It’s a classic scene. The kids creep downstairs on Christmas morning to discover a new furry friend. Under the tree, there’s a fluffy puppy with a ribbon around its neck. In that moment, the whole family is thrilled with this new companion.
Within a few weeks, though, the novelty has worn off. The kids are no longer interested in pet care. Those tasks get piled onto a parent’s already-full plate.
Owning a pet offers some good health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to decreasing stress and even preventing some types of illness.
But before you decide to gift a pet this holiday season, consider the full scope of what’s involved. Weighing the responsibilities and the benefits of pet ownership can help you make an informed decision about adding a new animal to your home (or someone else’s).
Responsibilities of Pet Ownership
Long after the tree comes down and the cookie crumbs get swept away, your family will still be caring for your new pet. Taking care of an animal requires a significant investment of time and money.
Food and Water
Animals are living creatures. For health and nutrition, they need daily food and water. You may need to consult the vet about the best diet for your animal and breed.
Even when you go out of town, your pet will still need to eat and drink. You might need to hire a pet sitter or board your animals at a kennel.
Walks and Play
Pets require daily attention beyond food and water. Many animals are social. Companionship is one of their primary benefits to us, too. They want you to pet and play with them.
Exercise can be important as well. Many dogs, for instance, need daily walks. They may enjoy running and playing with you in the backyard as well.
Veterinary Care and Grooming
With most pets, your attention alone is not enough. Animals also need professional care.
A veterinarian provides checkups, vaccines and routine prescriptions. Young animals usually go to the vet several times during the first year. Older animals require annual checkups. There may also be times when you have to schedule an extra appointment because of illness or injury.
Some animals need to visit professional groomers, too. Pet salons give haircuts, baths and nail trims. Other services include cleaning ears or expressing anal glands.
When you own an animal, you always have to keep health and safety in mind. That means looking out for your pet and your family members.
Children must be taught how to be gentle with a pet. That includes not teasing an animal or trying to take its toys. Young children should always be supervised around animals.
Even as children get a bit older, they still need supervision. Kids ages 5 to 9 are the most likely group to be bitten by an animal.
Pets can also introduce new germs to your family. If you have kids under 5, don’t add reptiles, amphibians or poultry to your home. Young children are particularly susceptible to the germs those animals may carry. Pregnant women need to be careful around cats and litter boxes.
No matter what type of pet you have, frequent hand washing is important. You and your family members should get in the habit of washing up anytime you touch your pet, its food or its gear.
Many rentals have rules against pet ownership. Before gifting a pet to another household, make sure they can keep pets at their place.
Even for homeowners, it’s worth evaluating whether your house is ready for a pet. Some animals need a lot of room to roam, so a large backyard is a must. Fences can be helpful, too, or even required depending on your city’s laws about pets.
Indoor animals can also put wear and tear on your house. They may have accidents on the floor or scratch your furniture.
The many responsibilities of pet ownership come with costs. Getting started with an animal can be particularly expensive. For instance, you may need a kennel or a cage before you can bring your new pet home. You’ll also need leashes, food bowls and/or litter boxes right away.
Don’t forget to factor pet food into your weekly budget. Toys and prescriptions, like flea prevention medicine, add up over time as well.
You should also plan ahead for large costs, such as unexpected vet bills or property damage. If your cat scratches up your couch, for example, you may end up having to replace it.
Benefits of Owning a Pet
Although pets demand a lot of responsibility, there are many good reasons to bring an animal companion into your home. And for you and your family, the benefits may outweigh the work and cost of pet ownership.
Yes, pet care involves many tasks. There are two ways to look at that. You could consider it a chore, or you could think of it as a way to build responsibility.
That can be especially beneficial for kids. By feeding, walking and cleaning up after a pet, children learn how to care for another living being.
Your child’s share of the responsibility should vary by age. Kids younger than 5 aren’t really ready for pet care. Those between 5 and 9 years old can assist with tasks like feeding and brushing an animal. Kids 10 and up may be ready to take on the lion’s share of daily care, including walks around the block.
Playing with a pet can get you up and moving. Taking your dog for a walk or playing fetch in your backyard will raise your heart rate and stretch your muscles.
Horses are great for fitness, too. Research shows that horse owners get even more physical activity than dog owners.
For anyone feeling lonely or depressed, a pet offers valuable friendship. Many people feel unconditional love from their pets. Cuddling with a dog or a cat brings comfort and lowers stress levels.
Seniors who live alone may especially appreciate an animal’s companionship. Taking care of an animal can provide a sense of purpose. Also, some people feel safer with a dog in the house.
Kids often turn to their pets when they have secrets to share or problems to discuss. Young students may enjoy reading aloud to a furry friend.
An animal’s friendship is good, but human friendship can be even better. Fortunately, having a pet may help you make new friends.
Pets make great icebreakers in the right scenarios. As you walk your dog around the neighborhood, others may ask to pet your pup. That can lead to conversations and growing friendships. At the dog park, you might chat with other pet owners while your animals play.
Kids sometimes need help making friends, too. Talking about pets gives them a good place to start.
Spending time with animals can also be good for your body. You’ll get more frequent exercise from playing with and walking animals. Pets can also help boost your mental and emotional health as well.
Whatever the reason, research shows a clear benefit to pet ownership. Pets are associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Owning an animal may help bring down your triglyceride levels, too.
These physical benefits can be especially helpful for people with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and fibromyalgia.
After considering pet ownership from all angles, you’ll be ready to decide whether an animal should be on your holiday gift list. You may find that an animal companion is, indeed, the perfect present for your loved one.