Dr. Marty Becker
You know the usual warnings: "Don't give pets as gifts"; "The holidays are the worst time to get a new pet"; "Pets are for life, not just for Christmas"; "The only good pet to give as a gift is a stuffed animal."
Lately, though, I've found myself swimming against that tide -- a little. When it comes to giving pets as gifts, it's not always a good idea, but it's also not always a bad idea. If you add just one word to the word "gift," it pretty much fixes the problem. That word is "thoughtful." And getting a pet should always be done thoughtfully, whether the pet is a gift or not.
First and foremost, being thoughtful means never buying a puppy or kitten from a pet store or Internet site that ships with no questions asked. You don't want to support puppy mills, after all.
With that out of the way, what about the other common cautions? Sure, the holidays can be a busy time, with lots of activities, travel and guests. But parents often have time off from work during the holidays, and the children aren't in school. The greater flexibility of a holiday schedule can make both pets' and people's adjustments easier, not harder.
Then there's the idea that other gifts will be so much more exciting to children that they'll be distracted from a new pet. I'm a parent and a grandparent, and I'll tell you one thing about children: They're expert multitaskers. And they don't suddenly become less so on Jan. 2.
Puppies and kittens are just like little kids, and they get into things. But that's not true just at the holidays. If they aren't getting into your Christmas decorations, they'll be getting into your laundry basket. Part of acquiring a new pet is making sure that the environment is safe for him, and that the treasured family heirloom you inherited from your great-grandmother is locked away until the new furry family member learns the ropes. And that principle applies year-round, not just between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
If the family is prepared for the new addition, then all will be well. If not, it won't -- but that's true whether you get the pet for yourself or for your spouse. And if the parents have unrealistic expectations about how much of the pet's care will be handled by the kids, does that change if the pet isn't given as a gift? Of course not.
It can be hard to adopt a shelter pet, since many shelters have traditionally discouraged holiday-season adoptions. That's a trend that's changing, in part thanks to pet food maker Iams' noteworthy "Home for the Holidays" pet adoption campaign. Shelter pets would love nothing more than to move from the cage or run at the shelter to the couch at your home. Why make them wait?
So while springing an unwanted and unexpected pet on someone as a gift is always a bad idea, and buying from a pet store or click-and-ship puppy website is never a good idea, the careful and well-planned gift of an appropriate pet can be just what this veterinarian ordered for making your family happier and healthier, now and at any time of the year.
It's a great thing to have strong ideas about how pets should be cared for -- I know I do. But let's not let those ideas get so set in stone that we don't question and qualify them from time to time. The "Healing Power of Pets" is a prescription I'm comfortable giving 365 days a year, and what better gift could there be than the love and companionship of a pet?
If you're ready, don't wait until the New Year. Ready, set ... adopt!
add seasonal stress
Q: At Thanksgiving I found out that a client -- a newly divorced woman with no family locally -- had no plans, so I invited her over for dinner with our family. I was surprised (to say the least) when she showed up with her dog.
Everything worked out fine. The dog was sweet and well-behaved. But am I right in thinking it's strange not to mention you're bringing a dog? -- via e-mail
A: Bringing an uninvited guest to someone's home is never a good idea, whether that guest has two legs or four.
While you were blindsided -- and handled the situation with graciousness -- most people have at least a little warning when it comes to working out the issues of pets during the holidays. It's always a good idea to discuss arrangements in advance, and don't assume anything.
The ground rules: The person who has the ground sets the rules, and the decision to bend or break them is theirs alone to make. If you want to bring your pet to a family gathering but your son-in-law says absolutely not in his house, you have to respect that. Arrange to stay at a pet-friendly hotel or leave your pet behind, boarded or with a pet-sitter.
Likewise, the person who demands you remove a member of your family (the furry one) as a condition of his visit is barking up the wrong tree. My pets are part of my family, and you need to accept that before you cross the threshold into my home.
Once the boundaries are established, there may be some wiggle room on the details. Pets may be welcome if they'll stay in a crate when unattended, for example, or someone with mild pet allergies could be accommodated in a clean, pet-free room in a home with pets.
Communication is always key, and no surprises should always be the bottom line. -- Gina Spadafori
Slinky cats can get
through tiny holes
-- Cats are able to squeeze through spaces that seem narrower than they are because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way through nooks and crannies. Once they can get their head and shoulders through, their sleek bodies present no further obstacle. That's (BEGIN ITAL)if(END ITAL) those bodies are sleek, that is. The world is full of fat cats, after all, and for them fitting through tiny holes is not a given. For one thing, they may think they're capable of fitting even if their paunch says otherwise. That's because a cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does. But they don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can lead some corpulent cats into sticky situations.
-- Tumors responsible for the deaths of endangered green sea turtles have been linked to sewage and farm runoff, according to National Geographic. Nitrogen in the runoff triggers massive algae blooms, which in turn awaken a deadly herpes virus in the turtles. The virus causes cauliflower-like tumors to grow on the turtles' eyes, mouth joints and internal organs. Some 90 percent of turtles found dead or dying are afflicted with the disease.
-- One in three dogs will develop cancer, reports the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the ACVIM Foundation and the Chase Away K-9 Cancer campaign. The coalition urges cancer checks and specifically asks pet owners to take 10 minutes on the 14th of each month to check their pets for signs of cancer, including lumps, bumps and swellings. More information is at acvimfoundation.org.
-- Zoos are hotspots for the interspecies spread of infectious disease. A parasite has been identified in zoo animals and their keepers that, while not serious, confirms the possibilities of infection transmission between species. A study to be published in the journal Veterinary Parasitology found that 63 percent of zookeepers were infected by the parasite, which is likely transmitted during routine care for the animals, such as cleaning their enclosures. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.