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Published: Dec 18, 2012

As the holidays approach, many families are considering buying a pet as a gift, whether for children, a spouse or a friend. While the holidays can be a wonderful time to welcome a furry friend into your life, the way in which you do it matters.

The pets peering out of pet store and animal shelter windows might convince you to take one home, but before you do, there are several things to consider. Here is what you should think about before you add an animal companion into your life this holiday season.

Can you really take care of it?
Some experts warn against pets as gifts altogether. The adorable faces of puppies and kittens can cause people to make irrational decisions, and they may not think about how much care they are actually capable of giving. Essentially, a pet should never be an impulse buy. You should consider temperament, including whether the pet is good with children, easy to train or has high energy levels before you add one to your family. You should also think about potential pet health issues and the amount of time and space it will take to make sure this pet lives a happy, healthy life.

By giving a pet to someone else, you are assuming that he or she will take care of it and give it all the love (as well as attention, exercise and veterinary care) it needs. The gift of a pet should be something that is planned with the recipient well in advance so everyone knows the responsibilities expected of them.

Where should you get it?
The other concern many pet experts have about holiday pets is where the animal is coming from. Puppies and kittens in pet stores seem adorable and you may even have the urge to "save" them from the conditions there. However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) urges consumers not to buy pets from pet stores or websites because they are likely animals from "puppy mills," inhumane animal breeding operations that place priority on profit over animal welfare. In fact, the organization says you should not buy any pet supplies or gifts for your current feline or canine companions from a store that sells animals so as not to support any business that would then fund puppy mills.

If you do choose to buy a pet this holiday season, head to your local animal shelter. There are hundreds of lovable dogs and cats who need a home, and many times there are puppies and kittens available, too. These pets have adoption fees that are usually less expensive than pets from a breeder or store, and often already have their cat and dog vaccinations. Cat and dog spaying and neutering is also usually taken care of by the shelter so your pet is ready for his or her new home.

What if I can't care for a pet?
If you have considered the idea of getting a pet as a gift and have honestly determined you or your gift recipient will not be able to care for the animal, there are still ways you can incorporate the love and care of animals into your holiday season. You can make a donation to the ASPCA or another animal welfare organization in a loved one's name, or donate supplies to your local shelter.