Personal Finance

The True Cost of Giving Pets as Gifts

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Holiday GiftsThere may not be anything cuter than a puppy, kitten, rabbit or even a guinea pig under the tree on Christmas morning.  With so many animals in need of good forever homes, you can adopt an animal from a shelter or rescue and do a good holiday deed, as well as give your child a new companion.

I really don’t mean to play Scrooge here, but as a parent who has been there, done that, and an animal rescue volunteer, it’s only fair to warn that pets given as gifts can easily turn into a nightmare if you aren’t fully prepared for the cost and time involved.

Our family fosters kittens and cats through two local rescues: the Sarasota County Humane Society and Mimi’s Rescue. The five adorable kittens we are taking care of right now (in the photo) were part of a litter of thirteen dumped by someone who decided they couldn’t care for them, and simply left them to fend for themselves.

Before you decide to adopt a pet for your child this holiday season, be sure you understand the long-term costs involved. Giving up an animal because you really don’t have the money (or time) to care for it can be heartbreaking for both your child and the animal.

Lori Krout, founder of warns, “It’s important to think beyond simply the cost of feeding a pet and occasional vet visits, and take a look at the bigger picture. Veterinary care is essential, and every pet deserves to be taken care of including regular annual visits, monthly heartworm prevention, flea and tick control and vaccines. Dental care is important and is expensive because dogs (and cats, too) need to be put under anesthesia to complete the cleaning process. It is also expensive to board your animals when you are away for weekend visits, work or vacation.” Her website offers a free selection quiz for choosing a dog to help prospective dog owners think through what dog may be the best fit for their family.

The ASPCA publishes a helpful chart that details the estimated annual cost of caring for various pets. Here are the total first year estimated costs (and based on my experiences, I think they are on the low side):

Small Dog: $1314

Large Dog; $1843

Cat: $1035

Guinea Pig: $705

Fish: $235

I am not trying to discourage anyone who is ready for the commitment of getting a pet from doing so. (I have 7 wonderful cats in my home you can choose from!) For every penny you spend, you get much more back in unconditional love. But I also don’t want to see more animals cycle in and out of shelters, or be abandoned on the streets.

Not sure you are ready to commit to a pet long-term? Volunteer as a foster. There are numerous rescue organizations across the country in need of good temporary homes for the animals in their care. Some will also supply food, though your donation there will be a big help, and should be tax deductible. I realize fostering is not for everyone. Many people tell me they could never give up an animal after taking care of it, but it’s a lot easier when you see the need and realize you’ve helped keep an animal safe while waiting for its forever home. Visit and search for foster opportunities or contact your local animal shelter.

Image: Gerri Detweiler

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