With three of our pets having birthdays this past spring, I started thinking about the topic of pet gifts. Initially, the gifts that celebrated milestones were what came to my mind. To jog my memory of what other gifts Andy and I have given our pets, I began looking at past journals and browsing through our many years’ worth of photos. Suddenly I had a long list. To make the resulting list more manageable, I began to make associations. Some gifts were practical, others helped enrich our pets’ lives, and many were just fun presents. In this article, I’ll share with you my trip down memory lane.
First, there are the gifts that marked a milestone: cat collars. This might seem like a pretty boring and obvious gift. Well, the two collars I have in mind symbolized the initiation of two of our cats into our family. In 2006, a calico came to us as a stray. At the time, Andy had allergies and so we had no intention of keeping Lucy. When we couldn’t find her owner, and Andy’s allergies didn’t prove an issue, we decided to keep her. In honor of that decision, we gave Lucy a collar that she proudly wore for the rest of her life.
More recently, we fostered a cat that we rescued from a feral colony. By the time Bootsie had acclimated to life indoors, she’d also became part of our family, and so again we wanted to honor that decision with a collar. Yet for a time we hesitated. Feral cats, due to their limited contact with people, can be reluctant to be touched. Although Bootsie quickly grew to love curling up in my lap, I didn’t know how she’d react to having a foreign object wrapped about her neck. When our vet reassured us that a collar would be a good idea, so we thought we’d give it a try. While I kept her occupied with treats, I draped the collar over her neck. She flinched, but she didn’t run away. As she continued to snack, I slowly fastened the collar. Bootsie didn’t freak out. She even seemed to enjoy being just like her two collar-wearing sisters.
Second, there are the practical gifts. While all animals need food, water, and bedding, how they get it or the type they receive is what can make those gifts special. In our case, each one of these items turned into gifts that were prompted by a change in our pets’ health. For example, when Lucy became more prone to hairballs, we invested in cat grass. Cats don’t actually need grass, but the fiber content helps speed up the digestive process, which can aid in preventing constipation and in coughing up hairballs.
Lucy drank less and less water as she aged, so much so that she got a urinary tract infection, and so we bought her a water fountain. At first, despite the fact that the flow of water is supposed to entice cats, Lucy didn’t show much interest. Then her curiosity got the better of her. One day we heard her collar jangle against the fountain edge. After that, she began to drink regularly from the water fountain. Soon Andy took on the task of faithfully cleaning it every few weeks. The water fountain remained a fixture in our bathroom until Lucy became sick with Chronic Kidney Failure. Then at times we’d find her laying her head in the fountain, no doubt due to the insatiable thirst that Chronic Kidney Disease can cause. Fearing she would drown in the water, with sadness we put the fountain in storage.
When animals begin to age, familiar surfaces might start to feel unpleasant to their thinning bodies. When each of my guinea pigs began to age, I put more towels in their cages and play areas. Towels not only provide hiding spots which will increase their feeling of security, but they also provide extra warmth.
For dogs and cats, including those who sleep on human furniture such as beds, sofas, recliners, and chairs, beds of their own size will elevate their level of comfort. When Lucy began to age, I never considered that even laying on me might not be as comfortable as it used to be. I wish I had. Since losing Lucy, I’ve become more pro-active about providing our pets with ample bedding. Our three cats now have a total of eight beds distributed throughout our home.
Third, there are the enrichment gifts, some of which could arguably qualify as practical gifts. These include tubes, tunnels, bridges, and huts for guinea pigs; scratching posts and condos for cats; and agility equipment for cats and dogs. As much as any pet, guinea pigs need stimulation and exercise. Some of the ways Andy and I provided these were through store-bought supplies. But I also spent many hours scouring the internet for ideas for play arenas I could construct from cardboard boxes. While I enjoyed both constructing buildings for my pigs and watching them renovate them by shoving them around and chewing them up, I have to admit that Andy made the coolest gift of all. When our last guinea pig, Bumblebee, started to show signs of being lonely, created a box that had many toilet paper rolls hanging from its ceiling. Racing through the box, knocking into tubes that never fell, gave her hours of amusement.
Any list about cat purchases will include scratching posts. Cats need to scratch: it gives them exercise, stretches their muscles, keeps their claws sharp, and marks their territory. If you don’t buy a scratching post, you’ll end up with a frustrated cat or ruined furniture. If you can afford more than one scratching post, you might buy different types to offer opportunities for your cat to scratch both horizontal and vertical surfaces.
