independent

Saturday 21 September 2019

Christmas present ideas for pampered pets

Durable chew toys make excellent gifts for dogs
Durable chew toys make excellent gifts for dogs

By Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

I'm sure many people think the idea of including pets at Christmas is ridiculous. The truth is, however, that a high percentage of pet owners now want to get something for the pets as part of the seasonal celebrations.

People often feel a strong emotional connection with the animals in their household, and in recent decades, pet dogs and cats have even begun to be seen as members of the family. As we head towards Christmas, one way that this close relationship is often noticed is the fact that people often feel the urge to buy their pets a Christmas present. As the presents are handed out to different family members on Christmas day, everyone gets pleasure from the fact that the dog or cat is included.

I'm often asked what presents I'd recommend, and I'm happy to offer my suggestions.

I'm a fan of functional gifts: items that make a genuine difference to the quality of life of the pet and their owner.

To keep it simple, here are two gift suggestions for dogs, and one each for cats and small pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.

My first choice for dogs is a Kong chew toy. Boredom is one of the most common problems for pet dogs in Ireland. We humans are good at entertaining ourselves, whether watching tv, looking at a computer or using our smart phones. Dogs, in contrast, tend to get bored if there is nothing obvious for them to do. And the boredom often causes problems, such as excessive barking, chewing objects around the home or even damaging themselves (e.g. By chewing their own feet). Of course, the best fix for boredom is to ensure that a dog has plenty of exercise: on average, they should be given around half an hour twice a day. If you do this, most dogs will be tired enough that they will be happy to spend some time snoozing afterwards. But when they wake up, how can boredom be prevented? The ideal answer is social interactions, either with their owner, or with another animal. This isn't always possible, and that's where the Kong comes in.

The Kong is a cone-shaped toy made from a tough red natural rubber compound. Its odd shape creates a satisfyingly unpredictable bounce if its thrown for a dog, and it has a hollow centre, designed to be stuffed with treats, either using the custom-made Kong products, or creating your own home-made mix of dog food and other treats. Dogs love chewing the Kong, grabbing it in their mouths and throwing it in the air to make morsels of food fall out. If a Kong is deep-frozen, it'll take your dog even longer to extract every last morsel of tastiness as they chew it. Kongs are not expensive (from around €5) and they're widely available at pet shops and vet clinics.

My second favourite dog toy is a Chuckit ball launcher. This is my favourite ball throwing device for dogs. The long plastic handle is fairly standard: a slightly curved stick with a semi-spherical cup at the end to hold the ball as it's thrown. It's the Chuckit balls that are special. They are heavier and more durable than standard tennis balls. They are easier to throw further, and additionally, they make a slight whistle as they fly through the air, giving the dog a better sense of where the ball is, and making them want to chase it more. If your dog likes chasing balls, they'll love the Chuckit.

My favourite cat gift is also the simple wand and feather toy for cats. Cats are natural predators: they're born with a desire to chase and pounce. This instinct means that most cats thoroughly enjoy playing games that involve chasing and pouncing, and this can provide an excellent opportunity for owners to engage with their pets. Cats can be aloof creatures, seemingly happy in their own space. But if people spend time playing with them, a type of mutual appreciation can develop. The cat enjoys attention from the owner, and the owner finds themselves getting fonder of their pet. And it can be great stress relief for an owner too: far more interesting than watching tv.

The wand and feather toy is simple: a plastic rod, attached to a length of cord (sometimes coated in artificial fur) with a cluster of feathers at the end. As the wand is waved, the feathers fly through the air, mimicking a small bird. A cat's hunting reflexes are excited by the sight of this, and they chase the feathers as if they are chasing a living creature. It's fun for the cat, and fun for the owner.

Insulation for an outdoor hutch. Ireland's climate is temperate enough that small creatures like rabbits and guinea pigs are often kept outdoors all year round. The problem is that in winter, there are occasional spells of bitterly cold weather. Every year, I hear about people finding their small pets dead in the hutch in the morning. There are two ways of tackling this: first, bring such animals indoors when the weather forecast is dire. And second, it makes sense to set up some type of simple insulation around the hutch. You can buy ready-made hutch insulation kits that fold around the hutch, attaching with velcro strips. Or you can do it yourself, buying insulation boards from a builders' provider, and fixing them around the outside of the hutch. Either way, if you want to do something caring for your small pets this Christmas, it's something to consider.

Why not pamper your pet this Christmas? Don't they deserve it?

Wexford People

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