Let's Build the Perfect Doggy Gift Basket
For many of us, our fur babies are just as much our children as two-legged ones, and to some of us, maybe even more so. This holiday season, don’t neglect your most loyal companions from your holiday gifting. They enjoy ripping apart gift wrap as much as anyone else, and it’s not a bad idea to have dog-friendly treats at the ready to avoid sharing scraps that may not be the best for them.
But in the oversaturated pets market, what gifts might be hits and which ones are misses?
The only way to tell is to call in an expert: my nearly 15-year-old, 72-pound pup, Lt. Baxter Bear — an everyman mix of pit bull, German shepherd, and lab — and a senior gentleman of discerning taste and considerable experience.
Here are some of the best tried-and-true treats, toys, and gear approved by this aggressive chewing, bath-hating, problem-solving, and treat-loving judge.
Switching food can get expensive (not to mention time-consuming) with the research, shopping, and cleanup of gastrointestinal upset as your best buddy gets accustomed to a new formula. An easy fix when your dog loses interest in his usual order? Adding meal toppers.
Wet food is the most common solution, but Solid Gold, a highly regarded holistic dog food brand, has a space- and budget-saving answer in its new NutrientBoost plasma kibble. Just a tablespoon or so of this addition can stimulate your pet’s appetite, even while improving the digestibility and nutrient absorption of their existing food. Additionally, it helps with boosting their immune system — something that all of us critters can use as the cold sets in!
Baxter and I swear by this brand, but that’s also because he doesn’t know these soft, heart-shaped chews are actually supplements! And best of all, they’re supplements that actually work. As a long-time sufferer of seasonal skin allergies, the Aller-Immune Bites have worked for years to help stave off crippling flare-ups, with ingredients specifically designed to counter sensitive skin and maintain normal histamine levels. But these bites have more than one job—they’re made with their proprietary EpiCor blend, apple cider vinegar, salmon oil for omega-3s, and probiotics.
Since I first started my pup on this brand, it’s expanded to include recipes specifically for seniors and the Hemp Elements™ and Ancient Elements™ lines, plus a long list of other special focuses that deal with common troubles. Baxter loves his daily grab bag of anti-inflammatory turmeric-boosted mobility bites, multivitamins, and stomach-calming probiotics, but not as much as the minty dental stix! Plus, the company’s satisfaction guarantee and truly exceptional customer service makes it a pleasure to buy from.
The more novel the protein source, the less the risk of triggering an allergic reaction when it comes to feeding your pup. So many dogs today have food sensitivities, including meats as common as chicken. These functional treats offer an innovative and eco-friendly, sustainable solution: crickets!
Cricket protein actually promotes faster absorption of supplements, offers nine essential amino acids, offers more iron than spinach, and more calcium than milk while using less land and emitting fewer emissions per pound than any other source. But because these are cute little supplement bites, you would never guess what they’re made of. They’re available with focuses on joint health, skin and coat improvement, supporting immunity, and reducing anxiety, and you can get them with and without dog-friendly CBD. Just “start low and go slow,” as the brand recommends, to get to the right amount of edible for your dog.
Treats are great, but you don’t want to give them to your pup as a one-and-done! It’s more fun for them and convenient for you to make them work for it a little. I’m a huge fan of treat-dispensing toys — it stimulates their minds as it motivates play and provides an automatic reward.
Treat-dispensing toys are really common, but many brands have their own proprietary shapes and treats explicitly designed for them. That can get pretty expensive, so I prefer the ones that give me total freedom on how I want to treat.
Hyper Pet — another company with fantastic customer service — makes very durable toys that have lasted years with my toothy boy, and the Crazy Crew Punky Ballster has the perfect size opening for standard biscuits. For smaller, flatter treats like Nutro’s Crunchy Treats, Sodapup’s Corn on the Cob provides a fun challenge in that it’s longer and therefore harder to wrestle out the goodies. It’s also hilarious to watch your dog carry around a play food item, which is why I also love the Petstages Carrot Stuffer, which has holes for the much healthier — and cheaper — snack alternative of baby carrots.
Need to keep your pup occupied for hours as you prep for or enjoy your holiday meal? They will be safely out from underfoot with one of this year’s hottest dog toys: the silicone licking mat. We own the Jigsaw Design Emat by Sodapup, and its complicated pattern keeps Baxter distracted and busy when I need him in one place. Additionally, he’s an anxious licker, so this is a great way to help him calm down when he’s nervous about an unsettled stomach or another health ailment. They’re not expensive and even come in bowl shapes and other patterns by the original LickiMat.
You can put wet food in them, peanut butter (but not too much), crushed moistened treats, applesauce, and other dog-safe pastes. I use plain Greek yogurt for my guy since, as I mentioned, he usually wants his mat when he’s feeling nauseated. The probiotics in the yogurt help to soothe his gut, and Greek-style yogurts have lower lactose levels, which makes it less likely to upset his GI system even more.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? That’s actually what keeps them sharp! When Baxter was younger, his favorite thing about getting stuffed animals was de-stuffing them (not exactly a good use of toybox funds). So, I was thrilled to find Chewy’s generous, varied stock of hide-and-seek plush toy sets. They give him all the pleasure of pulling soft, fluffy things and me the cost savings of not having to replace them as I stuff the smaller toys back in their hidey-holes.