Another great enrichment gift is a cat condo, which help meet your cat’s need to jump and climb. When Lucy showed signs of old age, we invested in one with the hope of bringing extra enrichment to her life. And sure enough, every day found Lucy on her tower. Sometimes she simply chose to lay on one of the multiple ledges and look out the window. Her favorite spot seemed to be the cubby hole, where she often enjoyed a snooze. Other times, especially when we encouraged her, Lucy batted at the dangling wool balls. Cat condos can also increase territorial space, something that is crucial in a multi-pet household.
When our number of cats increased to three, we found that Cinder didn’t care for Bootsie to sleep in our bed. Yet Bootsie seemed to want to be with us as we slept. The solution? We bought a second cat condo, one that we set up beside our bed. Not only has Bootsie spent many hours resting in the bedroom condo, all three of our cats have enjoyed climbing all over it and even launching themselves from it onto our bed. Whatever size you purchase, do some research ahead because cat condos are expensive. Yet the investment is worth it, because the right one may very well last the lifetime of your cat. Or longer!
When our dog Barnaby was still young, Andy discovered that Barnaby liked to climb like a goat. Soon after that, he heard of the sport of agility and signed up for a class. The two loved the sport immediately and soon began to compete at trials. At some point, Andy handmade some weave poles. The photo shows him installing them in our back yard. He also bought a tunnel and, as part of a raffle, he won a jump. Barnaby has a wall full of ribbons.
None of which my cats will likely have, but that’s not to say agility is just for dogs. Two of our cats like to jump from chair-to-chair and through hoops. Whether they perform out of jealously or for the fun of it, who knows? At any rate, agility has enriched their lives too.
Fourth, there are the fun gifts. These include toys and treats. My guinea pigs always had plush animals in their cage with them. When my guinea pigs were young and playful, these plush toys seemed to mostly get ignored. As my guinea pigs began to age, and especially as they at times found themselves without a companion, they seemed to better appreciate having a snuggle toy. Andy and I didn’t often buy chew toys for our guinea pigs, allowing them to instead nibble to their heart’s content on (free!) cardboard boxes. On those rare occasions when we did hand money over for chew toys, we always bought ones that served a double purpose: For example, a hut served as a hiding place and a chew toy and a log was filled with edible treats and could also be played with like a toy.
Toys for cats come in two main categories. There are the ones that cats play with by themselves: plush mice and plastic balls. Andy and I don’t tend to invest too much money in them, as one seems to do the trick as much as another. Then there are the danglers. These aren’t that expensive either, but we do put more thought into them. All of our cats have had their favorites. The photo of Lucy shows her with one of her favorites, as well as how silly she let me be with her. Some toys don’t fit into the two main categories, such as a cardboard tube type toy which has feathers and even serves as a scratching toy. It suits our youngest cat who loves to roll around when she plays.
Besides toys, cats also love puzzle feeders. Our feline friends tend to turn into couch potatoes if we don’t provide them with stimulating activities. Puzzle feeders are a great way to appeal to your cat’s desire for physical and mental stimulation. Our cats received their first puzzle feeder this past Christmas. When I want to provide them with a quick activity, or I’m too tired to pull out the cat danglers, puzzle feeders make for great entertainment.
Finally, I return to dogs. When Barnaby was younger, I gave him a plush toy that Andy dubbed “puppy pal”. Even though he now has a basketful of toys and then some, this toy and a gray rat are his favorites. The gray rat we’ve never been able to replace. Fortunately, many years ago Andy did have the foresight to buy three more “puppy pal” so that this toy would last throughout Barnaby’s lifetime. For three years, we cared for a silky terrier named Gizmo. His teeth were the strongest I’ve seen on any of our pets. He could rip apart a toy in minutes. We finally managed to find a plush shark that he couldn’t destroy. When Gizmo started to decline, he switching for chewing up his toys to just snuggling with them. Aside from toys, Barnaby loves his treats. He has changed favorites over the years, with his current one being Vera Treats.
Fifth, there are the gifts that mark milestones more so for us as pet owners than for our pets. When Lucy began to show her age, we bought her a stroller. She had come to us as a stray and had never lost her love of the outdoors. Taking her for stroller rides became a way for us to include her in our outdoor activities.
Aside from the stroller, food has been the way that Andy and I have most celebrated our senior pets. When my oldest guinea pig turned eight, we threw her a party and treated her to a human-sized bowl of vegetables. As Lucy became more finicky in her old age, I would bend the rules more often about not feeing her human food. In the photo, she’s eating multiple scraps of chicken, something she loved until she eventually lost her interest in all food. And then just recently Andy and I celebrated Barnaby’s twelfth birthday. Because every birthday is now a milestone now that he’s reached his senior years, we took Barnaby out for what is pretty much everyone’s favorite food: ice-cream!
What are some gifts you’ve given your pets? Have any of our pet gifts inspired ideas? Post comments below!