Puppy French Bulldog in Christmas Hat

How to Choose the Best Holiday Gifts for New Pet Owners

Did your best friend just add a baby schnauzer to her brood? Did your niece just get a new kitten?

The gift ideas seem ready-made — you want to get a gift for the new pet owner.

Here’s what you might want to consider before you pop a new pet doo-dad into your Amazon shopping cart.

What Do Pet Owners Need?

Hmm… Great question. What do new pet owners need for sure? Here’s a quick overview.

1. The basics.

New pet owners need the basics: Food and water bowls, leashes, attire, pet gates, bedding, collar, crate, an exercise pen and grooming supplies. Think about what your friend or loved one’s new dog or cat needs on day one.

2. Fun stuff.

You’re not buying all the right stuff until you have fun stuff for a new pet to play with. Squeaky toys, chew toys, catnip toys — all the toys are a must. And before you think toys are an unnecessary part of owning a pet, remember that toys do more than just waste money.

Enrichment toys encourage pups and kittens to think and develop new skills. Enrichment toys also encourage their natural instincts — foraging, running and playing. Toys aren’t unnecessary — they make pets happier and provide rewards for them, all the while reducing the effects of stress. Consider purchasing the following toys for your friend or loved one’s new pet:

  • Hollow, firm rubber toys hold treats and work well for puppies’ natural chewing instincts.
  • Rope toys (make sure the furry recipient isn’t prone to shredding them and swallowing the pieces)
  • Stuffed toys made of high-quality fabric that can’t be easily torn apart
  • Balls specifically designed for dogs and cats

Avoid purchasing:

  • Any toy with string, elastic yarn, ribbon or dental floss
  • Feather toys
  • Plastic bags, paperclips, rubber bands (or other things that aren’t actually toys)
  • Toys with small parts
  • Toys small enough for animals to swallow (such as sparkle balls)
  • Rawhide (which uses a chemical bleaching process that’s bad for dogs)

3. Pet insurance.

Here’s a creative (and practical) idea: contribute to your friend’s “pet insurance fund.” Peace of mind is a great gift and giving a new pet owner information about pet insurance and some cash to cover their first premiums is a thoughtful option. It’s a great idea for them to get pet insurance when their cat or dog is still a kitten or puppy, anyway. As your loved one’s pet ages, the pet is more likely to develop health issues that could be excluded as pre-existing conditions if you decide to switch policies.

Steps to Gifting for New Pet Owners

So, knowing all this, how do you hone in on the best Christmas gifts ever for new pet owners?

Tip 1: Find out what your pet owner friend or family member already has.

This may require some sleuthing on your part. Ask your pet owner’s friends or family to find out whether he or she already has a plethora of toys, a comfy bed or a crate.

Tip 2: Figure out your pet owner friend’s style.

Is your friend the “put baby puppy in a sweater type” or more of a traditionalist when it comes to owning a pet? Find out (or know intuitively what he or she may want to do.)

Tip 3: Learn what’s necessary and what’s not.

If you’re not a current pet owner, you may not have any idea what new pet owners need. Keep in mind that it’s kind of like buying things for new babies (who needs a wipe warmer?) Similarly, pets don’t need everything that’s on the market. (Those puppy pads for in-the-kitchen-corners of the house are a great example. You want a puppy going to the bathroom outside — not inside.)

Tip 4: Consider giving personalized items.

Your new pet owner or family member or friend is sure to squeal with excitement if you offer any personalized gift. Is your aunt a potter? Can she whip up some new water and food bowls that say “Tuffy” on the side (or obviously, whatever the cat’s name is)? Can you knit a doggie sweater and cross stitch the new puppy’s name on it?

Or think about personalized human items — a “Proud Dachshund Mama” sweatshirt will probably make you the most favorite friend or relative ever.

Tip 5: Opt for items that can make life easier.

The first go-around with a puppy or kitten is an eye-opening experience for some people. Whether your loved one is dismayed by the number of times a puppy can have an accident (on the same expensive rug) or really worried about how to get the kitten to stop eating a plant, figure out ideas to help them, whether that’s a really tall plant holder or a hanging-from-the-ceiling doodad.

Tip 6: Get replacement parts.

That expensive rug in Tip 5? Yeah, you might need to get a replacement for your loved one. The puppy has likely ruined it. Think new shoes, new kids’ toys, new love seat, new blankets — whatever your loved one’s beloved pup or kitten has shredded, drooled on or otherwise ruined.

They can forgive their pup and you can, too, with a few replaceable objects (even if you were the one who gave your loved one the original gift in the first place).

How to Give the Gift

This seems weird, huh? Just wrap it up and give it to ’em! Well, these days, you might not have such an easy time of walking up to your friends and family members and giving them their gift in person. You might be socially distanced, so here are some additional ideas of how to give a gift.

Tip 1: Mail it.

Put together a really nice box, don your mask at the post office, then ship it off in plenty of time. If you don’t think you have the talent to make a box or basket cute or pretty, buy an already-packaged box or gift basket and send it to your friend or loved one. You can find great options on Amazon, BarkBox or Chewy.

Your loved one may live far away or you may not get together during the holidays, so mailing your gift could be your best option.

Tip 2: Drop it off on the front porch.

Don’t want to go through the hassle of mailing a package? (Who wants to stand in long lines this year?) Put together a nice basket or beautiful box and pretend it’s May Day. Ring the doorbell and leave on the porch if your loved one is in quarantine or stop by for a visit if you think your households are both in the clear.

Tip 3: Get pet insurance for an even easier gift — there’s nothing to mail!

While you can’t directly sign your friend up for SPOT Pet Insurance, you can give your loved one some cash to go toward monthly premiums. If you have pet insurance yourself, you can let them know which variables you like on your plan to give them ideas for how to customize their policy.

Your favorite pet owner is in good paws with SPOT, SPOT supports a holistic approach to your pet’s health and even reimburses alternative treatments and behaviorist therapies for covered conditions!* Check out this one-minute SPOT review for more on SPOT coverage and benefits.

Give the Gift Your Pet Owner Friend Really Needs this Holiday Season

Again, you might have to do some detective work ahead of time to make sure you’re choosing the right gifts. Luckily, unlike a child or adult, pets are usually pretty easygoing and happy about most gifts.

If you opt for pet insurance, that’s certainly a gift that will keep on giving — throughout the animal’s life.

*Treatment must be performed by a licensed veterinary professional.

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!