As Santa chimney-drops Xboxes and iPads for good little girls and boys this year, he won't forget gifts for all those "furry" kids, too.
Here's a fake "stick" for Max, the dog who chews like a beaver, and a stuffed platypus for Molly, who likes to cuddle.
Tiffany, the Persian cat, snags her own fishing pole, while tabby kitten Phoenix scores a bag of scrumptious salmon treats.
Face it, we all go a little gaga over our pets, and Christmas is the perfect time to indulge and splurge on our four-legged pals.
Fifty percent of dog owners and 36 percent of cat owners bought Christmas gifts for their pets in 2012, according to an annual survey by the American Pet Products Association in Greenwich, Conn.
Pets are members of our families who offer us companionship and love us unconditionally, explains KC Theisen, of the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.
"Giving them a gift is one of the ways humans show their love in return," says the society's director of pet care issues in a phone interview.
Or as dog trainer Jenni Summy, of Petco in Layton, confesses, "I've spent a small fortune on my dog's Christmas presents already."
But just as parents worry about appropriate toys for their children, pet owners need to make sure they're getting top-quality playthings for their charges, say Theisen and Top of Utah pet care experts.
A lot of toys, especially at holiday time, are designed to look cute to people but can be potentially hazardous to dogs, says Susan Egbert, manager and trainer at Don's Pet Care in Ogden.
"A lot of stuff is created to lure the person in to buy it, and they really didn't give a lot of thought and care as to whether it's indestructible (to the pet)," Egbert says.
Eyes or noses on toy Santas and reindeer can be pulled off and eaten, for example, or squeakers are ripped out of toys and swallowed, she says. Even "jewels" that dangle from a pup's collar to spell her name could be ingested.
And those bright red and green Christmas-colored chew toys are loaded with dyes that contain preservatives, Egbert says.
"All the colors are for the person -- not the dog," the trainer says. "The reality of it is, dogs are very happy with very simple things. Keep it simple. Keep it natural. Keep it healthy."
Theisen says regular toys can easily be turned into safe seasonal toys; just choose a red and green braided rope, for instance, or a rubber ring that's red or green.
The looks of the toy won't matter much to dogs anyway, she adds: "They don't have any idea that they're chewing Santa or a sock, or a plush toy or a bone."
Remember, too, Egbert says, "Personal time is your best Christmas gift -- being with the dog, interacting, hide-and-seek games with toys. Again, it doesn't cost much, just a little bit of time."
Bone up on what dogs like
As holidays of merriment draw nigh, here are some tips for wrapping up just the right present for the canines on your gift list.
Yes, there are puzzles for dogs, problem-solving toys that require Rover to push balls or cubes around or move levers in order to find hidden treats.
"Those are pretty popular this year," says Scott Taylor, assistant manager at Petco in Harrisville. "It uses their brain and their time, and keeps them busy doing something, rather than barking at the mailman when he comes by."
Some puzzle-type feeders actually help slow down the pet's eating habits and can reduce obesity problems, says KC Theisen, pet care issues director for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.
Examples of puzzle feeders include the Buster Cube and Tug-A-Jug, or the Kibble Nibble, an egg-shaped toy with holes on each end.
"The dog has to toss that toy around in order to get the kibble to fall out the two holes. They have to work to get their food, and that is a good thing," says Barbara Neeley, owner of Bairbre Click 'n Paws Dog Training in North Ogden.
Before they were domesticated, dogs had to uses their noses and senses to hunt for food, Theisen says, so the puzzles capitalize on very natural behaviors.
"It's not normal to have 2 cups of kibble put in a bowl twice a day," she says.
It's a natural instinct for dogs to chew, so toys that satisfy that urge are important, says Neeley.
- Back-to-nature. The Dogwood Stick is a synthetic toy made by Petstages that also includes real wood, so the smell is enticing, says dog trainer Jenni Summy at Layton's Petco. "(Real sticks) can splinter, and you don't really want them chewing on sticks; it's not good for their teeth."
- Rubberized. A classic chew toy is the Kong, a rubber toy with a hollow center. The rubber offers a good chewing option, but the Kong can also be stuffed with peanut butter, cheese or other dog treats and frozen before giving it to Buddy. Neeley likes to mix equal parts of plain canned pumpkin and nonfat Greek yogurt with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter.
"Because it's frozen, it takes longer for the dog to work the food out of it, and it keeps them busy longer," Neeley says.
- Cool-down. When a puppy's teething, look for a teething stick that can be frozen just like one for a human baby, to soothe sore gums, Summy says. "When dogs are teething, that's when they start to develop bad chewing behavior," such as nibbling on furniture or shoes.
- Boning up. Be sure to supervise your dog with any bones, because heavy chewers can break off pieces or even break a tooth, Neeley says. Also, make sure any bone is the proper size for the dog's mouth; if it's too small, the dog might swallow it.
