Consider these 5 questions before getting a puppy for Christmas

Kristina Michaud, DO, Baylor College of Medicine, PGY-2 Resident, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

The bond between children and their dog is magical. Dogs teach children how to love and care for someone, how to put others’ needs above their own, and how to be responsible. Dogs can also be extremely therapeutic for children, acting as a friend and adventure buddy, which is especially important during these current times when children may feel isolated.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to stay home, which may prompt parents to finally add a furry friend to their family. After all, what better way to train a new puppy than when you’re already doing school and work from home, and don’t plan on traveling for the holidays! Except it’s not quite that simple!

Just like having a child changes your life, getting a puppy (and caring for it properly) will also change your life. Dogs are intelligent, active, social beings who require time, love, and attention in many of the same ways children do. Likewise, when they are not given adequate attention and exercise, they can become lonely and depressed. So, before you bring home a cute puppy for your child who has been so kindly asking for one, be sure you can answer “yes” to these 5 questions!

  1. Do you have the financial means? Not including the adoption fee itself, puppies are very expensive to care for. They require frequent visits to the veterinarian when they’re young to receive their vaccines, and the cost of spaying/neutering them can be upwards of $200. You must also account for the cost of their monthly food, flea and tick prevention, heart worm prevention, toys, and crate. One of my dogs developed seizures after her first year of life and now requires an expensive daily medication—just like in humans, medical needs come up and lead to additional costs. Over the course of the dog’s lifespan (10-15 years), the expenses add up. And this doesn’t account for things like safely boarding the dog if/when your family goes out of town, unexpected veterinary visits, replacing the shoes or the sofa that the puppy chewed (oops!), etc.
  2. Are you and your family physically ready? Dogs require a lot of exercise. Unless you have a large yard where the dog can run around, the dog’s exercise will likely come in the form of you walking or running with him/her every day. This is great exercise for humans too!
  3. Do you have the space? Depending on the size of the dog, he/she may take up a lot of space in your home. Dogs also need plenty of room to run, play, eat, go potty, and have moments of privacy away from young children to rest.
  4. Is your child old enough to help care for the puppy? Children don’t usually develop abstract thinking until after the age that they’ve started school — some experts say they maintain concrete thinking until age 12 years.  This means it is difficult for them to anticipate others’ needs before this age. Many young children will ask their parents for a puppy, but remember that they probably won’t be able to fully help care for the dog until they are older. It may also be smart to wait until your child is older and does not have as many toys around, as these can be choking hazards for the puppy!
  5. What will your life look like 5, 10, or 15 years from now? When thinking about getting a puppy (or any pet) now, it’s important to think about how your life may change in the years to come. Will you be in the same home with the same yard? Will you want to travel? Will you want to care for the dog when your children are grown up and no longer living with you? Who will care for the dog if something unfortunate happens to you?

While these questions can be difficult to imagine, it’s best to be prepared when adding this new member to your family.

If you have considered these questions and feel that now is the right time for you to get a puppy, how exciting! You will have lots of love, puppy snuggles and great memories ahead of you.

On behalf of The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, we wish you and your family a merry Christmas and blessed New Year!

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