The key to successful pet adoption during the holidays is being thoughtful in the process

Q: I always heard it wasn't a good idea to adopt pets during the holidays, but more and more, I see shelters offering holiday pet adoptions. Have times changed?

They have, and for the better. It's true that we used to say it was a bad idea to give a pet as a gift and that the holidays were the worst time to bring a pet into the home, but the key to success is being thoughtful about the process.

Holidays are definitely a busy time, with lots of activities, travel and guests, but you may also have a more flexible schedule, with time off work and kids home from school. That can make it easier to help a new pet adjust to family life.

There's the concern that a new puppy or kitten − or even older pets − will be destructive, chewing or clawing holiday decorations, but pets get into things year-round, not just during the holidays. With thoughtful pet-proofing and supervision, you can ensure that the environment is safe for them and that your decor is safe from them. You'd have to do that whenever you got a pet.

I've often heard the objection that kids will quickly lose interest in a pet because they're distracted by other gifts and activities. As a parent and grandparent, I can safely say that kids are expert multitaskers: If they have really been wanting a pet, they'll make time to play with and care for them.

Holiday pet adoption campaigns, sponsored by local and national shelters and humane societies, pet supply stores, and pet health insurance and pet food companies, are now the norm. Shelters work with potential adopters to help ensure the transition goes smoothly. The careful and well-planned gift of an appropriate pet can make the holidays merry and bright.

Dr. Marty Becker


If you notice your pet sleeping more this time of year, it might be related to the shorter amount of daylight.
If you notice your pet sleeping more this time of year, it might be related to the shorter amount of daylight.

Amount of daylight affects sleep cycle

Does daylight saving time affect your pet?

Veterinarian Michelle Richardson, in an interview with KRTV in Great Falls, Montana, says you may notice animals becoming less active as days become shorter and darker. That's because the pineal gland, a small endocrine gland located in the brain that produces the hormone melatonin, has the job of regulating sleep patterns. The pineal is affected by the amount of light and dark that animals (and people) are exposed to. Darkness stimulates melatonin production while light inhibits it. Fun fact: The word pineal refers to the gland's pineconelike shape.

Research into neuroaging helps pets

North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine has the only endowed chair in pet gerontology − the study of aging − with an associated research program.

Neurology professor Natasha Olby, a veterinary internal medicine specialist, holds the Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson Distinguished Chair of Gerontology and says the program's research into neuroaging and canine neurodegenerative diseases not only helps pets, but also provides a good model for understanding the effects of aging in humans.

Olby and her team work exclusively with aging dogs who live with people in their homes. Those pets experience the same social and environmental factors that affect aging humans: air quality, including secondhand smoke; food; level of exercise; environmental chemicals; and family social structures.

"One of the big challenges to modern society is to maintain health span as well as lifespan," Olby says. "Now, with improved health care for pets, dogs are surviving for longer, and we come across the exact same challenge (as we do with people). I think it's critically important that we don't say, 'They're just getting old,' but we pay due attention to the process, understand which things we can alter within the process and advance our understanding of aging, in general."

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit Pet Connection is produced by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, journalist Kim Campbell Thornton, and dog trainer/behavior consultant Mikkel Becker.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Pet Connection: Adopting pets during the holiday season