Sterilized bones are actual cow femurs that are cooked to remove all tissue and marrow; they can also be stuffed with goodies like a Kong can, Neeley says. Or natural bones, still containing pieces of meat, can be purchased at a butcher shop.
Antlers from elk, deer or moose are another chewing option; Taylor says they are environmentally friendly, natural (they contain calcium and phosphorus) and durable.
Other chewing options are Nylabones or similar products, which are "bones" made of pure nylon with flavor enhancements added. These toys are long-lasting and don't splinter like real bones do.
- Rawhides. "Dogs just love the intense flavor and aroma of the rawhides," Neeley says of these chews made from cow or pig hide.
The North Ogden dog trainer recommends compressed rawhide toys over shredded ones, which can be broken into small pieces more easily. But supervision is vital with any type of rawhide, the experts agree.
"They can chew off pieces and have a choking hazard or a digestive blockage," Theisen says.
Edible gifts are popular when her doggy-day-care clients "exchange" gifts at Christmas, says TeAnna Flannery, owner of Ruffledale Pet Resort in Layton.
"All dogs like treats, right?" she says, and the best ones -- from Fido's perspective -- are anything that's "soft and gooey or smells really yucky."
- Dining upgrades. When humans are feasting at the holidays, they tend to look for out-of-the-ordinary meals for their pets, too, Taylor says. Options might include Grammy's Pot Pie dog food or Venison Holiday Stew, both made by Merrick.
"While you're having something special for dinner, they're doing the same thing," Taylor says.
He says natural or grain-free foods and treats are also popular.
- Say no to jerky. Jerky-style treats have made recent headlines as a health concern and should be avoided altogether, says Theisen, of the Humane Society of the United States.
"Hundreds of pets have been sickened, and dozens have died, due to an unknown problem that is linked to jerky treats being imported from China," she says. The Humane Society's recommendation is to avoid all jerky treats for now, she says, and stick with biscuit-type items if you want to give an edible gift.
Or, she says, "If your dog can't live without his chicken jerky on Christmas Eve, a local (pet) bakery would be a terrific alternative."
- Stuffies. Plush items can make good dog toys, but be sure they are well made and don't have any parts that can be torn off or swallowed, says Susan Egbert, manager/trainer at Don's Pet Care in Ogden.
"If the stuffing's coming out, the toy needs to go," Theisen adds.
One good find Neeley discovered from fellow trainers is the World's Tuffest Soft Dog Toy, made by Tuffy Pet Toys. These plush toys, which come in many shapes, feature multiple layers bonded and sewn together, she says, and the squeaker is encased in a protective pouch.
Even so, Neeley suggests that stuffed toys -- or any toys -- not be left out all the time. "They're designed to be play toys, not chew toys," she says.
Flannery adds you have to know your dog's behavior: "Some dogs will chew up a toy and leave it; other dogs will chew up a toy to eat it."
- On the ropes. Rope toys made of braided cotton string are fun for dogs to play with and also give their teeth a good flossing during chewing, Theisen says.
Again, "you need to supervise so that large wads of string don't come off at once," she says.
Playing tug-of-war with your dog with a rope, or even playing a game of fetch, is a great way to bond with your pet, Neeley explains, "plus, it's good exercise for the dog. Basically, a tired dog is a good dog."
Don't forget the felines
Don't leave Fluffy lounging on the couch when it comes to Christmas toys.
Cats love to exercise and chase things, engaging their natural instincts to chase after rodents, says KC Theisen, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.
And when kitties get some needed play time, they're less likely to "make mischief" or claw the furniture, Theisen says in a phone interview.
A few ideas for stocking up the ol' cat stocking:
- Pole toys. What cat wouldn't love chasing a ball or feather attached to the end of a string on a sort of fishing pole? This satisfies the cat's hunting instinct, Theisen says, including grabbing at "prey" with his paws. You can buy these sorts of toys or make one yourself.
- Fetch items. Tiny furry mice or balls of all styles can be found in any pet store.
"Some cats will fetch if you toss their mouse or ball across the floor; they'll go get it because they want it to run away again," Theisen says.
- Laser lights. Cats love chasing the little red dot of light around the floor, but for the owner who gets tired of shining the pointer, there are also automatic versions of this toy that emit beams of light, says Scott Taylor, assistant manager of Petco in Harrisville.
"The laser goes by itself ... you don't even have to hang on to the laser," he says.
- Puzzles. Dogs aren't the only critters who can boost their brain power; all sorts of puzzles are available to challenge the smarts of felines as well. Options might include ball-shaped feeders with holes that dispense kibble, or small toy boxes filled with balls or other objects that the cat has to find.
- Boxes. Just like children, sometimes cats love the box the present came in best. TeAnna Flannery, of Ruffledale Pet Resort in Layton, says the two cats who live at her boarding and day care facility can't get enough of them.
"Anytime we get a shipment (of boxed items) in, we put them out for the kitties," she says.