One of the gifts under your Christmas tree could be snuffling, wiggly, furry and fuzzy, with a pair of big ol’ eyes looking up at you.

New pets — all tied with a ribbon around a (hopefully) ventilated box — are a popular Christmas gift. But they are a gift that comes with responsibility.

“The holidays are one of our biggest adoption times,” said Bev Greco, director of the Cumberland County SPCA and the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. The organization handles not only dogs and cats, but small animals such as birds and rabbits. Greco said her group has also dealt with small livestock.

It’s natural for people to become bored with their presents after they’ve had them for a while, but pets are an exception. The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals found in a 2013 study that 96 percent of people who got pets as a gift loved the animal equally or more after getting their present.

Whether you found a pet under your Christmas tree or got an IOU for a new furry friend, owning a pet is a large responsibility, particularly if it’s your first.

Greco and Marissa Flatley, manager of the Animal House grooming salon and pet shop on the White Horse Pike in Absecon, have some advice for new pet owners to keep in mind well beyond the holidays.

Do your research

One of the biggest recommendations from Greco and Flatley is to know what you’re getting into with a new pet. That requires doing research before presenting your furry or feathered gift to a loved one.

Things that should be considered when thinking about a new pet include the species and breed of pet you’re looking for, from a cockatiel to a Siamese kitten or a Bernese mountain dog.

Some of the most basic questions you have to ask yourself when getting a new pet are the most important. Will you buy the pet from a breeder, or adopt? Will the pet be spayed or neutered? How old is your new pet?

“I think people make the mistake of getting a pet that they think looks cute, but they don’t do their research ahead of time,” Flatley said.

For example, Flatley said, some customers come in looking for toys to “keep the dog quiet,” indicating that they didn’t looked into the breed’s behavior before they got their dog.

Research can help answer questions about things such as your new friend’s activity levels, Greco said. Do they need a lot of space to run around, or are they comfortable lazing on the couch?

For dogs, the American Kennel Club’s website is a good resource, and cat information can be found at the American Cat Fanciers Association’s site.

“Make sure you have the time and you can afford whatever the costs are,” Greco said.

The cost of love

The American Pet Products Association estimates that people will spend just over $60 billion on their pets in 2015. Purchasing an animals makes up just 3 percent — a mere $2.2 billion — of that total.

With that in mind, making sure you have the money to take care of a new pet is crucial.

The association estimates annual expenses came to $1,641 for a dog and $1,125 for a cat in 2015, including veterinarian visits, food, kenneling, and other supplies. That includes housing, bedding and cages.

It’s also important to know if the town you live in charges a licensing fee..

Take your time

Acclimating a pet to a new home requires a lot of patience, Greco said.

“If you’re interested in bringing a dog into your life, think about a 3-month period where you can devote a lot of time to that animal,” she said. That includes taking a dog out for walks if it is not housebroken.

Cats are a little easier than their canine friends, Greco said, in that they are more independent.

And during the holidays, when houses are decorated and filled with presents, you should be a bit more attentive to your new family member.

“Around this time, kittens are climbing the Christmas tree and dogs are getting into things,” Flatley said. “You have to be aware of their new surroundings.”

Although the weather has been warm lately, new owners must be aware that they’ll have to take a dog outside in all sorts of weather.

“Are you willing to go out several times a day, whether it’s hot, cold, snowing, sleeting, raining, all those things?” she asked.

Vital check-ups

Within the first seven to 10 days of getting your pet, it’s important to bring your newest family member for a visit to the veterinarian, Greco and Flatley said.

“I’d even meet the veterinarian before the first check up,” Flatley said. “Just find a good fit between your pet, you and the doctor.”

Some vet offices will offer tours, or at least give information about their practices and doctors before an appointment is made, she added.

Pet adoption fees from a shelter cover spaying or neutering. But if you’re buying a pet from a breeder, that operation should be considered, particularly if you’re buying a young puppy or kitten, Greco said.

Shelter fees also usually cover vaccines and heartworm tests.

“Medically, you should look and make sure their eyes are clear, the nose is clear, watch out for any signs of stress,” Flatley said.

Being in a new environment may stress the pet out initially, causing some physical symptoms to appear, such as diarrhea or heavy breathing, Flatley said. If that doesn’t dissipate in a few days, a vet visit is in order, she said.

“With the initial couple of months, I’d expect to pay $500 or so,” in veterinary bills alone, Flatley said.

Contact: 609-272-7256

Twitter @ACPress_Tracey

Features reporter, Flavor magazine editor

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