As the big day is nearly here, you might be dreaming of a cute puppy or cuddly kitten looking up at you from under the tree on Christmas morning. You might even be thinking about giving a small bundle of fluff as a surprise gift to a loved one. But pets aren't presents. It's a massive undertaking getting a new pet, so I'd advise people to stop and think before rushing in.
Having a pet changes your life in many ways. Many changes will be amazing and positive. But owning a pet is also a big responsibility and there can be complications. Many people would be shocked to hear that a cat costs around £17,000 over its lifetime - and that's excluding unexpected vet fees for illness or injury.
I'm the proud owner of a cat, Talisker, and a dog, Penny, who I love to bits and wouldn't change for the world. But gone are the days when I can jet off for last-minute weekends away because I can't get a pet sitter at short-notice. My diary now has reminders to give worm and flea treatments as well as hair appointments. Our Christmas tree is severely lacking decorations on the lower half to stop Talisker pulling them off. And our presents are locked away rather than under the tree to prevent Penny from getting her paws on them. I've seen many cases of pets needing emergency treatment from eating decorations or wolfing down toxic festive food such as chocolate or raisins.
This is the only way Penny is allowed near our tree!
The latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report revealed that 1.3 million pet owners received pets as presents. As a vet, this is a little worrying. The recipient of a pet as a present is unlikely to be prepared for how much time, money or responsibility being a pet owner involves. The novelty of a pet as a surprise gift can quickly wear off if they aren't fully committed to providing a lifetime of care and can lead to pets being abandoned just weeks later. PDSA's research also showed that 12% of pet owners surveyed believed that their pet would only cost them up to £500 over the pet's entire lifetime.
Timing is also an issue. Getting a new pet used to your home takes a lot of planning, preparation and time, which you're unlikely to have during the Christmas period. You'll no doubt be visiting family and friends, but your new pet might not be used to travelling. And putting a new pet into kennels or a cattery could be very upsetting for them.
In the run up to Christmas, we all get distracted with parties and popping out for those last-minute presents, so it's tricky giving a new pet your full attention. Your house is likely to be full of extra noise and activity, which can be stressful for new pets who are in unusual surroundings. Peace and quiet is the ideal when settling into a new home.
The PAW Report reveals that 4.5 million owners did no research before getting a pet. All pets need to have their five welfare needs provided for, which are: environment, diet, behaviour, companionship, and health. Pets taken on with little or no prior knowledge or research about how to keep them happy and healthy are less likely to have these needs met and develop problems such as obesity, loneliness, stress and aggression.
Every pet is unique and will have different requirements. Owning a pet can be rewarding and immensely enjoyable, but it can be hard work. It takes considerable time and dedication, so it might be best to wait until a calmer time of year and #PawsFirst before you give a pet as a present.
For more information about caring for pets and what's involved in their care, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/pawsfirst