Yes, It’s Okay to Give Pets as Gifts

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 11:30am
adoptable dog

By ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker

For years, puppies and kittens have been given as presents for birthdays, holidays, or just as gestures of love. But some shelters, breeders, and more than a few writers frown on the tradition under the unsubstantiated suspicion that someone surprised with such a gift is ill-suited to care for it. The fear is that the animal will be returned like an ugly sweater, or worse, face neglect or abuse.

It’s a frightening thought, but given a number research findings, some as recent as October, the fear is not based in reality. There’s just no proof that giving animals as gifts is not in their best interest. This misconception may not only prevent the movement of shelter animals to potentially loving homes, but also drive potential adopters toward unscrupulous and inhumane sources for pets including pet stores that almost always get their inventory from puppy mills.

In a scientific study conducted earlier this year and published in October, the ASPCA found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts reported it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. Also, 86 percent of the pets in the study are still in the home, a number roughly equivalent with the percentage of pets retained following a routine adoption.

The survey further revealed no difference in attachment based on whether the gift was a surprise or known in advance. This supports previous studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000, which also found that pets acquired as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired directly by an individual owner.

ASPCA Vice President of Shelter Research and Development Dr. Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist who authored some of that research, blogged about the findings:

“Every couple of months, the ‘no pets as gifts’ myth raises its ugly head,” Weiss writes. “Christmas is coming up, birthdays are every day, and dogs and cats in some shelters around the country are missing chances at homes, so it’s time to put this myth to bed.”

Knowing that pet gifting isn’t inherently wrong doesn’t mean you should give a pet to anyone. Pets should only be given as gifts to people with the ability, means and available time to care for one responsibly, and to children under 12 only if parents are ready to take on full responsibility. To help with the transition, Weiss recommends delivering a “starter kit”—bowls, food, toys, a collar, an ID tag, or litter—with the new pet, and encouraging new owners to get their pets licensed.

Also, make sure only to get pets from shelters and responsible breeders, not from pet stores or internet sources.

Concern about animal welfare comes from a good place, but too much fear and not enough information can stand in the way of a life-saving match. Find adoptable pets in your area by visiting and searching for the shelter or rescue group nearest you.

And know, yes, they can make wonderful gifts.




I agree pets are living beings they do deserve a gift as well as humans do.


Seasons greeting Laurie,

I was completely wrapped up in all the opinions regarding pets as gifts. It truly concerns me that so many believe in giving pets as gifts. The gesture alone is a wonderful thought. However not everyone sees the entire picture, and for some, the "novelty" does wear-off. That is not a bad thing, however, this is the reason we need to be the voice of all these animals. They have no idea why they are caged, tied up outside, dropped off anywhere, abused, or best of all loved, talked to, hugged, kissed, etc.. it goes on and on.
If the act of Gift giving appeals to any one, then if they properly discuss it and it is agreed between the giver and receiver, then YES it is a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately, way too many people go about this incorrectly.
I could never give a pet as a gift. I see each and everyone of my own pets as children , they are family to our whole family . My dogs all think they are human and belong and are included in everything we do each and everyday. It is a beautiful vision. So, like you , if I had to make the decision , of course, NO they are not to be "gifted" to others. So many of us do not see the harm. I donate much of my spare time in shelters and screening others considering pets, dogs, cats birds, lizards, it goes on and on. I always make it a point to advised those unsure of adopting or gifting an animal. They are a gift to our world just as we would welcome a child. They breathe, like us, they love, touch, feel , most of all, they have hearts they too get sad, happy, and they also can feel pain, they do not understand when they are abandoned , or beaten, or locked up or locked out. They bleed and heal. But most of all, they don't ever understand why and that's where gifting them, is unacceptable. This happens way too often and I see it more than I ever wanted to. On a good note, I have had people light-up and realize, WOW, this is not a good idea. Others , may shed a tear of happiness and make adopt and have a life long new family member. I truly believe deep in my heart the people need to choose their pet themselves, and wait for the feeling , a connection, at the end of a day like that. I go home and hug my own, bathe , feed them ,love them ,keep them warm, cool , dry, etc...and I can sleep well. Knowing that I had an impact on someone's decision in the best way. Pet adoption and even fostering is truly a rewarding heart warming experience ,.If that can happen at either shelter , at least once a week, then I've helped them all. It isn't always a happy ending, and that's where it hurts deeply. Most usually make the correct decision for themselves and they pet in question. We cannot save everyone , but at least I know we've all done our part.

