluating which pets will and will not suit your lifestyle. 

Another issue we commonly see at PetSmart is returned pets because the child (and oftentimes college-aged young adults) did not realize what all was going to be involved in daily and weekly maintenance for their pet. This is where I stress to parents to sit down and have a grown-up discussion that once Santa brings them that hamster, it’s up to them to take care of it every day. Prepare calendars and checklists for them so that they’re ready for the responsibility. 

If you are still unsure of what pet is right for your family, discuss your options with pet care professionals. I encourage these discussions and quite enjoy them, because at the end of the day, my biggest goal is for the animals and the customers to be happy with the decision made. Be honest and upfront with us, and we will definitely be able to match you with a suitable pet. 

And finally, I encourage everyone to consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. Not only can you find dogs and cats, but Guinea pigs and rabbits oftentimes find their way into shelters because people don’t realize initially how intensive their care can be. One of the many benefits of adopting from shelters is that your initial costs are minimized greatly, as adoption fees typically include full vetting: spay/neuter, vaccinations and a microchip! By adopting from a shelter during the holiday season, not only is your family receiving a gift, but you are giving the gift of life to an animal that deserves a second chance.