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Vet Speak: Don't rush into any reckless decisions this Christmastime

By Alison Laurie-Chalmers

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A pet is not just for Christmas, so bear that in mind.
A pet is not just for Christmas, so bear that in mind.

Roly was just eight weeks old. He was a beautiful Labrador puppy, bought as a Christmas present and brought into a new home at Christmastime.

Poor wee Roly was terrified of all the new faces, the constant handling, and the noise and all the commotion around him. He quickly ran off to try to find a safe, quiet place. Roly was eventually found curled up, hiding in a corner among all the presents underneath the Christmas tree. Shaking and petrified of all the strange noises, new faces and smells, he did not want to be retrieved from his “safe” spot. He was traumatised, very scared, and protecting himself, he snapped when he was touched. Worryingly, Roly also did not feel like eating, he now just wanted to feel safe again with his mother and all his other siblings. It would take some time to finally coax him out and to settle him into his new home now.

It used to be common to buy pets for children and the family at Christmastime. Bringing a new pet addition into the home late on Christmas Eve night and presenting them to excited children on Christmas morning. For the child, it would be hard to imagine a more thrilling gift. However, the fact of the matter is, for the new pet itself, like Roly, this was sadly no fun at all, and certainly not the way to introduce a young, vulnerable puppy into the household. It did take some time and patience to settle Roly into his new home thereafter.

Sadly, Pet Rescue homes and shelters receive thousands of unwanted and abandoned animals each year, and these are often a result of an ill-considered decision around this time of year.

Introducing a new pet into the home can be incredibly stressful for any young puppy or kitten, or indeed any adult rescued pet. It is advised to do this calmly, gently, gradually introducing the new pet to family members and other pets over time.

It is also highly irresponsible to simply carry home a puppy and a couple of tins of food and then present this new pet to the children, without first spending time talking to them about caring for them.

The hustle and bustle of a home at Christmastime, and with New Year ahead, is not the appropriate environment into which to bring a new pet. It is not a good idea to buy or adopt a pet at any time when you know there is going to be any potential significant change made to the household routine, before the animal has had a chance to calmly settle in fully.

Also, if your children are really wanting a new pet, or you are considering one, do not rush into it. It takes time to learn about pet ownership and make an informed decision as to whether this new pet addition is actually a good idea for your household and extended family. Take the time to learn the things you will need to know, do your own research, and educate your children on how to gently deal with any new pet as a family addition. Taking time to do this is advised and gives you the chance to determine if your child really is committed to the idea of owning and helping to take care of a new pet, or if their interest is just a passing phase.

Puppies and kittens require a lot of time and attention when growing up, especially in those early, important months, the absence of this initial dedication and adequate health care can result in long-term behavioural and health problems. It is advisable before considering acquiring a puppy or kitten, as a responsible future pet owner, to research your planned pet and breed carefully and on how to care for your pet, particularly if you are a first-time owner. Also, think about the requirements, commitment, time, and the costs required to adequately care for a young puppy or kitten well, and looking beyond this to their long-term care with yourselves ahead into their older years, when they are likely to need some veterinary care. Any pet taken in your home is: “For life, ... not just for Christmas”. Pet ownership is a responsibility, not for the short term, not for the “wow” factor, and most certainly not as a surrogate “toy”. It is a commitment and a responsibility for the lifetime of that precious pet.

As the pet’s owners you will be committed to providing for all the essential requirements such as: food, adequate exercise, housing, training, enrichment, grooming, holiday care, and the costs of their regular preventative and required veterinary care and pet insurance. It is essential to thoroughly research the basics of good pet care before acquiring one. Call your vet for professional advice on caring for any new pet and the vaccinations they’ll need.

Alison Laurie-Chalmers is senior consultant, at Crown Vets.

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