There are few holiday gift images more appealing than that of a fluffy kitten, sitting in a basket decorated with a bow. Pets, however, are not ideal gifts, and certainly are not the best choice for loved ones who have not planned on obtaining a new family member. If you are tempted to buy or adopt a kitten or older cat as a gift for someone, here are some thoughts to consider before making the decision.

  • The winter holidays are probably the most distracted and busy time of the year for most people. The pandemonium of family reunions, shopping, travel, and entertaining is less than ideal for introducing a new pet into the home. If you know someone absolutely wants a pet, or perhaps you’re getting a cat for your child, wrap up a kitty toy or a cute set of food and water bowls as an interim gift, and bring the cat home in January when things have settled down.
  • Kittens–and adult cats emotionally stressed by the transition from one home to another–require an abundance of time and peace. Both are a challenge to provide during any busy and socially distracting time.
  • Giving a live animal as a surprise gift allows little preparation time for its arrival. Needed accessories and services should be in place beforehand, particularly during a busy holiday season. Kittens require food, bowls, appropriate toys, litter boxes and litter, behavior-oriented books, a pre-arranged veterinary appointment and knowledge of local emergency veterinary services.
  • Don’t mistake your own passion for someone else’s. That friend, co-worker, spouse or child may not be ready for a cat just now. Surprising them can be traumatic if they are not ready to accept the responsibility.
  • Even if they are emotionally prepared, they may not have completed their own personal research for the ideal feline companion. For many people, the decision to add a cat to the family is followed by serious searching for the ideal individual. What if you select a subdued white Persian (which you find an irresistible choice) for someone whose heart is set on a talkative Abbyssinian? What if you spend all that time locating a responsible breeder, and find out your friend really wanted a brown tabby from the local shelter?
  • Once established, the human-animal bond runs strong and deep. But attachment is a very personal and unpredictable process. Selecting a lifelong companion for someone else may interfere with attachment, simply because of personality conflicts between the kitten and her new owner. Such differences may be easier to overlook (or resolve) when a prospective owner makes his or her own choices.
  • If the person on your list already lives with at least one cat, consider the problems a new kitten might present. Cats can form strong bonds with each other, but these may be seriously disrupted if a new member enters the social group. Increasing the number of cats in a home also increases the odds that the cats fight or develop other behavior problems. Three very common behavior problems seen in multiple-cat homes are inappropriate elimination (urination or defecation outside the litter box), urine spraying and intercat aggression.
  • If you are adopting or buying for a child, have you cleared this gift idea with the child’s parents (or, if you are the parent, with and your spouse)? As a general rule of paw, any cat belonging to a child is ultimately the responsibility of the parents. Are you ready to take care of (and pay for the care of) the cat?
  • Pets are not ideal surprise gifts at any time of year. Cats are sentient, sensitive and intelligent animals who deserve to be more than a gift item, and to be loved beyond the “honeymoon period” assigned to most presents. Similarly, if the match is unsuitable, simply returning the kitten to the place where you found her can result in emotional trauma for all.