As the holidays approach, many of us are thinking of gifts for our children and family. Some may be considering the gift of a pet. The purchase of a pet is much different than buying a toy or clothes because there are many things to consider.

The first step is to decide why you want a pet. Shopping for an animal should never be done on impulse. Be sure this decision is well thought out and deliberate. Here are some questions to ask before buying or adopting a pet:

• Will the pet be a substitute child? If so, a dog may make more sense than a gerbil.

• Are you getting the pet as a companion for your child?

• Will your child be responsible for the care of the animal? Is your child ready for this responsibility?

• What is your personality? Do you want a docile pet who will lay by your feet or one with whom you can interact and play games?

• Is this the right time for your family to take on the responsibility of a pet?

• Do you intend to have (more) children?

• Are you in good enough health to take on this responsibility?

Match your pet to your lifestyle and home environment. If you travel or are gone during the day, some animals get lonely, while others don’t mind being left alone. Be sure the pet matches the age and maturity of your children. Will you be able to meet the needs of your pet for feeding and companionship? Think about how much space you have. A St. Bernard in an apartment is not a match made in heaven. Do you have a fenced yard? Does your apartment or condo allow pets?

Consider the cost of owning a pet: pet food, veterinary care and preventive medicine, grooming, and boarding. Pets can be expensive investments.

When you have considered all these things and decide to get a pet, it’s time to shop around. Do your research first and know the type and breed of animal you want before shopping. Read books (I know, this dates me) or do a web search for information about the characteristics of different animals and breeds. Also, spend some time observing animals at the Humane Society or visit with your friend’s family pet at their home.

Once you have considered your decision by doing your homework and shopping wisely for your pet (ideally from local shelters), enjoy the company of your new family member.

One final word of wisdom for fellow grandparents or other relatives wanting to surprise youngsters with a pet: Make sure you check with the parents first!

I wish to acknowledge the input of Ron Hines, DVM, Ph.D., in this article.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

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