It’s always a good idea to think twice before giving a pet as a gift for someone else to be responsible for. Animals, like humans, require love and proper care to flourish. It’s important that the person receiving the pet wants that particular animal and is willing and able to give it a lifetime of proper care (even 10 to 20 years down the road).

While most unwanted gifts can be returned with a receipt for cash or store credit, returning a pet often means abandoning it at a local animal shelter. While pet adoptions tick up before the holidays, in January and February many shelters see increases in surrenders as families drop off unwanted animals. While the thought of someone waking up to find a kitten or puppy underneath the Christmas tree with a bright red bow around their neck seems like a picture-perfect gift, here are a few things to consider:

  1. If you give friends and family a pet as a gift, never do so as a surprise. Not everyone has the time, energy, money or emotional investment needed in maintaining a happy, healthy pet. Other potential issues include potential pet-related allergies and legal terms in apartment leases or homeowner association agreements. While a surprise may feel more festive, there will still be excitement when the recipient meets their new pet for the first time and is well prepared to accept the pet ownership responsibilities.
  2. Consider bringing the recipient along to scout out their perfect pet, and pay the pet’s adoption fee in advance. Once you are sure the recipient wants a pet, bring them along to the shelter or breeder to meet all the animals and find the one they best connect with and has the temperament they are looking for. Many shelters allow recipients to have a trial run or a week-long slumber “paw”ty to make sure they are a good match. Consider paying the shelter adoption fee in advance, giving the recipient time to understand the magnitude of pet ownership responsibilities. If the recipient backs out, you can still feel good knowing you gave the shelter a donation in their name.
  3. Give the pet as a gift to immediate family only. Sometimes a friend might accept a pet as a gift because they just don’t know how to say no. While the unconditional love you get from a pet is amazing, it does come with a lot of hard work, vet bills, daily exercise, unintended messes, and much, much more! Therefore, when giving a pet as a gift, only give it to an immediate family member like a child or spouse with the understanding that you yourself will be the one taking on the responsibilities to care for it as well.
  4. Avoid buying a pet on impulse. It’s hard to walk away from someone with a box of kittens or to scroll past a post on Facebook about a dog in need of a home – especially if you know a pet is at the top of your loved one’s Christmas list. Acting on impulse doesn’t give you (or the recipient) the chance to select a pet based on size, activity level and temperament, all important factors when choosing a pet.
  5. If you have a busy holiday season ahead of you, now is not a good time for a new pet. New pets take a lot of time to get acclimated to their new surroundings and to learn your household expectations – especially puppies and kittens! The quickest way they learn is through normal schedules and structured routines. If you have a busy holiday season filled with travel, holiday parties, and extensive time out of the house shopping, consider waiting until after the holiday season to adopt a new furry friend.

If Santa’s going to bring someone you know a pet this year, he better check this list twice! Make sure you’re not giving a gift that the recipient can’t afford to keep, or feels is too much of a commitment.