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What to Give that Picky Pet for Christmas?

By Kim Everson, DVM

Millionairecorner.com reports that Americans will spend about $55.5 billion on their pets this year and not just on necessities such as nutrition, veterinary care and grooming. Petsmart, for example, has reported it sold $1.9 million worth of goods and services in the fourth quarter alone suggesting holiday shopping for pets is big business. I am certainly not immune to the desire for my pooches and kitties to find a little something special under the Christmas tree. However, I will wait until the absolute last minute to hide the goodies under the tree for fear their excellent noses will sniff out the treats early and ruin the surprise!

What sorts of things do people buy for their pets? You needn’t head to the pet store to find holiday-themed pet products. Major discount chains, department stores and on-line retailers also offer a wide variety of Christmas stockings for canine and feline family members, commemorative ornaments, festive clothing and holiday treats. Just as for my human kids, my furry family members are usually treated to things they need anyway: pet beds, new collars and leashes, chewy treats and toys.

Here are a few of my favorite things that my pets will enjoy this holiday season:

Cat playing with remote-controlled mouse

Cheeks checks out a remote-control mouse (RunawayRascal by SmartyKat) that we gave her earlier this month — a St. Nick’s present! This motorized mouse is so easy to control my preschooler can run it. 

Another favorite toy in our feline household is anything catnip. These toys get very ratty with love over time. A word of caution about homemade catnip toys, however. One feline patient of mine so adored a baby sock brimming with dried home-grown catnip he rubbed his chin positively raw!

Two examples of kibble-filled toys for dogs

My dogs go absolutely wild for this type of food-dispensing toy. The football drops pieces of kibble out as the dog rolls it around on the floor. Yellow Labrador EdGrrr obsessively carried his prized football everywhere and it has since been run over in the driveway. A replacement football (or similar toy) is on his Christmas wish list!

American Bulldog Guppy depends on his daily kibble-stuffed Kong (left) to keep him occupied while human family members are at work and school. Each night I plug the tiny hole on the bottom with peanut butter, place the Kong in a reusable cup and load it with his regular kibble. Next I drizzle the kibble with water and place the entire thing in the freezer overnight. By morning, Guppy has a frozen pup-sicle treat that he licks, chews and nibbles at all day long. Don’t like peanut butter? Cheez Whiz, mashed banana or a variety of Kong Stuff’n flavors are also suitable for plugging the small hole. For pets with food allergies I recommend plugging the hole with a small amount of hypoallergenic or limited antigen canned food. 

Food puzzles are not just fun for the holidays. I regularly recommend that my clients invest in kibble-dispensing toys for their dogs and cats with obesity and behavioral problems. Naturally, for overweight pets, the food used in a puzzle toy should be part of the daily calorie allotment. For example, if your fat cat should eat no more than 1/3 cup of dry food per day, the puzzle’s contents should be taken from the measuring cup before you place it in the bowl. Chasing a kibble-dispensing ball around the room provides physical and mental stimulation most indoor felines lack. You might have to demonstrate how to operate the toy for your kitty first. 

Dogs with more energy than you know what to do with can also benefit from puzzle toys. Physical activity is not the only way to burn off energy. Mental challenges such as training and puzzles also can tire out an overactive pup. An internet search for “puzzle toys for dogs” will yield an unbelievable array of creative products.

As you search for stocking stuffers and last-minute holiday gifts for your pets, please read labels and directions carefully. With recent recalls of jerky treats derived from China, I would carefully avoid any edible treat produced in China. Avoid giving your dog bones and hard nylon bones to chew, because these objects frequently cause painful and costly dental problems. Practice caution with animal-derived chewies such as pig ears and rawhides because they can carry pathogens like Salmonella that may make you or your pet ill. Although generally well-tolerated by pets, restrict their use to a designated, easily-cleaned area and wash your hands after handling the items. Monitor the use of any toy or treat and discard items that are becoming worn out. The label claim “indestructible” seems to be a challenge for some pets. The last thing you want for Christmas is an unexpected veterinary bill for a broken tooth or intestinal obstruction! 

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