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Everybody enjoys a gift, including your cat and dog, and even your bird. Veterinarians from Colorado State University offered this advice about gifts and games for companion animals this holiday season and beyond.

Cool Cats

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Dr. Elena Contreras, who works at CSU’s Center for Companion Animal Studies, says to keep any health issues in mind, especially those that relate to weight and teeth, when shopping for feline friends. Buying food puzzles or food-dispensing toys, some of which are interactive, can keep weight down. Owners can also hide kibble around the house or indoor areas where the cat hangs out.

“This is fun and stimulating for the cat, and helps them to engage in normal activities, such as hunting,” says Contreras, who adds that her cats enjoy it when she uses a pen laser pointer to play with them. “Be careful to not shine the laser pointer directly into your cat’s eyes,” she cautions. The veterinarian also suggests using the pointer so that your cat “captures” the laser at a treat, so that he or she feels a sense of accomplishment.

Other suggestions include either growing your own catnip or buying inexpensive, small catnip-filled toys with feathers. This holiday gift is backed up by research: A recent study found that most cats respond very favorably to catnip, as well as silver vine, tatarian honeysuckle and valerian root.

Brainy Birds

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Dr. Miranda Sadar, who works in Avian, Exotic and Zoological Medicine at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, suggests foraging toys for feathered friends. The toys can be store-bought or homemade, and don’t have to be complex, she says.

“The toys allow for birds to forage for their food, a behavior which happens in the wild.” Says Sadar, who has four guinea pigs and three Russian tortoises. This type of toy can be as simple as a toilet paper tube stuffed with un-dyed tissue paper, or as fancy as a foraging wheel. When introducing your bird to foraging toys, Sadar suggests you start simple and gradually increase the complexity.

Perches also make great gifts. “They come in a variety of shapes and sizes,” Sadar says. “However, you want to ensure that the material the perch is made out of is safe for birds’ feet.” Perches with rough surfaces, including sandpaper and concrete, can damage the feet of some birds.

Natural wooden perches, including those made from manzanita, offer a variety of diameters. Rope perches can also be purchased in a variety of sizes, but make sure your bird does not ingest any of the rope material, she says.

Doggone Delights

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Food or treat-dispensing toys and food puzzles are great gifts for dogs, Contreras says. Like cats, dogs can also struggle with weight issues. Make them work by freezing treats or kibble in a toy or in an ice cube tray. Your dog will have hours of fun and important mental stimulation.

Make sure you don’t use too many treats; account for the frozen treats when planning the rest of his or her meals and treats for the day.

Think about the activities your dog most enjoys—chewing, chasing, tug-of-war. Many bones work well for chewers, since they last a long time (check the packaging). Sturdy, thick elk antlers are also a great choice and can be found at almost any pet store. Don’t purchase an antler that is too small, because you don’t want your dog to ingest it. Rope tug toys are great gifts for both of you to enjoy together.

Give your dog a gift of basic or advanced manners training, or agility training. Make sure trainers use positive reinforcement and practices from Certified Professional Dog Trainers. If you have questions or concerns about the training methods, contact the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Getting your dog a doggie daycare punch card is also a great idea. He or she can go hang out with buddies during the day while you’re at work. Or let your dog go just for fun, since it’s like a trip to camp. Dog beds also make nice gifts. Options include an orthopedic bed, or one that allows your dog to curl up within it like in a donut. If your dog likes to burrow and nest when he or she sleeps, look for a bed that’s more like a cave. Nice dog bedding provides great relaxation for muscles and joints after a fun and active day playing with you and all those new toys.

Source: Colorado State University