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You were gifted a pet unexpectedly — now what?

A furry companion is a gift that keeps on giving, but being a pet owner takes work.

Updated February 8, 2021

Created By

Mariah Ackary,
young couple with new puppy for valentines day

If you’re adopting your new cat or dog yourself, you have plenty of time to prepare and make sure you’re ready to take on the responsibility. But what about when you’ve been gifted a pet? Even if you’re thrilled about your new companion, you might be overwhelmed and unsure where to start.

If you’re feeling more anxious than excited, though, you have some decisions to make. If you can’t care for the pet properly, the responsible choice is to rehome them, even though rejecting the gift may be uncomfortable.

How to know if you’re ready for a pet

It’s easy to feel uncertain about whether you’re ready to adopt a pet, especially if you’re a first-time pet owner. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before making the decision.

  • Do you have enough space in your home? — Getting a pet is like getting another roommate. Their belongings take up space in your home too. Do you have enough room for both the full-grown pet and items such as a crate, litter box, bedding, toys, and grooming supplies?
  • How much time are you able to devote to your pet? — While cats can be comfortable with less activity and more alone time, dogs require daily exercise and outdoor time — some breeds more than others. Time for cuddles and affection is also important.
  • Do you have room in your budget? — Research by betterpet shows that the average cost of adopting a dog and preparing a home is $750. Then, pet owners can expect to pay between $150 and $300 per month on caring for their dog.
  • Is the pet compatible with other members of your household? — Some pets won’t do well with small children or other pets. However, sometimes they just need some time to get used to their new environment. Read our full guide to getting a new pet when you have children.
  • Will you be sharing the dog with your significant other? — Make sure you feel comfortable sharing the responsibility and have clear expectations of who does what.
  • Does the breed have special care requirements? — Some dog and cat breeds have special care requirements that can involve more time or money.

Pet parenting 101: The first few weeks

Whether you’ve been gifted a baby or an older pet, you need to establish some routines to ensure they’re happy and healthy in your care. There are a lot of responsibilities that come with a new pet, but you can start with the most important. Here are the first few things you should do.

Pet-proof your home

First, make sure that harmful substances are out of reach. Young animals tend to explore the world through smell and taste, so try to remove anything they might ingest or chew on, including cleaning products, electric cords or wires, human food, trash, shoes, and small items they could swallow.

Rather than rearranging your entire home, you can start by closing doors or putting up baby gates to contain their exploring area to one clear room, ideally one without carpet or furniture that you couldn’t stand to have damaged. You can start to introduce them to other areas of the house as you pet-proof them.

If you have a dog that isn’t housetrained, you’ll want to keep them near a door to outside so that you can start potty training as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep fresh pee pads in their living area. It’s also a good idea to have stain and odor remover on hand for accidents.

Get the essentials

On day one, you don’t have to rush out to the store and spend several hundred dollars on supplies. You’ll need just four things to care for a dog or cat right away and buy other necessities as you go. Immediately, you’ll need:

  • Food
  • Food and water bowls
  • Pee pads or a litter box
  • Blankets or bedding
  • A leash (if you have an adult dog that’s already potty trained).

As you might have guessed, food, water, and shelter are key. Check out our guide to feeding your new puppy for tips on how much and how often to feed your dog.

After your pet has settled in for a few days, you can start to think about purchasing treats, toys, grooming supplies, or other accessories.

Establish the house rules

The first few days in a new environment are a huge learning opportunity for your new pet. Decide ahead of time what furniture they’re allowed to get on and where they’re allowed to go within your house. As they explore, they’ll likely get into a few things they shouldn’t. Be sure to consistently give a firm “no” when they do something undesirable. Remember to use their name often, too.

Schedule a veterinary visit

Puppies and kittens need their first vaccinations at six to eight weeks. Even if your new pet has already had their first round of shots, they’ll need follow up appointments every few weeks until they reach four months old. Plus, you’ll have spaying or neutering to think about. That’s why it’s important to get a veterinarian appointment on the books as soon as possible.

👉 Read more: What to expect from your puppy’s first vet visit

Even if you adopt an older animal, it’s a good idea to take them in for a full exam. A veterinarian can let you know if they have existing conditions, recommend preventative medication, and help you decide whether you’d like to microchip your pet.

Poodle dog next to indoor training toilet tray with poop faeces

Potty mats are a great way to housebreak a new puppy

Housetraining or litter training

House training puppies often takes about six months, and it’s best if you start building habits early on. With a puppy, you can start the process of crate training, which is one tried and true method of potty training.

👉 Read our full guide to house training your puppy.

If you’ve got a kitten, your battle will likely be easier and shorter. The first step is picking out a litter box. You might be surprised by how functional some litter boxes are — many of our favorite cat litter boxes double as furniture, which can save a lot of space in a small apartment.

Estimate your new budget

Even if you’re sure you can afford a new pet, it’s a good idea to sit down and do the math so that you know exactly how much you’ll be spending each month. Here are a few things you should take into consideration.

  • Upfront expenses — For a dog, spaying/neutering, microchipping, vaccinations, food, and essential gear like a leash and food bowls will usually run you about $350.
  • Ongoing expenses — Routine veterinary check-ups and dental cleanings will usually cost between $275 and $600 annually. There’s also flea, heartworm, and tick preventative care, which can run you around $300 annually. As far as food goes, spending around at least a few hundred per year is common (expect to spend more if you’re dog has food sensitivities or special preferences).
  • Elective expenses — It’s also important to think about more optional expenses like the cost of dental cleanings, travel, groomer visits, pet insurance, and toys.
  • Unexpected expenses — No matter how well you plan, life happens. You should be able to cover the cost of an injury, which often will mean paying $500 or more out of pocket. If you have to go out of town and board your dog, this can often cost $25 or more per night.

👉 Read our full breakdowns of the cost of owning a dog and as well as the cost of owning a cat.

Sharing a pet with a significant other

Sharing your new pet with your significant other can lighten your responsibility load, but there is some upfront planning you’ll need to do to make sure your pet lives a happy and healthy life. Many animals will be happy to hop from home to home, but some won’t. If you sense your dog is stressed by the shared custody, you may have to reevaluate the plan.

The most important thing is to get on the same page with your partner. It’s best if you can establish the same rules and treatment in both houses. For example, if your dog is allowed on furniture at one home, it may be harder for them to remember to stay off the furniture at the other.

Rehoming your new pet

The truth is, pets should never be surprise gifts. If you decide you aren’t ready to care for the pet you’ve received, that’s okay. Good for you for being honest with yourself. The hard part, however, is being honest with your significant other or whoever has gifted you the pet.

If you’re feeling guilty or struggling to find the right way to tell them, remember that you’re making the responsible choice. Whether you don’t have the time, money, space, or desire, just be honest about why you can’t care for them. Explaining why you can’t give the pet a good life will help your significant other, friend, or family member understand that it’s not about them. And ultimately, hurt feelings are temporary — a lifetime of neglect for an animal is much worse.

Once you break the news, you can start trying to rehome your animal. One of the best ways is to advertise to family and friends. That way you can feel confident that the pet will live a good life, and you can even check in from time to time. We suggest writing a bio for your pet and explaining honestly why you can’t care for them. You can post this on social media and ask your friends to share. You can even take advantage of your local shelter’s social media audience by asking them to share your post as well.

If it’s been a while and you’re unsuccessful with your own listing, you can ask your veterinarian for help spreading the word. As a last resort, you can surrender your pet to a shelter. Many no-kill shelters allow you to submit a request for surrender, after which they will evaluate the pet and potentially take them in.