Before gifting a loved one a furry, feathered or scaly friend for the holidays, experts recommend you know for sure that they'll really want their new pet.

For those choosing to offer the gift of pet companionship to a friend or family member, local nonprofits that work to keep animals off the streets and reduce the number that come into the shelters have some friendly advice on the topic.

President and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare Barbara Nelson and Friends of the Animal Shelter President Jennifer Miller both advise people to not surprise anyone with the gift of a pet.

Nelson said the recipient of a four-legged gift who isn't prepared for a new pet may feel obligated to take it but may later be ready to get rid of it. She said it's not only stressful on the owner but can also negatively impact that pet.

Miller said giving someone a puppy or kitten is nothing like gifting someone a piece of jewelry or a pair of gloves. An animal requires care, such as food, vet trips and other necessities.

“Pets are for life, not just for Christmas,” Nelson said. “Pets are a lot of fun. They can be a fantastic addition to any family, but they don't take care of themselves.”

Nelson said, unfortunately, the SPCA sees a spike in returns in February.

“That's tough because then we're falling into puppy and kitten season,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the SPCA offers certificates of adoption as an option so a loved one can come into the facility themselves to pick out a pet. She added the holidays can be stressful, which may not be the most ideal time to introduce a new pet into a home.

Miller reminds those who do receive a canine or feline addition to their family that there's typically an adjustment period of two to four weeks. She said new pet owners need to take time to help that pet adjust. Those who already have animals will have to slowly introduce the new pet to the rest of the family.

Lastly, Miller and Nelson remind new pet owners of the importance of spaying and neutering.

Of course, neither Nelson or Miller want to discourage adoptions during the holidays, but they want these animals going into forever homes.

“The way we are going to achieve our goal of one day not having to euthanize an adoptable pet ... is for us all who are considering getting a pet to adopt a pet at our shelter. We get the benefit of not only getting our new best friend, but will be saving a life,” Miller said.

Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va. and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.