Tucking a fluffy puppy into a Christmas stocking may seem like a cute idea, but the holiday could become a nightmare if the puppy is suffocated or strangled, warns the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

More than a million puppies and an undetermined number of hamsters, kittens and other small animals, says HSUS, will be given as Christmas gifts this year. Many will be purchased on impulse, without proper thought to their care.

"Pets are not inanimate objects to be bought, wrapped, opened, momentarily admired then set aside for the Christmas-day events," says society spokeswoman Holly Sherer. "Christmas pets require special planning and care."

HSUS offers this advice to persons considering giving an animal as a gift:

Wrap a photo, dish, leash or some other symbolic reminder of the pet and leave it under the tree. Don't bring the animal home until after Christmas Day -- possibly the very worst time to give a pet to a young child because of all the other excitement.

Avoid giving pets as surprise gifts. That kind of surprise is rarely appreciated.

Avoid putting ribbons around an animal's neck or putting it in a box. Puppies or kittens may suffocate or become entangled in the ribbon.

Remember that the best age to take a puppy away from its mother and introduce it to a new enviroonment is about eight weeks.

If the puppy is older than eight weeks, bring it home a week or two before Christmas so it can adjust to its surroundings. The best time to bring a new pet home is in the morning, so it will have the daylight hours to investigate and acclimate itself to its new home.

Have the animal vaccinated and wormed, if possible, before you bring it home.

Move toxic plants, like holly, mistletoe and poinsettia, out of chewing reach of your pet.

Pick a puppy or kitten from an animal shelter, not a pet store, to really get into the Christmas spirit.

Buy your pet a life-saving Christmas present of an ID tag and license.