Does a Cat Make a Good Gift? The Answer Isn’t As Obvious As You May Think.

Your friend tells you how much she adores your cats and frequently comes over to play with them, your young niece asks Santa for a kitty, an elderly neighbor living alone loses her cat of 20 years.

Saving a life by adopting a cat – or any animal for that matter – from a shelter and surprising a friend or relative with a kitten seems perfectly in line with concepts we associate with the holidays:

  • Helping the less fortunate (in this case the animals)
  • Thinking of others (the lonely neighbor)
  • Giving (often in grand unexpected ways)

Kitten as a holiday gift

Not to mention the images we’ve seen in movies and advertisements of an impossibly cute fluffy kitten with a big red bow under the Christmas tree being discovered by an overjoyed child Christmas morning. 

Still, if you’d asked my what I thought about giving a cat – or any pet – as a gift, my answer without skipping a beat would have be an unequivocal “NO! Of course not!” It seemed like common sense to me that this was a terrible idea. Most kids tire of their toys after a few days – or even hours. What would they do with a live animal that doesn’t always do what it’s told?

I’d heard stories of people obtaining unwanted cats from friends who’d received them as gifts by well-meaning friends. Or what about everything we’ve been told about the right cat finding you, and making sure you feel a connection with an animal before taking it home?

So you can only imagine my surprise when I began doing research on the subject and found that studies on this subject contradicted my beliefs. I was only able to find opinion pieces, anecdotal stories or one-off shelter statistics that supported the concept that giving a pet as a gift was a bad idea. That shelter surrenders/returns went up after the holidays because of unwanted pets having been received as gifts. 

In fact a 2013 study commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA), the most recent study I was able to find, discovered that pets given as gifts – even as a surprise gift – were not at greater risk of being returned and were not loved any less than those selected by the pet parent. Several rescue groups have taken this study as an opportunity to encourage gifting pets around the holidays and some will even make Christmas Day deliveries.

While a widely held cultural belief may have been disproved, an important myth to bust in the effort to increase the “live release rate” in this country (meaning fewer animals will be euthanized), I do not believe it should be interpreted as permission to indiscriminately gift kittens this holiday season.

The ASPCA website even recommends, “the giving of pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly.”

Great attention must be paid to this statement, and thought given to what it really means. Do not give a cat or dog to someone you don’t know well.  Be confident the recipient wants to open their home and heart  to a kitten or cat and is able and willing to make the financial commitment – in sickness and health. You should know this person well enough to understand the temperament of the cat that would make the best match, and be sure their lifestyle is well suited for this new family addition.

Your friend who loves cats may often say she wishes she had a cat, but there may be a bevy of reasons she doesn’t have one yet. Do you know what they are?  Perhaps her roommate is allergic, she hates the idea of scooping a litter box or  her apartment building doesn’t allow pets.

The gift of an animal is one that keeps on giving. The average lifespan of an indoor cat the US is 15 years. Over the course of a 15 year lifespan, the expenses to care for a cat are on average $7,500. And that doesn’t account for costs associated with illness (vet visits, hospital stay, prescriptions, special food), ER visits, or pet insurance.

A cute high energy kitten with a 15 year lifespan may not be the best idea for a Senior family member or friend. Perhaps you should consider an adult cat with a more mellow temperament. Are your nieces parents on board with welcoming an animal into their home? Are they ready to take on the financial responsibility for the next 15+ years? 

If in doubt, there are other ways to gift a cat this Christmas:

  • Create an IOU that promises you will pay for the adoption fee of a cat and place it under the tree with a stuffed animal representation. For an adult, purchase a cat carrier and make a date to go to the shelter together to select an appropriate feline companion.
  • If your niece’s parents aren’t up for the commitment of a cat, consider an electronic cat toy that purrs and moves (yes they exist).
electronic robotic cat toy

This “Joy For All” cat purrs and moves


You can Sponsor a Cat as a gift from Tabby's Place

Tabby’s Place


So while the commonly held belief that pets are off-limits as gifts is being challenged – wonderful news when it comes to getting more cats adopted, particularly since their live release rate is lower than that of dogs – it’s my belief that it’s not a decision that should be made lightly.  My only hope is to raise food for thought before you fall in love with a fluffy cute kitten and decide she or he would make the perfect surprise gift this holiday season.

What’s your take on this subject after looking at the research?  Have you ever gifted or been gifted a cat? Leave your comments below!

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  • That was what I found when I researched for facts on “gift pets” being surrendered to shelters after the holidays too–the facts were exactly opposite of what I had thought! All adoptions should be done with care, no matter when they are done. I received a kitten in a box under the tree 40 years ago and cared for Bootsie until her last day and still love her–and look where I am now after all my rescues! I’ve written about this a few times because I don’t want cats or any other pets to lose the chance at a loving home because of a myth we hold onto.

    • Yes I was shocked actually! Was asked to write an Op Ed for the NYTimes about NOT giving pets as gifts but there were no statistics to back me up! Quite surprising after what I’d grown to believe! So true about homing more homes! I do think -as you have mentioned – care should be taken! =^^=

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  • jmuhj

    “…Create an IOU that promises you will pay for the adoption fee of a cat and place it under the tree with a stuffed animal representation. For an adult, purchase a cat carrier and make a date to go to the shelter together to select an appropriate feline companion.” This is a very good idea, Tamar, and one I’d never thought of before! The bottom line is COMMITMENT and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. If someone has both, and expresses a love for and desire to adopt a cat or kitten, then by all means, go for it! (I would wonder, though, why someone who expresses that desire hasn’t already adopted a cat. Something to think about. Maybe they’re fence-sitting.) Gift sponsorships for cats and kittens are a great favorite of mine, and something I’ve done numerous times for both domestic and big cats.
    Wishing you and your family happy holidays! and thanking you for your wonderful blog, all you do on behalf of cats, and for loving YOUR cats.

    • YEs I was wondering the same thing – if you want a cat or dog why would’ you adopt one? Seems like the adoption fee wouldn’t be a great barrier! Many don’t even have any! I do love the sponsorship idea for sure! Thanks as always for being such a loyal reader and taking the time to leave a comment!

  • My best presents have been cats and dogs. Fenris was my birthday present. And Chimera was a total surprise to all of us Christmas present.

  • I think rescues and shelters should offer adoption gift certificates for the holidays for people who want to give a pet as a gift. That would make it festive, and give the recipient a chance to pick out the cat of their own choice. But yes, my human looked at those very same statistics and was as surprised as you are!

    • Couldn’t agree more! PetFinder used to have something along those lines but seems no longer. Yes! Shocking! But glad to hear for the sake of getting more animals adopted!