Animal behaviourist Dr Jo Righetti discusses the pros and cons of acquiring a pet during the festive season.

What are you giving your child this Christmas?

Assuming you are an animal lover, the idea of getting your child a pet for Christmas has probably crossed your mind.

If you have ever lived with a pet, you know that each new animal addition brings a new set of experiences and a unique furry, feathered or finned personality to the family. Here are a few tips to ensure you make the right decision.

Choose with care

Work out which sort of animal would be the best for your child. If they want a dog but are too young, too fragile or too busy to take care of it, a ferret or some fish might be a better option. You may be left with all the day-to-day care, so choose carefully!

While a surprise present can be fun, your child might enjoy the experience of choosing their pet.

Visiting breeders or shelters can be a learning experience and selecting a personality that compliments their own can be fun.

As a responsible adult you must oversee the process. Pick a sociable, easy going pup – not the one who comes running first (likely to be very attention seeking) or the one who hangs at the rear (likely to be the most scared or the weakest of the litter).

If you have no experience with the pet you are considering, seek the help of someone who has.

Plan ahead

If your heart is set on a particular breed of animal, then you may have to plan well in advance of Christmas. You may need to put your name on a waiting list anything up to a year prior to the time you want the animal.

Many breeders and shelters are wary of impulse buyers and may question you closely before allowing you to take one of their animals.

Set aside time

When you take on a new animal, it is a good idea to set aside time to spend introducing your new pet to your household and routines.

While goldfish will easily adapt to your routine, a puppy or kitten needs your company and time devoted to teaching basic rules such as house training.

Your pet’s needs

Help your child understand the importance of understanding their pet’s needs. Allow them to feed their pet, play with it and of course, give it lots of pats and praise. Even tiny pups can be taught to ‘sit’ before receiving their meals.

A fun filled experience

Holidays from work and school will give you more time to devote to your new pet. The Christmas celebrations, however, with all the excitement, the visitors, the decorations and the festivities around your home, can be an overwhelming experience for a young animal.

Give your child and new pet some quiet time to bond. This will ensure that your new pet is the best Christmas gift that your child has ever received.

Dr Jo’s top ten suggestions for kids’ pets:

In no particular order, these are the pets that suit most children but remember every pet should be an entire family decision.

  1. Hermit crabs – great pets for kids to set up and watch in their bedrooms. All you need is a tank, water, shells and food (from pet stores). Watch them change shells.
  2. Goldfish – again, a tank, hiding spots and fish food is all you need. Once kids get the hang of this you can move on to tropical or even marine tanks.
  3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – great indoor, gentle (relatively) playmate for children. Will be their best friend.
  4. Ferret – for the older child, an energetic powerhouse of activity who can sleep in their cage while kids are at school.
  5. Ragdoll cat – great for quieter kids who like to have something to cuddle and sit on their lap.
  6. Budgie – fun teaching to speak and great all round companion
  7. Labrador – for families who want a larger dog who blends in with their lifestyle.
  8. Rabbit –  indoor/outdoor pet and can be house trained.
  9. Mice – great to watch them interact (get the same sex) and can be handled gently. Can try a rat too (not in same cage as mice, however).
  10. Moggie – cats make great companions for all ages and playful kids and kittens are made for each other.

Are you buying a pet for Christmas this year? What pet did your family decide on? Please share in the comments below.

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  • I like the suggestions you have offered, cheers.


  • My kids didn’t ever get a pet for Xmas. Every year we hear of animals given as Xmas presents and then dumped not long after. Dogs homes are flooded around Dec/jan. so sad


  • Not a fan of pets for Christmas. it’s the biggest time of year for pets to be dumped


  • Oh really not a fan of pets for Xmas.. Hardly ever ends well!


  • cute


  • Out of all your furbabies and human babies I bet your Hubby is the hardest to control!


  • definitely always adopt, don’t shop!


  • I work for a council, and the surrender calls are starting to come in…. just think about it guys!


  • It was a few years ago, but I got our dog for my birthday/Christmas. She’s a great addition to our family. We thought about it for a very long time before we decided if we could commit to having a pet. We chose a breed that would suit our lifestyles.


  • I lost my 14year old Rottie (Marlene Dietrich) she was the best friend ever.

    • So sorry to hear of your loss. Our pets really are family members and our friends :(


  • If I were to ever buy my children a pet for Christmas it would be a fish, I would much rather have my kids help out in the selection process


  • Please think long and hard before getting a pet and also ADOPT DON’T SHOP!


  • Don’t get a pet for Christmas unless you were planning to already get a pet. lots of research should be done.


  • I would like to buy a pet for Christmas this year; I think a Labrador would blend in perfectly with our family and little one’s. Thank you for all of the great suggestions above, this list definitely made me think about animals I didn’t consider before.

    • Let us know which pet you have decided to go with. I am sure you will love the experience!


  • A lot of people don’t consider the costs involved when choosing a pet. Unless you are prepared to give it the love and attention it deserves for many years it may not be a wise gift.


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