The following gifts have gone through years of testing by our resident animals here at CATALYST—everything from what makes the snobby pug get excited to the one bird toy that has survived the test of time. I thought of rating them in order of most favored but to be honest, each one of these toys is "top" in my—and our animal family's—opinion. You may find all these toys at your favorite pet store or on line.
KONG Classic has been around for thirty years. Made of super-bouncy, natural rubber compound, it entertains and is pretty indestructible (Fricka with her mondo sharp teeth and limitless energy hasn't been able to put a dent in it). It can be chewed on, thrown, and stuffed with treats—which I find is a great way to occupy Grace when I leave her for more than an hour. Comes in x-small, small, medium, large, x-large and xx-large. You can buy the KONG stuffing (similar to Cheez-Whiz) or put anything that will stick inside, like peanut butter. Cost: $5.50-18.50
Chuckit! By Fetch Games. Best part of this ball-throwing toy is the no-slobber, hands-free pickup. It's like an extension of your arm that throws balls surprisingly far which is great exercise for your dog. Thistle can go for hours with this game (as a herding dog, she has incredible endurance). Sizes for small to large dogs. Cost: $10.50-15.
Awful Mad Kitty by Fat Cat. I discovered this dog toy while searching for something that squeaked (a must for most dogs) and lasted more than 10 minutes at the mercy of Stella's super destructive jaws: While she craves the squeaking sound, she loves extracting the "heart" of her victim even more. Awful Mad Kitty series is made with colorful durable canvas, and while Stella does eventually gnaw her way into the kitty innards, it takes days, rather than minutes of unbridled chewing, squeaky fun. Even long after the "heart" comes out, she tosses it around and plays with it. Comes in different colors and characters (like chickens). Cost: $8-12. The best deals I could find are online and at Smith's marketplace.
Buster Food Cube by Ourpet's. I've had this treat dispenser/toy for years and my dogs never tire of it. The ball rolls and slides in unpredictable directions which challenges them physically and mentally, and better, reduces boredom and destructive behavior. Made of tough plastic, your dog noses and tosses it around to get food treats out of the maze-like insides. The winding chambers make it so the dog has to move the cube in many different directions for a treat to come out. Comes in two size and several colors. Cost varies by source: $9-15.
Dog day care—or is it play school?
There's one thing I know, most dogs love to socialize and one of the best gifts you can give them is some time at day care. I have seen dogs so excited about heading off to "camp" each day that they wait anxiously by the door until their parent is ready to go. After a huge day of playing and running around with their best friends they come home exhausted and happy, which is a good thing, right? There are several really good dog day care places, I would ask your friends or research on line for recommendations. Prices are competitive and best when you buy a "punch card" or multiple days. May be as low as $13 a day depending on how many days you purchase.
This gift may be more for the giver than receiver, though a clean pet often gets more privileges and pat-pats, and trimmed nails make walking more comfortable, too. Cost: $15-40
A note on treats I am not a fan of most treats on the market; if they don't poison our dogs (chicken jerky from China), they're making them emit dog-awful smelly farts (any rawhide). I've found the best treats are:
Milk biscuits: Try homemade (you can get recipes off the web).
Real beef bone: A bit messy but last for hours/days.
Most teeth-cleaning treats: Work great but are fairly pricey.
I don't really want to be seen as some kind of kitty drug pusher but let's face it, cats get off on catnip. Combined with a fuzzy mouse filled with the stuff you can't get any better. My dear departed cat Sam loved this more than anything. Office cat Xenon prefers his straight.
Any rod with a feather/bell/ribbon at the end. This one is Da Bird Feather Teaser. Cost: $3-8.
Laser. This one is by Petco and is the same concept as the feather teaser above only with a (you guessed it) laser. Cats LOVE to chase things. Or get stoned ... or both. $3.50-5.
Mirror and Bell. Yes, your bird is a narcissist, don't deny it; he will gaze lovingly into his own eyes and chirp sweet nothings, only taking an occasional break to ring the bell, for hours on end. This mirror and bell is by Petco but birds aren't picky, as long as they see themselves, they're happy. Honestly, this is about the only toy you need for a small bird (parakeet size). Cost: $2.25-5.