Enjoy Slate’s Holiday Advice From the Experts series from our beloved advice columnists. Keep your sanity intact this holiday season with Jamilah Lemieux’s self-care tips. Nicole Cliffe presents classic gifts for children of all ages. Teacher Carrie Bauer recommends educational gifts your kids will actually enjoy.
Some people (non–pet owners, I assume) may think it’s weird that Americans spent $72.56 billion on their pets in 2019. I, for one, do not think there’s anything odd about pampering your dog or cat. I mean, this is a gift guide for pets, so you should already know my stance on the matter. But I’d like to go a step further: Buying your pet a present is a downright divine way to spend money if you are fortunate enough to have a little extra to spare.
Gift-giving is an inherently selfish act disguised as a selfless one. If it were completely altruistic, then the old saw would go, “ ’Tis better to receive than to give, but you should take one for the team here.” We do it because it feels great, and few things are as satisfying as watching someone open a carefully selected present and getting confirmation that you really nailed it. That’s what makes it so amazing to give your pet a present. So long as the attention is focused on them, they think everything is great. You also never have to worry about including a gift receipt, thanks to their embarrassing inability to navigate a returns department.
And it’s not just about emotional symbiosis. A gift for your pet can have tangible benefits for you. A toy that blissfully distracts the dog also gives the humans some peace and quiet, and the love seat gets a break whenever the cat’s climbing and exploring its new lofted shelf. It’s radically efficient.
Here’s some inspiration to bring both of you some extra cheer this holiday season. Bear in mind that while our pets love us and the attention we give them, they can also be picky brats sometimes. So follow your judgment as you consider what might tickle their fancy; they trust you.
Dogs love plushy toys so much that it can be a problem. The softer and fluffier it is, the more likely your pooch will morph into Lennie from Of Mice and Men and go overboard. While all toys are advertised as durable, this one can tango with a large, overenthusiastic dog and come away unscathed. Few plush toys have lasted more than a few hours with my own pup, but this beach ball is a welcome exception. She also uses it as a pillow, which is insanely adorable (in my unbiased opinion).
Animal bones are frustrating. Dogs may like them to act out their primal urges, but the bones can smell awful and may leave grease stains on your clothes and furniture. These chews, which are made from solidified cow and yak’s milk, are a sensible option that will keep your pooch gnawing to their savage heart’s content. When they get to the last nibble—which can be a choking hazard with chews—throw it in the microwave for about a minute. It will expand and turn into a crunchy dog treat that can be eaten with a few bites. (Just make sure you let it cool first.) What a neat trick.
Like Coca-Cola or Band-Aid, Kong has become synonymous with this product. This toy has earned its ubiquity: It’s tough and extremely useful. Fill it up with treats and watch your dog transform into an amateur safe-cracker. (It’s difficult without thumbs.)
Remember earlier how I said that gifts for your pets are also gifts for you? Well, this is pretty much just a gift for you. Your dog (or cat) won’t understand what’s so funny about the juxtaposition of their droopy faces and the regal medium of classical portraiture, but neither did the royal families of the 17th and 18th centuries.
If your dog sheds, then it’s time to invest in an undercoat brush. It will make your Roomba’s job easier, while also providing your pup with a pleasant massage treatment. If you brush them outside, birds may even use the surplus fur that floats away to build their nests. Everyone wins.
Cats have been ruthless hunters for thousands of years. Providing human companionship is a relatively recent gig, so it’s thoughtful to indulge in their killer instincts while they moonlight as our buddies. Cats need play, and this bird toy is a classic and effective way to trick them into thinking they’re pouncing on elusive prey. No cleanup is required, unlike a downed gazelle.
I may be belaboring an obvious point, but cats aren’t like you or me. They live their lives at varying altitudes, and it’s absolutely essential that you provide them with vertical space to explore. These shelves secure to your walls and are simple and effective (there are other options available if you want to match your own design aesthetic). Certified feline behaviorist (and frequent Beast Mode source) Ingrid Johnson has some DIY ideas if you’re feeling handy and want to get creative, and she also makes some great climbing and scratching posts to keep your cat elevated and occupied.
Is your cat an uncomfortably effective alarm clock when it needs to be fed first thing in the morning? Silence that rooster impostor with an automatic feeder. They get to eat, you get to sleep. How civilized.
Food puzzles come highly recommended by feline behavioral experts, and they’re probably the simplest way to keep your cat entertained and stimulated during the day. This ceramic maze is easy for cats who are unfamiliar with puzzles. If you have a furry Einstein who really needs a challenge, upgrade them to the Brain Mover. To find out more about the world of food puzzles (and believe me, there’s a whole world out there), this helpful website is a good resource.
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