Pros, cons, and tips for those who insist on putting a new family member under the tree.
The image of a smiling child lifting a wiggly puppy from a box on Christmas morning is an iconic one. Those of us who love animals know that nothing can bring greater joy than an adorable kitten or puppy, but experts agree that Christmas morning may be the worst time to introduce a new pet.
For one thing, a pet under the tree will have a lot of competition. It’s not likely that the child will just get that new pet, after all. The adorable puppy and kitten may have to complete with a video game system or a bike. And even if the new pet is the child’s favorite gift, a trip to grandma’s house later in the day may find the new addition left alone in a crate or a dark room, lonely, confused, and afraid.
A far better option is a bowl, a leash, and a picture of the pet still safe and sound at the home of the responsible breeder holding it until after Christmas when things calm down and the family has time to prepare to bring it home to a pet-proofed home. This also gives parents time to talk to kids about the responsibilities of having a pet, what their role in cleaning up after and feeding their new playmate.
Of course, not everyone will wait. And whether you bring your new friend home on Christmas morning or afterward, these tips can make the new arrival easier.
Prepare in Advance
Bringing home a kitten or a puppy is a lot like bringing home a toddler. It’ll be a lot less stressful if you already have a safe environment. Crawl around the house for a pup’s-eye view of potential hazards, especially if this is the first pet. Research houseplants and get rid of any that are toxic to pets. Secure and cover electrical cords. If your pet has not had all its vaccinations, make your vet appointment ahead of time to get to the vet as soon after Christmas as possible. Same with a trainer, unless your pet is a cat. If it’s a cat, just prepare to have it train you.
Speaking of training, if you have children, it is imperative that you set rules on how to handle a new pet. Even if you already have a cat or a dog, the idea of a one small enough to tote around can be enticing to a child, but children should be taught how to hold a pet properly, and should not be allowed to pick it up without supervision.
Be Mindful of Other Pets
If the new puppy or kitten is joining other pets, supervise interaction carefully. This is especially important if you have an adult dog and are introducing a new kitten or puppy. There’s always a tendency to be anthropomorphic with our animals and to think that they’ll be instant friends. But ignoring the high prey drive or natural aggression in a dog or thinking it will magically go away in the company of another pet can lead to tragedy. If your dog is not good with other dogs at the dog park, or chases cats in the neighborhood, bringing a kitten or puppy into the house will not change its nature. In such cases, you may want to consider adopting an older animal that can hold its own and taking your existing pet to meet the potential newcomer in a neutral setting to gauge reactions before bringing it home for the holidays.
Even if your dog is easygoing and takes to the new arrival, remember that puppies and kittens can be exhausting to an older animal. Give your older animal a break from the baby, and also give him or her lots of attention to avoid jealousy.
Also, remember that introducing cats is much different than introducing dogs. Don’t just throw cats together. Introductions are best made slowly. Put the new kitten or cat in a room and let the existing cat sniff at it from under the door. Rubbing a sock on the kitten and putting it with the existing cat and vice-versa can help them get used to one another’s smell. This “scent-swapping” is a great way to make the transition easier. You can still expect some hissing and spitting, but all should go well if you take your time.
Make this Holiday a Staycation
Take the time to acclimate your pet. It’s tempting to travel over the holiday, but the risks of an unvaccinated, young animal picking up a dangerous illness are greater if you travel before it’s had all its shots. Also, a puppy, kitten, or adult animal that’s just undergone the life-altering change of coming to a new home needs a safe, quiet period to establish its new territory and get comfortable. So send your regards to family and friends and plan to skip a party or two so you can be home with the new baby.
Prepare for Going Back to Work
Whether your new pet came home on Christmas morning or afterward, at some point you’ll have to go back to work. If training, doggy daycare, or a dog walker is in your long-range plan, this is the time to start getting referrals. And even if you don’t plan on traveling, it’s a good idea to get pet sitter referrals if you don’t have anyone who can come in and care for your pet should you have to leave home on an emergency.
A Word about Other Pets
Of course, we know that cats and dogs aren’t the only pets. Hedgehogs, ferrets, birds, and reptiles, and fish will be joining families this holiday season, too. And while their needs will be different than Fluffy or Fido, preparation is still key.
Regardless of what pet you pick, one thing is for sure. The new addition will make your season brighter than you can imagine, so on behalf of All Critters Pet Care, welcome to the family!
By Victoria Rouch