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It can be a challenge to find the right holiday gift for your favorite aunt or uncle, best friend … and your dog, cat or bird. Yes, pets need something in their stockings, too.
With lots of options to choose from, veterinarians from Colorado State University offer their advice about gifts and games for companion animals this holiday season.
Dr. Elena Contreras, who works at CSU’s Center for Companion Animal Studies, said when shopping for feline friends, it’s best to keep in mind any health issues they’re facing related to weight — being too heavy — and their teeth.
Buying food puzzles or food dispensing toys, some of which are interactive, can help keep their weight down, she said. Owners can also hide kibble around the house or indoor areas where the cat hangs out. “This is fun and stimulating for the cat and helps them to engage in normal activities such as hunting,” said Contreras, proud owner of four cats and three dogs (all adopted from shelters).
Toys that encourage pouncing and chasing are typically fun for cats, too. And as most people who live with cats know, the animals can have lots of fun with items that we might not consider toys: cardboard boxes and rolled up pieces of paper, for example.
Contreras also said her cats enjoy when she uses a pen laser pointer to play with them. “Be careful to not shine the laser pointer directly into your cat’s eyes,” she cautioned. The veterinarian also suggests using the pointer so that your cat “captures” the laser at a treat, so that he or she feels a sense of accomplishment.
Other suggestions include either growing your own catnip or buying inexpensive, small catnip-filled toys with feathers. This holiday gift is backed up by research: A recent study found that most cats respond very favorably to silver vine, tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root as well as catnip.
“These can be used for olfactory enrichment, stimulating the cat,” she said. “And some of the other plants might be stimulating for cats that aren’t interested in catnip.”
Dr. Miranda Sadar, who works in Avian, Exotic and Zoological Medicine at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at CSU, suggests foraging toys for feathered friends. The toys can be store-bought or homemade and don’t have to be complex, she said.
“The toys allow for birds to forage for their food, a behavior which happens in the wild,” Sadar, who has four guinea pigs and three Russian tortoises, explained.
This type of toy can be as simple as a toilet paper tube stuffed with undyed tissue paper, or as fancy as a foraging wheel. When introducing your bird to foraging toys, Sadar suggests that you start simple and gradually increase the complexity.
Perches also make great gifts. “They come in a variety of shapes and sizes,” Sadar said. “However, you want to ensure that the material the perch is made out of is safe for birds’ feet.”
Natural wooden perches, including those made from manzanita, offer a variety of diameters. Rope perches can also be purchased in a variety of sizes, but Sadar said to make sure that your bird does not ingest any of the rope material. And perches with rough surfaces, including sandpaper and concrete, can be damaging to the feet of some birds.
Food or treat-dispensing toys and food puzzles are great gifts for dogs, said Contreras. Dogs, like cats — and people, let’s face it — can also struggle with weight issues.
Make them work to get at the food by freezing treats or kibble in a toy or in an ice cube tray or the bottom portion of a milk carton. Your dog will have hours of fun and important mental stimulation. Make sure you don’t use too many treats; account for the frozen treats when planning the rest of his or her meals and treats for the day. And if your dog tends to ingest things like paper, boxes or cartons, you might want to avoid the mike carton option.
Think about the activities your dog has the most fun with: chewing, chasing or playing tug-of-war.
Many bones work well for chewers, since they last a long time (check the packaging for estimates). Sturdy, thick elk antlers are also a great choice and can be found at almost any pet store. Don’t purchase an antler that is too small, because you don’t want your dog to ingest it. Rope tug toys are also great gifts for both of you to enjoy together.
Give your dog a gift of weekly basic or advanced manners or other training. Check out your local pet stores and companies that offer training. Make sure the trainers use positive reinforcement and practices from Certified Professional Dog Trainers. If you have questions or concerns about the training methods, contact the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
Is your dog athletic? You can look into agility training and courses. Again, you want to make sure the courses are those that you both can do together, and make sure they’re based on positive reinforcement.
You can also make an indoor agility course in your own home. Set up hoops, chairs and poles for your dog to go around, over and under. Remember to use a reward-based system, providing praise and giving treats when he or she accomplishes a step.
Getting your dog a doggie daycare punch card is also a great idea. He or she can go hang out with buddies during the day while you’re at work. Or let your dog go just for fun, since it’s like a trip to camp.
Dog beds also make nice gifts. Options include an orthopedic bed, or one that allows your dog to curl up within it like in a donut. If your dog likes to burrow and nest when he or she sleeps, look for a bed that’s more like a cave . Nice bedding for your dog provides great relaxation for muscles and joints after the fun, stimulating, active day playing with you and all those new toys.