Lots of suitable gifts for your pet to enjoy this Christmas
'A Dog is For Life, Not Just for Christmas' is a slogan that has become so much a part of our language that it almost deserves to be in the dictionary. The catch-phrase was coined by Clarissa Baldwin, the Chairperson of Dogs Trust, thirty five years ago, in 1978.
By this stage, everyone should have got the message: pets must not be given as Christmas presents. They are not appropriate as one-off surprises: they involve a lifetime commitment, stretching fifteen years or more into the future. Yes, you can give a 'promise of a pet in the New Year' at Christmas, but please don't give a living animal.
For people who already have pets, it can be fun to include them as recipients on your Christmas present list. Every year, I am asked by newspaper editors and television producers to come up with a Christmas list of interesting goodies for pets and pet lovers.
If you want a simple Christmas themed present, then nip up to your local pet shop and you'll find a range of Santa coats, Christmas-Tree-shaped toys, and other festive novelties, costing only a few euro. These can be fun, but they're unlikely to be useful for the long term.
The Kong range of chew toys are a better answer if you are looking for something that will last. Made from hard, durable rubber, these are designed to be used and re-used, by stuffing them with soft food, then putting into the deep freeze. Your dog will enjoy chewing the toy for up to an hour, until the last remnant of thawed-out food is extracted. A Kong can last for a year or more, being used several times a week. Kongs are an excellent way of allowing dogs to fulfil their natural need to chew, preventing boredom at the same time.
If you are looking for a more active type of toy, my favourite example is a tennis-ball-chucker for dogs. These come in a range of styles, but the general idea is that you fit the ball into a semi-spherical cup at the end of a stick which measures a couple of feet long. The leverage of the stick allows you to throw a ball with ease for fifty yards or more.
If you have a dog that enjoys chasing objects, it's far safer and easier than throwing sticks or stones. You get what you pay for when buying this type of toy: the cheaper ones tend to come with balls that are easily chewed to pieces by an active dog. If you pay more, the balls tend to be tougher, lasting for longer.
You can also buy special balls that make a whistling noise as they hurtle into the distance: more fun for a dog in full play mode. There are also illuminated balls, which can help at dusk: if you've ever lost a ball in the dark, you'll know how useful this can be.
Some of my recommended presents are for pet owners rather than the pets themselves: the Dicky Bag is an example (www.dickybag.com). This is an award winning stylish neoprene bag that's lightweight, airtight, washable and leak-proof. You take it with you when going for a walk with your dog (it can be attached by a clip to you or your dog). The product slogan says it all: 'The Civilised Way to Carry Dog Poop' . It's a far better way of dealing with the practical issue of poop-scooping than having to carry a knotted plastic bag until you find a suitable bin.
The Sony Action Cam is another example of a pet-owner present: it's a high-definition, Wi-Fi enabled video camera with a waterproof case & hands-free kit. The idea is that you attach the camera to your dog's back via a specially designed Dog Mount. You can then use your smart phone or tablet to view and film the world from your dog's perspective.
The Action Cam can also be used for many other purposes, from standard around-the-home family scenes to helmet-mounted perspectives when mountain biking. For me, the highlight of the device is the way that it allows you to see the world from your dog's point of view.
For cat owners, technology has also come up with another innovative idea: a satellite cat-tracker. G-Paws (www.g-paws.com) is a lightweight, weatherproof GPS recorder that can be attached to your cat's collar. When your cat comes home in the evening, you plug the device into your computer: you'll see a dotted line on a birds-eye view of your home area on Google Earth, showing exactly where your pet has been. You might think that you have a laid-back lazy cat, but you may change your mind when you see where he goes when you aren't watching him.
Rabbits and other small pets can also benefit from Christmas goodies: a microwaveable heat pad is the ideal answer for cold winter nights. Before you go to bed yourself, pop one of these into your pet's hutch to ensure that they remain snug and comfortable in chilly weather.
Finally, what about a Christmas feast for your pet? Lilys Kitchen have created a safe and nutritious way to allow your dog to join in with the festivities: their Christmas Dinner tinned food includes turkey and goose with potatoes, green beans, carrots and cranberries.
Last but not least: remember that animal welfare groups are under immense pressure at this time of year. A small gift or donation can go a long way to help them in their valuable work.
Visit Pete's website for Christmas pet tips: www.petethevet.com