Healthy Pets Holiday Gift Guide

WebMD offers ideas for pet gifts, from dog beds to music for cats. Get your pet something healthy and useful this year.

By Jennifer Dixon
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed By Katherine Snyder, DVM, DACVIM

It's holiday time, and if you're a pet owner, you probably want to get something special for your furry friend. With gifts ranging from coats to CDs to special beds, there is no shortage of options to make your pet happy. But how do you know what type of gifts are beneficial to your pet's health? WebMD's pet experts, Katherine Snyder, DVM, ACVIM and Mark Stickney, DVM, will help you decide by giving you insight into what pets really need to keep them healthy and happy. Then we'll list a few products available in that category. Remember that in most cases there are many products available; follow our vets' guidance to help you find the right one for you and your pet.

1. Question: Do dogs really need coats and blankets in the winter to keep them warm, particularly those tiny little short-haired dogs? Can a dog get too hot?

Dr. Snyder says: The answer to both questions is yes! Dogs are just like people in the fact that they can get too cold and too hot. How much care you need to provide for the winter really depends on several factors. If your dog spends only a little time outside, you may not need to provide any extra support to keep him warm. But if your dog spends lots of time outside, will be out when it rains or snows, or is a strictly outdoor dog, providing some type of external warmth is very important.

Another question to consider is how thick is my dog's hair coat. A Siberian Husky may do just fine outside during winter months, but a little Chihuahua is unlikely to fare well unless we provide extra help. The third thing to consider is what type of environment you live in. Just because it's winter doesn't mean your area of the country is going to become cold enough to require coats or blankets for your dogs. Keep the outside temperature in mind when deciding how much your dog needs extra warming.

If you decide your dog does need something extra, a well-fitted sweater or coat can help insulate your dog's body heat and help keep him warm.

But once the temperature warms up or your dog comes in from the cold outdoors you can take his sweater or coat off. This will keep your dog from becoming too warm and also give you a chance to brush his coat and make sure clothing isn't rubbing any sore spots onto his skin.

Here are some examples:

Snuggie for Dogs: Modeled on the fleece blanket for people, the doggie version is available for pooches of any size (www.snuggiesfordogs.com).

Ruffwear Climate Changer Fleece: This fleece jacket made of Polartec also includes reflectors and a side zipper (www.ruffwear.com).

Crew Cut Sweater: This acrylic sweater features a turtleneck and cuffed sleeves for extra insulation (www.drfostersmith.com).

2. Question: Can music really calm a dog or cat and prevent carsickness? Do they even hear the music?

Dr. Snyder says: To my knowledge, there haven't been any studies performed in dogs or cats that scientifically evaluate the effects of music on calming nerves or preventing car sickness. However, there is plenty of evidence in humans and primates that show beneficial effects of music, so it might be possible! Dogs and cats do appear to hear and (anecdotally) respond to music. While I can't guarantee these products will work, they are very unlikely to cause harm. If nothing else, we know music calms people, and we know our pets respond to our emotions and anxiety level. So if we keep ourselves calm by listening to music, our pets are more likely to remain calm as well.

Here are some examples:

DogGone Songs Travel Tunes CD: The music on this CD was composed by Thomas Schoenberg (www.amazon.com).

Music Cats Love: While You Are Gone:

Offers original compositions from keyboardist/composer Bradley Joseph (www.amazon.com).

3. Question: Do you need to protect your dog's eyes from UV damage with sunglasses? What kinds of trouble can the sun cause for your dog's eyes?

Dr. Snyder says: Most dogs do not require extra protection for their eyes from UV damage. The sunlight (and the UV rays that come from it) can be harmful in a couple of circumstances, however. The most common is a disease usually seen in German Shepherd dogs called chronic superficial keratitis (or pannus). This disorder can cause blood vessels and tissue to cover the surface of the eye (the cornea) and may eventually lead to blindness. UV light is thought to cause this condition to progress. In people, UV light is thought to contribute to cataract formation, but this link does not appear to be significant in dogs.

However, if your dog is going to be out in very bright sun, eye protection may simply make their eyes feel more comfortable. It will also help prevent dust or strong winds from causing ocular irritation. If your dog will wear them, they shouldn't cause harm and may be useful.

Here are some examples:

Doggie Shades: These shades offer 100% UV protection, come in six sizes and seven styles, and fit dogs of up to 200 pounds (www.doggieshades.com).

Doggles: These glasses, offering 100% UV protection, are fashioned after goggles and have fog-proof lenses (www.doggles.com).

4. Question: Do my dog's feet need protection from snow and rain? What kind of trouble can my dog's feet get into? Do I need Uggs for Dogs? And are other outdoor products, such as protective vests, worth the investment?

Dr. Snyder says: This question goes back to the answer for the first question: it all depends on your dog and your environment. In general, dogs' feet are naturally durable and their thick foot pads can tolerate most types of surfaces and environments. However, those in very cold locations or dogs who are out in the ice/snow for extended periods of time could definitely benefit from foot protection. Also, if your dog is going to be walking on sidewalks where ice melting-materials have been used, boots may provide additional protection from these more caustic substances.

Protective vests are an excellent idea for hunting dogs, field trial dogs, or dogs that will be out in the wilderness for any reason. These vests come in bright colors and with reflectors to make sure that you and other people can easily spot your dog in thick woods or dark lighting. They are a wonderful protective tool for the working dog.

Here are some examples:

Muttluks: These boots and paw protectors come in a variety of sizes and styles and in all-weather and fleece-lined versions (www.petstreetmall.com).

Dog Safety Vest: This reflective vest comes in bright orange (www.llbean.com).

