This holiday season, the adult relatives made a pact to buy presents exclusively for the “littles”. In our animal-loving households, that thankfully includes our four-legged kids! With so many great dog toys, treats, and accessories out there to add some bling to your pet’s wardrobe, it can be difficult to know where to spend your hard-earned dollars. I’ve reviewed some of the best holiday gift ideas for your furry friends, and Luna and Leo have even gotten to test out a few! When possible, I try to shop small and purchase fun, unique gifts at local small pet retailers. Often, they have friendly and accessible staff with personal knowledge about the products they sell.
Here are some criteria to consider when purchasing anything that your pet may ingest, carry, gnaw, or retrieve as well as some recommendations to keep your pet mentally and physically stimulated, especially important during the holiday season:
1. Durability and Texture
Not many toys will stand up to the bite of a pittie or shepherd. Look for toys that have reinforced seams and no small pieces like plastic “eyes” or stuffing that can be swallowed. Bonus points for anything that squeaks, makes a fun crunching sound, or can be carried in your pet’s mouth. A few toys that stood up to the durability and texture test are the ZippyPaws – Holiday Z-Stitch Extra Tough No Stuffing Plush Dog Toy with Squeaker and the Goughnut Stick. The stick is made of natural rubber, floats, and comes with a replacement guarantee if your dog penetrates the outer layer.
This one stirs up all kinds of controversy! Even though some breeds may still resemble their wolf ancestors, it’s important to avoid dog toys that don’t pass the thumbnail test (pressing into the object leaves an impression with your thumbnail). That means avoiding bones, antlers, or even hooves, which can lead to tooth fractures, pain, infection, and splintering in the gastrointestinal system causing rupture, blockage, or even death. Likewise, rawhides can be unsafe as they may deteriorate into chunks that are too big to digest and harbor bacterial pathogens. A safe dog toy that meets my criteria for durability, texture, and hardness is the Nylabone Dura Chew Plus; it’s got a pleasing ribbed texture, is chicken flavored, comes in multiple sizes, and dogs are able to shave off satisfying rice-grain sized bits that are safe to ingest.
Beware the treated pig ear or coated bully stick. Not only do the coatings stain fabric and carpeting, they can cause digestive upset in your dog and promote bacterial growth on the surface of the chew. Many are not sourced in the United States and may be a by-product of the inhumane international fur trade. It’s important to consider the impact your purchase has on other species and the environment; a great dog toy shouldn’t harm any other critters during production. One veterinarian recommended chew that is coated with a dual-enzyme system to prevent tartar formation – the Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews for Dogs. Not only is it flavorful but it provides the benefit of good oral health too!
4. Size & Shape
It’s important to consider the “anatomy” of the dog toys you purchase and always supervise your pet when they’re playing or chewing on the new holiday gift. Toys and treats should not be small enough that they can become a choking hazard. Nor should they be too large that jaw strain is a sequalae of chewing. Avoid toys that have a ring or bend that can become stuck over the dog’s jaw causing injury. My recommendation is the Wisedom Dog Treat Ball; it has a variety of treat dispensing options, has an unpredictable and engaging bounce due to its unique three-armed design, and is made of a softer rubber with plenty of give to avoid injury. Another safe toy that comes in multiple sizes is the PetSafe Busy Buddy Calming Toys. Luna couldn’t get enough play time once I filled it with some of her kibble.
Myth: a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. Make sure your gift is machine or dishwasher safe! Kong brand products are not only sturdy but come in multiple sizes, have features that allow them to be stuffed with treats, and are top-rack dishwasher friendly. Kong brand soft toys can be thrown in the washing machine. The Outward Hound Bionic Ball can be filled with a snack for added enjoyment and disinfected in the dishwasher after use.
The best dog toys are mentally engaging, provide an outlet for chewing, help reinforce a positive behavior, relieve stress, and provide physical exercise and entertainment. Most food-motivated dogs love a treat that’s bacon, chicken, beef, or cheese flavored. Kong stuffn easy treat bacon and cheese is made to be used in toys with a dispensing hole and dogs find it irresistible! Pet owners use this treat-filled toy to relieve separation anxiety and allow safe, long-lasting chewing. We recently purchased a Furbo, an interactive, treat-dispensing camera and microphone, that allows us to check-in on our pups when we aren’t home. With a tap on our smartphone, we can provide a positive food reward when they stop barking at the mailman or move away from the door. Some tasty, healthy treats that are low in calories and work well with the Furbo system are Bil-Jac Little-Jacs Small Dog Chicken Liver Training Dog Treats. I’m not sure who enjoys this new toy more, me or the dogs!