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Saturday, December 9, 2023

The best buys when choosing pet gifts this season

They’re members of our family so we want to include them when creating a festive atmosphere in our living space and, of course, in seasonal gift-giving. Beanie hats, hoodies, DNA tests, and all clothes bar severe weather protection? These are presents to excite the owner, not the dog.

We spoke with Avril Cowman, a veterinary surgeon at Animal Care Hospital in Douglas, Cork, to learn more about her specialist insights on choosing treats that will not only deliver joy to their world, but potentially deepen our relationship with our cat or dog.


Every dog has its sleeping style, and if you have a dog that loves to go under the blankies (for example yours), a clam-bed is a comforting sanctuary.

Largely marketed for thin-skinned breeds, like Italian greyhounds, they offer a two-layer pocket of insulated covers to slip into and are equally welcome for dogs who love a dark, warm, quiet den, even when your central heating is off.

If your dog has a moderate to severely anxious personality (not uncommon for dogs left for long periods at home), an anti-anxiety bed might be just the thing.

Soft beds of this kind are excellent for older and arthritic dogs or dogs with noise phobias.

The Rolls-Royce of snuggle beds, Bliss Bolsters and Leaves, priced from €133, charliechau.com.
The Rolls-Royce of snuggle beds, Bliss Bolsters and Leaves, priced from €133, charliechau.com.

With a more luxe pile than a conventional dog bed, the soft, enveloping feel is said to stir the memory of lying up against the mother as a puppy.

A clean, warm, safe spot where they can completely relax, can alter a dog’s outlook.

Avril adds: “Anxiety beds and blankets are something we work with at the hospital, as we promote a fear-free environment. They are very beneficial and we have seen a very positive response in use, in both cats and dogs. Use of pheromone sprays, like Adaptil and Feliway sprays, infused on these anxiety beds and blankets also work well.”

Products: Budget pocket beds from €30 at temu.com or go to the top with products from self-described “crazy dog ladies” Christine and Jenny Chau. Snuggle Beds, Bliss Bolsters and Leaves, priced from €133, charliechau.com; bed from €43.99; petsplus.ie.

Any quality bed will be washable at 30C (cover and pillow) to keep them fresh and hygienic, and all these beds could be run up by a clever sewer. Take any washable large fluffy cushion bed and simply add a robust, velvet envelope cover for winter use.

The Sausage Pit is a chic travel bed specially designed for dachshunds! Ensure your pet is well strapped in in the event of an accident; €229 to order, thesausagepit.co.uk.
The Sausage Pit is a chic travel bed specially designed for dachshunds! Ensure your pet is well strapped in in the event of an accident; €229 to order, thesausagepit.co.uk.


As Avril explains: “Playtime can create a special bond between pet and human, and it’s important to consider a few different aspects when it comes to selecting the right toys and games. Ball launchers for dogs are a wonderful way to burn off some energy and give your arm a break.

“Size, shape, material, activity intended, and toxins are important things to consider when purchasing gifts.

“Snuffle mats, Kong Wobblers, and food dispensing puzzles work great as enrichment tools to help reduce stress and anxiety.

“Consider the size of the puzzles, for example, the size of the Kong Wobblers.

“They must be sized appropriately. The entire toy should not be able to fit your pet’s mouth, as this increases the chance of accidental ingestion or choking.

“Tug toys are a wonderful way to build a bond.

“Research has proven dogs who play tug of war with their human scored higher in confident interactivity.

“They were also less likely to exhibit aggression if their human-initiated tug of war. Try to think of it as human and dog versus toy.

“You can see when you allow your pet to win, they will give it back to you or try to initiate play again, instead of guarding it.

“It engages their natural instinct and mimics their natural prey drive.”

“Chewing is another natural behaviour, and pets should be allowed to express this activity. They relieve boredom, reduce destructive chewing, and provide positive mental stimulation, re-directing unwanted behaviour. Safe chew toys will be durable but not too hard, which can cause damage to your pet’s teeth, causing fractures. Check it out with the fingernail test. If you cannot press your fingernail into the toy, it is too hard.

