Every year it seems that lists of presents that need to be bought grows longer. New boyfriend. Roommates. Nieces and nephews. And don't forget those "surprise" gifts last year from people who you didn't know you were exchanging gifts with (really, for me? Here's...ummm).
But what about this conundrum: Your friends have bought your children presents each year for Christmas. You don't exchange gifts with each other, so your kids are reaping the benefits of the relationship. Your friends don't have kids yet, but they do have a pet. Do you buy their "child" a present too?
This issue actually faces more families and friendships than people realize. According to the APPA, about sixty-two percent of all households in the United States have a pet. And, the U.S. birth rate is the lowest it's been since 1920. Pets are considered family members (grandpuppies and grandkitties) so can you really snub the "kids" by coming to the house empty-handed?
If you want to make sure that all the nice kids, whether two-legged or four-legged, are rewarded for their behavior this year (and you shouldn't keep the naughty ones in the doghouse - it's the holidays!), here are some ideas:
For all pets:
Gift card to pick up essentials.
Pet food can be expensive so see where they buy their food (local supermarket or local pet store) and grab a gift card. Make sure they know it's for their pet by adding a bag of treats or a gift tag with the pet's name.
Gift certificates for pet sitting or dog walking.
That peace of mind that their pet will be watched and cared for while they are away can make all the difference in the world. If you want to be the pet sitter, make a "coupon" on the computer entitling them to one weekend getaway while their pet can take a vacation -- to your house.
Who doesn't love a nice bed? From cats to dogs, ferrets to rabbits, a bed is a welcomed gift. "If your friends have a more senior pet, consider getting a heated bed for them," suggests Dr. Brian Collins, Lecturer, Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
This might require a little investigative work ahead of time, but see what your friends are feeding their pets. "Baked treats, preferably simple, organic ones made in the USA are the best bet," recommends Dr. Collins.
Be sure to ask if their pet has any dietary restrictions before you make a purchase.
A personalized stocking.
Grab a stocking and some puff paint and viola -- a stocking for the four-legged family member. Fill it with any of the above and it will be a gift to remember.
A donation to a charity in the pet's honor.
Most animal lovers are charitable too. If they have a favorite charity or picked up their pet at a local shelter, a donation made to that shelter can be a wonderful gift in the season of giving.
There are so many other non-profit charities that pets support. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, dogs were deployed to help the grieving community. There are also programs nationwide, such as R.E.A.D where children can read to dogs. And at colleges and universities nationwide, animals are being brought in during finals' week to help the students de-stress. Check out this video from Boston College where students enjoyed an animal-friendly study break complete with dogs, kittens, rabbits and even a goat: BC Study Break.
A new, "safe" toy.
"I can be a real party-pooper on this one," jokes Dr. Collins. "Toys can be dangerous, especially for some dogs that like to destroy toys--some are too hard and can break teeth. Others are easily destroyed which can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction."
Kongs are great for dogs. These toys can be filled with treats and keep the dogs entertained for hours. Hagen Dog Mind has created interactive "puzzles" where dogs have to figure out how to get the treat. "For dogs that don't chew aggressively, a sturdy, stuffed toy may be very well-received. For more aggressive chewers, a more substantial toy is best--preferably one that is still flexible enough to bend but not too soft to be chewed up easily," suggests Dr. Collins.
Be sure to ask the pet owner what to give to the pet but you'd like your gift to be as appropriate as possible. You can even browse your friends' Facebook page. You might see a photo or two that have a playful pet enjoying a toy in their albums.
Doggy shampoo and grooming supplies.
For the shaggy dogs, shampoo and some extra brushes can go a long way. A gift certificate to a local groomer is also a great idea.
Sweaters and other clothing.
Believe it or not, not all animals are dressed up for the fun of it. For smaller dogs or those who don't have a thicker coat, a sweater is a needed accessory when walking in a winter wonderland. Some dogs will wear booties when that cold, wet snow starts sticking to the ground.
Another idea for clothing? "Reflective vests," suggests Dr. Collins. "Dogs will wear them during hunting season."
Collars, harnesses and leashes.
As long as the owners aren't picky, a new collar or leash can be a great gift.
Ready for your cat to have some fun? Cats will chase this dot around the whole house.
Cat perch for window.
Cats love reaching new heights. Any type of perch or cat tree may just give a cat an extra life!
Who doesn't love laying in a hammock? Ferrets adore them. A new one will make both the ferret and the owner believe in holiday miracles.
Timothy Hay, an essential part of a rabbit's diet, is a great gift for a bunny. Dried ears of corn help rabbits' teeth from overgrowing. Most pet stores will carry them and they usually aren't more than a dollar or two.
Chinchillas. Guinea pigs. Hamsters. Most treats will have the appropriate animal pictured on the bag so it's easy to figure out which animal can eats what.
There can also be great toys for these animals too. A new wheel for a hamster. Jingle balls, not to be confused with Jingle Bells, are a great gift for small mammals. Though they're technically a cat toy, small mammals love them. They'll grab them with their teeth and toss them around the room and cage.
From heated lamps to a gift card so they can get their food, these scaly friends can warm up during the holiday season too!
Bird seeds, new rope toys, a mirror-- ask the pet owner what their bird needs.
Readers, do you agree? Do you think you have to buy a gift for your friends' pets? Or, do you have other gift ideas? Leave a comment below.