Laurie, thank you for being you, a voice for them too , just passing on the THANK YOU , that was given to me , Have a pet filled happy new year too.



I agree. Got my little brother a cat for Christmas and he has never loved it more. Been a full year and he's learned so much from her and has been something we have all learned from. We just needed a right time to give him one and it wasn't a gift, it was a companion.


I will be giving my donations to a different animal welfare organization this year.


why? how is that going to make you feel any better knowing that you chose a different set of being to care for? that you rejected the animals in the SPCA?


Why? Because the results of studies weren't what you wanted?


Alesia, I am inclined to agree. I may be giving my donations to a different animal welfare organization this coming year.

All my pets are adopted and a greater percent are also special needs. Over the years 6 of 9 of my rescues have come from MSPCA (MA ASPCA). Some of them I adopted because they were received as a gift and then the recipient "lost interest" very quickly so they were put up for adoption. In one instance - they were looking to re-gift this animal on Freecycle, no less, for Xmas. And I have to say... unfortunately... this instance is not an exception.

This "study" needs to be looked at more closely. I would like to know more about the exact study; criteria evaluated; parameters and results, as well as how the conclusions were arrived at.

From what I was able to evaluate this is arrived at based solely on "animals given as gifts" (A VERY broad parameter). I am not seeing information on other specifics such as: Impulse/last minute purchase? Purchased the day before? Proper evaluation on ability to support AND house the pet? ETC... ETC...

I applaud those shop owners willing to forgo "profits" late in the holiday season... in an effort to protect the well-being of their charges. Unfortunately, due to this announcement, those willing to take that stand will endure more than their fair share of "criticism".

I must state AGAIN... I will ALWAYS stand on the side of those… willing to stand to protect the weaker; those without a voice; and those who rely on us to protect them, be they animal or human. Should those actions inconvenience those seeking immediate gratification... so be it.

I would think that the preferred message of the ASPCA would be modeling the behavior of acquiring a companion animal in a way that puts the needs of another before our own. Is that not a better message?

I personally only purchase from a pet store that has restrictions around purchasing and adopting too close to the holiday. I support them in their (and my) convictions around protecting the animals - first.

There are very good ways to educate around adoption – is this really the line (message) that needed to be drawn?


You obviously didn't read the studies. You can't "read into" it by skimming a summary not even from the original manuscript. You didn't see specifics because you didn't read any of them. And putting quotation marks around the word "study" to insinuate it was invalid shows bias on your part (and is laughable given you didn't even read them).
They gave links for you to research the studies that were carried out and you can easily go to search engines that bring up articles with original research from academic journals. They use actual math not just crap based on absolutely nothing, but your opinion. Everyone here giving anecdotal examples and going on what they think would be right are only doing animals harm. They clearly showed that your opinion is not a correct one. It's that simple.


Giving pets as a present is approrpriate in certain situations. Animal-loving parents giving their kid a puppy? Hell yes! My friend and his wife just brought both their daughters to the local shelter to each pick out a kitten. They, along with the vaccines and necessary equipment at home, were a Christmas gift. But the girls took responsibility for their pets because they were included in the decision, and the parents are willing to help provide care in the event the girls aren't responsible enough.

But...A clingy partner giving a pet to a girlfriend/boyfriend who isn't ready to care for something together is another matter. It's my belief that the giver should be willing and able to provide for the animal in the event that the pairing doesn't work. Animals are not disposable or trendy. They are living beings that we make a committment to when we sign the paperwork, or bring in a stray. We make adjustments and care of them.

I gave my dad a cat for Christmas when I was a teenager, but she never bonded with him. She followed me around the house and slept on my back throughout her kitten days. I think it's because I am the one who saved her from the shelter life. When I moved to college, she came with me. I never lived in student housing and always found pet-friendly rentals so that she was always taken care of...and at 32 years old, I still have the old lady.


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