“Chew toys should never contain harmful contaminants and come in a range of sizes. They can improve dental health, but it’s important to remember they don’t replace brushing your pets’ teeth. I strongly recommend regularly checking your pets’ chew toys to ensure any damaged toys are discarded and that you only select products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval.”

Products: The Kong Reflex combines tug and fetch activity and is made in bite-defying material to satisfy chewing instincts.

It features a handy stretchy strap to comfortably fuel dynamic tugging action. €16.99 from all suppliers.

Dog’s Creek Ball Mountaineer. Buoyant and air-permeable, the double rubber ball design allows the toy to be thrown far, to bounce in surprising directions, and your dog can breathe more easily when retrieving it; it’s priced at €15.99, maxizoo.ie


Any activity that stimulates a dog or cat’s healthy, natural behaviour, enriching their environment is a very good thing.

Cooped up, and yelled at if they excavate lawns and flower beds, they are robbed of the joy of rooting, scratching, and scenting. Snuffle mats are becoming increasingly popular.

Comprising of long tufted or rolled fabric on a supporting plastic mat, this weird-looking device replicates the feel and appearance of shaggy grass and piles of leaf debris. Some look like a very sad bathmat in zinging kindergarten colour, some appear like shaggy chrysanthemum heads, others are designed with a drawstring to close them into a pouch.

Snuffle mats are foraging toys and you can hide bits of kibble in the mat to allow the dog to find treats.

Is that outfit really a gift for your dog or is it to entertain you? File picture
Is that outfit really a gift for your dog or is it to entertain you? File picture

Cats are equally interested, but it’s an ideal site for a housebound cat to “mark”, and once that stink sinks in — it’s a heave-ho to the black bin.

Avril adds: “We can keep our four-legged friends physically and mentally stimulated through wonderful interactive games and puzzles. Food dispensing and puzzles work very well as enrichment tools, reducing stress and anxiety. Ensure puzzles are sized appropriately.”

Products: Nobby, activity mat €24.99, pets.ie; find instructions to make your own snuffle mat from the site of the international animal welfare charity — Four Paws.

The team advise: “Sit next to the mat, show your dog the treat and hide it in such a way that he can easily find it again. When your dog has discovered the treat, praise him immediately. Gradually increase the hiding game and use several.”

Kong Wobblers containing food treats, from €15-€30, from various suppliers.


Avril explains her pick for puss this Christmas: “Cats love to hide in high places and the cat trees provide them with a sense of security. Tall cat towers and trees give them ways to create distance and reduce their anxiety levels.

“Most are designed with scratch poles and help keep their nail growth under control, reducing the unwanted behaviour of scratching your furniture. And, of course, they provide them with great fun climbing from level to level!

“Next up are laser pointers/ feather teasers — a great way to entertain your pet, provide mental stimulation, encourage movement, and increase activity in indoor cats. It’s a great way to get your cat’s steps in when trying to shed a few pounds — as we know house cats can often lead sedentary lifestyles.

“Laser games require focus and mimic the natural behaviour of fast-moving prey. Interactive feeding toys are ideal to stimulate your cat’s mind as they must think, plan, and forage for their food, allowing their natural instincts to come into play.

“The feeders also help with separation anxiety by distracting and entertaining your pet and creating a happy and healthy fur baby. As with any toy, play should be supervised to ensure small pieces of materials are not accidentally ingested by your pets.”

Products: The Furbo Cat Camera. Watch puss through 360 degrees and even play with them — with an integrated feather wand that moves about. It operates as an app-enabled nanny cam, recording your cat’s activity in photos and videos uploaded to the Cloud.

Ebay, Truugo, and furbo.com from €220.

PetSafe FroliCat Bolt Laser cat toy. It can be held in your hands or placed on a flat surface to watch your cat stalk, jump, and chase; €33, zooplus.ie.

For good value in electronic feathers, trees, and scratching combos, try products including Blue Paw at temu.com.

Remember that no feeder or smart robot spitting kibble at your cat or dog makes up for human and animal company — above all, all they want for Christmas is you.

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