5. Question: My vet says my dog is too fat. How can I get some more exercise for him?

Dr. Snyder says: Exercise can become more challenging in winter months, simply because it's harder for us and our pets to brave the elements. But the same rules still apply! Walks and playful activities are great ways to increase your pet's exercise and help get rid of those extra pounds. You can either prepare your pet for the outdoors by using some of the coats/foot protection described above, or you can play games indoors so you can both stay warm. There are many products out there that are “house-friendly” and still fun for your dogs to play with. Anything that gets them up and moving is good exercise!

Here are some examples:

Ball Blaster Retractable Ball Thrower: This compact ball helps you throw farther. The “dental” ball is gentle on the teeth (www.amazon.com).

Pet Pedometer: Keeps track of how many steps your pet takes (www.walk4life.com).

Small West Paw Huck Zogoflex Ball: This ball is made of a special material that bounces in all directions (www.dogtoys.com).

6. Question: My dog has arthritis and joint pain. She has trouble getting in and out of her bed. How can I make it easier for her to sleep?

Dr. Stickney says: Just as in people, joint pain in dogs is typically worse during the colder months and after a period of rest. Joint pain caused by arthritis usually lessens as the dog becomes more active throughout the day. Giving your dog a comfortable, well-padded place to sleep will help lessen the pain by reducing pressure on the joints. If the bed is placed in a warm area of the house, away from drafts and windows, your pet will be even more comfortable. The bed should be on the floor, so your pet can get in and out of it easily.

Here are some examples:

Dog Whisperer by Cesar Milan Microtec Gel Fill Orthopedic Napper: This bed includes an orthopedic pad, a gel topper fill pad, and has a machine washable cover (www.petco.com).

Quilted Super Deluxe Dog Bed: This bed offers a foam layer for support and a soft outer layer for comfort (www.drsfostersmith.com).

7. Question: My dog is bored. How can I keep him mentally stimulated?

Dr. Stickney says: Pets that are not given appropriate outlets for their energy can develop destructive habits, like chewing shoes or scratching the furniture. They may also gain weight from being less active, which can lead to numerous health issues. Every pet is different when it comes to toys and activities that will stimulate them. Some dogs will chase a ball all day and others want to chew on a bone. Some cats will chase a toy mouse and others expect you to bring the toy to them. Part of the fun is playing with your pet and finding the things your dog or cat enjoys. In addition to toys, daily exercise is good for you and your pet. Take your dog to the park to play or go for a walk. Find a special toy your cat likes to play with; spend time using it to interact with your cat. Teaching your dog tricks and practicing everyday is also great mental exercise.

Here are some examples:

Agility Starter Kit: Create your own obstacle course for your pet (www.drsfostersmith.com).

Dog E Logic: An interactive game/puzzle that progresses from easy to more advanced (www.jjdog.com).

Pet Media Adventure Cat DVD Volume 1: Backyard Fun: This 60-minute DVD is filled with squirrels, mice, pigeons, and other animals (www.amazon.com).

Cat Toy Laser Beam Mouse: Cats can chase the ever-moving laser beam, which owners control with their fingertips (www.amazon.com).

8. Question: I like to have a clean pooch. Is there a special kind of shampoo to use to make him smell good? Will aromatherapy hurt? And is it possible to let a wet dog get too cold?

Dr. Stickney says: There are a number of shampoos and conditioners available for pets. Your dog doesn't really care how he smells, so find one that smells good to you. Be sure it is a product specifically made for dogs and cats and not for people. Human products can excessively dry your pet's skin, make them itchy, and leave a dull coat. Aromatherapy will not hurt and there is a small amount of evidence that suggests it will relax them. A wet dog in the summertime will not get too cold, but he sure will during the winter! Thoroughly dry your pet after a bath and keep him indoors until completely dry. Then brush out to prevent hair mats from forming.

Here are some examples:

Towel Togs: An absorbent towel/jacket that can keep your home and car dry (www.inthecompanyofdogs.com).

Paw Rub: A rub that includes aloe, shea butter, and vitamin E to keep dogs' paws lathered and moistened (www.frontgate.com).

9. Question: I have a handsome cat who can't get enough brushing. Is there anything that will help prevent hairballs?

Dr. Stickney says: Daily brushing is the first step to controlling hairballs. Every cat will have the occasional hairball, no matter what you do. Cats swallow hair when they groom themselves. The hair accumulates in the stomach and is eventually vomited up. By removing shed hair through brushing, you greatly decrease the amount of hair the cat ingests. Most cats love to be brushed, for a while anyway, and will let you know when they have had enough.

Here are some examples:

JW Pet Grip Soft Cat Slicker Brush (for sensitive skin): Has an rubber, ergonomically designed handle and wire tines to help untangle fur on sensitive skin (www.petco.com).

KONG Cat Zoom Groom Brush (massaging bristles): De-fur your feline with this cat-shaped brush (www.amazon.com).

10. Question: My cat likes to sleep with me because my bed is warm. How do I get my cat out of my bed and into her own bed?

Dr. Stickney says: It has been said that dogs have owners and cats have staff; therefore it can be hard to convince your cat to sleep someplace else. However, if the cat likes the warmth of your bed, then provide it a warm bed of its own. Placing the cat's bed near a heating vent or purchasing a self-heating bed may do the trick. It will also help to place the cat's bed on your bed for the first few nights and then gradually transition it to the floor.

Here are some examples:

K&H Thermo Kitty Hut Heated Cat (and Dog) Bed by Sage: This bed with a heating unit also has a hood that can be moved up and down (www.amazon.com).

Caddis Pet Products Corner Cat-N-Round Cat Bed: A round bed lined with Sherpa (www.walgreens.com).

(WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.)

Reviewed on December 4, 2009

©2010 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.