Its Frisco line is absolutely adorable, with themes for every holiday and interest. For the winter, they have a holiday gingerbread house set, a hot cocoa cup with puffy marshmallows to wrestle out, and others in addition to their general-themed ones. Star Wars, Disney, and Pixar sets are also available, and the food and wildlife bundles are classic. You can even mix and match with the replacement small squeaking plushes. For example, his ZippyPaws chipmunk burrow also hosts dragons. And because the pulling motion satisfies his urge to unstuff, these toys have lasted for quite some time.
If you’ve ever had a leading dog (read: an enthusiastic walker), you’ll know that not all retractable leashes are equal. I can’t even tell you how many leash extension mechanisms Baxter busted back when he truly believed he could catch a duck or squirrel. He has since accepted that these bucket list goals are not approved by the management, but this particular leash was clutch in getting us here.
It’s beautiful and minimalistic, with a 16-foot nylon tape that promises not to tangle ever due to a smart design at the dispenser that allows for pulls from any angle. The textured, wide handle is comfortable to grip and hold, and the space for your hand is big enough for a poo bag and large human paws or big coat rack hooks, as ours hangs onto. The lock and unlock mechanism is also solid and easy to use, with one-finger release and brake operation.
There are few things funnier than watching dogs get used to shoes and not much cuter than seeing them in little booties. However, they can be more than just a frou-frou accessory for human amusement. I found that out myself when Baxter’s allergies raged hard this past spring. Out of necessity, I ended up trying hundreds of dollars worth of foot-covering solutions trying to find the right one to protect his raw paws from further infection as well as the elements.
Of the many expensive dog shoes I tried — fleece-lined, neoprene, high-top, waterproof — it’s this $20 solution that ended up being the best pick. They’re just tall enough to prevent too much dirt and sand from getting kicked into them, the adjustable velcro strap is long enough to wrap around securely, and the sides are malleable enough to hug his legs for a universal fit. They don’t twist around like other shoes do, either, and the one-piece seamless silicone construction makes them so easy to keep clean after every use. Plus, the nubs on the bottom of the boots help offer better traction to help your barking bestie maintain a good hold on the ground.
Not only is it messy and muddy when you bring your dog back in after a walk in inclement weather, but it can also be dangerous to let him or her clean up after themselves. The rock salt used to de-ice sidewalks and roads can actually burn through their little toe beans and are often toxic if ingested. And that’s not even to mention spilled oil, busted antifreeze, and who knows what that gets frozen into place in winter weather instead of being washed away.
This capsulated paw cleaner is a handy spa tool to have on hand for those days and comes in different heights to suit different leg lengths and paw widths. The soft silicone bristles gently scrub debris off from in between a dog’s toes in just a couple of quick, surprisingly efficient dunks. And less is more for most dogs when it comes to getting their feet wet, even if it means smelling fresher than their usual Fritos — you dog owners know what I’m talking about. Plus, cleaning out this self-contained cleaner is easy. The lid unscrews, the brushing unit unrolls, and the whole thing is scrubbable in a jiffy.
If your dog is very “absolutely not” about getting their toes damp at all and would prefer you get in there manually to clean their mud-magnets, this brand of grooming wipes may be just the ticket. You may ask what the difference is between sensitive skin baby wipes and pet wipes—both are designed for delicate parts. But it’s not recommended to use human wipes for our furry friends, and it boils down to two letters: pH.
Dog skin has a more alkaline natural pH than people do, which means that using wipes formulated for infants will mess with their pH level and may cause allergic reactions and/or infections. Additionally, some baby wipes contain alcohol and propylene glycol, which can make your animal sick if he or she tries to do additional touch-up cleaning after. The vet-recommended, cruelty-free, and environmentally-friendly Earthbath ones are specially formulated specifically for your fur baby and come in fun scents if you want to deodorize. I’m a fan of the cherry puppy ones (they smell like Luden’s cough drops); I haven’t yet tried the mango, green tea, and awapuhi.
They may wear fur coats year-round, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love or can’t feel soft, cozy fabric against their fuzzy bodies. And despite being plush, most dogs catch on easily to the difference between a blankie and a toy - typically avoiding destroying them. Puppies love the snuggly feeling of a soft blanket balled up against them, much the same way children like security blankets. Seniors like mine get chillier a little easier, and their achy joints warm up under the covers to help them nap more comfortably. And for adult dogs, it’s often an indulgence that doesn’t come amiss.
Dog blankets tend to be a little smaller if not the same size, but are often treated to be waterproof or water resistant. Double-sided ones are a big hit in my household — smooth velveteen or fleece on one side and textured on the other are big favorites, especially when it’s silken shag or sherpa material on the snuggle side.