Playful Pet Gifts

Animals Love Interactive Toys and Games



What’s on the family pet’s wish list this year? Family members can have fun creating interactive toys and games that are easy on the holiday budget.

According to a recent American Pet Association survey, three out of four owners buy gifts for their pets during the holiday season to the collective tune of $5 billion. Dogs and cats receive new sweaters and boots, collars and leashes, toys and treats. Yet, what they really crave is attention.

“Too often, pets are left alone for eight hours a day, leading to anxiety, frustration and unwanted behaviors. It’s important that they’re mentally challenged, learn new commands and have fun,” says Dr. Mary Gardner, co-founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, in Los Angeles. “Cognitive decline and muscle wasting, common in older pets, can both be thwarted with games personalized for age and ability.”

Special Dog Treats

Look for sturdy wooden puzzles that hide a treat behind doors that pull or slide open. Advanced puzzles involve a multi-step solution. Following dog treat cookbooks will keep dedicated bakers in a canine’s good graces throughout the year.

Christmas gifts for catsWrite an activity—a walk, trip to the dog park, game of fetch or a doggie/human dance party—on a few index cards. “Teach the dog to choose by rubbing one card with a sodium-free bouillon cube,” suggests Eileen Proctor, a pet lifestyle expert in Denver. “As soon as the dog sniffs the card, reward with praise and the designated gift. Once the game is learned, there is no need to keep scenting the cards.” Turn up a corner of all the cards for easy pickup.

Purrfect for Cats

Cats may like to play it cool, but bring out a laser pointer and they act like kittens again. To mimic hunting instincts, play hide-and-seek with kitty’s food; put holes in a closed box with special bits of dry food inside, then let her paw it out or roll the box.

Older animals can benefit from new bedding; a mattress that resembles an egg carton is easy on the joints. A warming pad feels good on cold nights. Placing short steps beside a family bed allows co-sleeping to continue. A ramp helps senior dogs get into the car.


Place a too-large-to-swallow jingle bell inside an empty toilet paper roll and tape the ends shut for a charming-sounding toy. An orphaned sock filled with crinkly cellophane and sewn shut makes an intriguing toy to drag around. Improvise a fishing pole from a colorful dowel rod and heavy twine with a pet- and planet-friendly item tied on the end for a pet to chase.

Christmas gifts for birdsCats love to squeeze themselves into small spaces or relax in larger ones, so pass along gift boxes.

Pretty-Bird Specials

In the wild, birds spend most of their time foraging for food. Mimic a wilderness search by hiding food beneath an unused, unbleached coffee filter or a large lettuce leaf. Cut food in pieces big enough to hold in a claw to help hone balance. Hide seeds in a made-for-birds piñata, available at pet supply stores. Puzzle boxes range from reach-in-for-food versions to slide-a-door or pull-a-knob difficulty levels.

Fun for Fish

Betta (Siamese fighting) fish love to rest near the surface, so provide a leafy hammock, available where supplies are sold. Finned friends get exercise as they chase a laser pointer’s red dot through the water. A new plant or ping-pong ball floating on the surface provides added entertainment.

Moss balls are a good place to hide food and also help keep the water clean. A ceramic log lets fish hide inside.

Climbing Crabs

Hermit crabs are social animals, both curious and amusing. The gift of a new shell or two during molting season is appreciated. Flat-topped rocks with textured sides, large enough to not tip over, provide a different view. Fibers like those used for macramé, hung from the lid of the tank almost to the floor mimic rope climbing. Upside-down terra cotta flower pots, in different sizes and covered with netting, provide more surfaces and heights to explore.

“Time spent together is a gift for both the giver and the recipient,” says Proctor. “It’s more thoughtful than anything you can find in a store. You always get back more than you give.”


Sandra Murphy is a freelance writer in St. Louis, MO. Connect at StLouisFreelanceWriter@mindspring.com.

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