With waggly tails and rumbly purrs, they show us the love every day. What better time of year than the holidays to delight a four-legged family member with a special gift?
“Pets get so much joy out of toys,” says Lorrie Shaw,., pet owner and pet blogger. “They get to use all of their senses and identify something as theirs.”
Pet ownership is at an all-time high. Sixty-two percent of U.S. households own a pet – some 72.9 million homes, according to the 2011-2012 annual survey by the American Pet Products Association. And we’re loving – and giving – to our animals like never before.
In 2010, dog owners increased spending on their pooches more than 30 percent, and dogs and cats are among the small pets that are most likely to get gifts at Christmas time, according to the APPA survey. Nine percent of dog owners say they’ve held a holiday or birthday party for their dog, and 4 percent say they’ve done so for their cat.
Pet owners’ emotional ties with dogs and cats run deep. “A lot of baby boomers become empty nesters and still have that nurturing need,” says Kristen Levine, founder of Fetching Communications, a marketer serving the pet industry. “A lot of millennials get pets before starting a family to fulfill that same need.”
While most pet owners won’t hesitate to purchase a little something special for their pets this holiday season, the boom in products at retail means there’s more to choose from. Think before you shop, says Shaw. “Pay attention to what your pet likes to do. Does he run and play, or is he more cognitive?”
Gaga for green
Natural, nontoxic, sustainable, recycled and locally produced products are hot for pets.
Earth Dog offers hemp dog collars, leashes, beds and toys, all made in the U.S. The Leaf green adjustable hemp collar has quick-release hardware ($18 to $20, specialty stores). Dog and cat beds made of soy-based material and recycled content are widely available. Many suppliers offer organic catnip. The Purr Highness cat scratcher from Worldwise is made of recycled corrugated cardboard and doubles as a lounger ($20, specialty stores). Doggles Plush Bottle Toys come in the shape of animals and have two squeakers. Stuff a used plastic water bottle inside and the toy provides instant crinkly chewing fun. ($13 and up, specialty stores).
Interactive games from the Swedish company Nina Ottosson are designed to stimulate a dog’s brain and reinforce people-friendly behavior. “Puzzle toys provide the mental stimulation many dogs lack in their everyday life,” says owner Nina Ottosson. Fill the new treat Maze and a pet will happily work away to “solve” the puzzle and get the treat. There are versions for cats and dogs (starting at $15, specialty stores.)
Self-grooming products that keep cats happy and entertained are on the rise. The Worldwise Smartykat Brushup self-grooming post was voted one of the Top 10 products at the 2011 Global Pet Expo by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker of TV’s “Good Morning America” fame. Hundreds of flexible silicone bristles provide a feel-good massage while pulling away loose fur ($20, specialty stores.)
“If you have a chewer, it’s integral that you find the type of toy that can withstand that kind of abuse,” says Shaw. Don’t skimp on cheap toys that can easily tear apart. Instead, buy a heavy-duty toy that can endure tough teeth. California animal trainer and pet expert Diana L. Guerrero recommends the Kong Co.’s super-duty hollow rubber toys. The Kong Extreme toy, used by police and drug enforcement and specially made for aggressive chewers, can be filled with treats to help reduce boredom (available in five sizes, $5 and up, specialty stores). Brightly colored twists, flyers, hurleys and hucks from West Paw Design are made of Zogoflex, a durable, pliable material that’s easy for a pet to pick up and won’t hurt teeth ($9 to $17, specialty stores).
Other toys for chew-happy canines: bones and tugs made of tightly twisted cotton threads, which clean teeth while the pup chews and plush toys for dogs who like to “mother” a toy. Nylabone hard nylon dog chews in a range of shapes and flavors last longer than rawhide bones and promote tooth health. A bacon-flavored DuraChew comes in the shape of a hollow stick ($12, specialty stores).
Life on the road
“More people travel with their pets nowadays,” says Levine. She stresses the importance of pet restraint while driving. “Just like texting and driving, a loose pet in the vehicle can be dangerous,” she says. Kurgo makes a variety of pet-carrying products. A Skybox Booster seat for puppies and small dogs up to 30 pounds lifts them up to provide them with a window view ($60, specialty stores); the Kurgo Auto Zip-Line tethers a dog safely, with a harness attached to a zip-line that runs between any two fixed points in the vehicle and allows a dog to walk back and forth, sit and stand ($38, specialty stores). Car carriers are especially important for cats, because most are not fond of travel. Levine suggests that animal lovers bring water for their pets during trips. Pawgua makes a portable, BPA-free plastic dog bowl for thirsty, out-and-about pups ($15, specialty stores). The bowl keeps water cool and the top twists off.
The best gift for a pet is simple and free: Stop, drop and play. “The best thing is for you to interact with your pets,” says Shaw. “It helps them hang on to their cognitive skills and reinforces that connection owners are seeking when they get pets in the first place.”