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Natural Awakenings National

Presents for Pets: Healthy, Natural Holiday Treats

Dec 03, 2010 12:09AM ● By Gail Condrick

We have good news for anyone in search of a nifty gift for a furry or feathered family member. Whether the occasion is a holiday, birthday or animal appreciation day, there is a “green” pet gift to celebrate it. The mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle is now present in the pet industry, providing many more eco-friendly options.

At this year’s 2010 Global Pet Expo, the buyers at the annual pet industry gathering were abuzz about a new exhibit area called Natural Pets.

“Natural products are expanding the industry. When you have a new trend for humans, this appeals to the pet industry, as well,” observes Steven King, president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association.

Just this year, Americans will have spent an estimated $47 billion on pet products and services, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Categories include food, pet supplies, over-the-counter medicines and vet care services and products, many of them made with natural or recycled materials. The industry reports that, on average, pet owners annually spend $40 per dog and $19 per cat on toys alone.

One more fur-raising fact: American Pet Association statistics reveal that of the nation’s 140 billion household cats and dogs, 31 billion dogs and 39 billion cats will have presents waiting for them under the tree on Christmas morning. Also, people will celebrate the birthdays of as many as 13.5 billion cats and 10 billion dogs with parties and pet gifts.

What is a politically correct, Earth-conscious shopper to do?

We can choose organic and natural products for the same reasons we would go natural in buying decisions for human family members. Concerned citizens are demanding greater use of nontoxic, pesticide- and chemical-free materials that are better for the health of people, pets and the planet.

As Patricia Castaneda, owner of Pet’s Life Naturally, in Palmetto, Florida, advises: “Don’t give anything to your pet that you would not put in the mouth of a small child.” That means no dyes or toys that have small parts to swallow or that are made of toxic materials. Pets can be sensitive to fabrics that come in contact with their skin, just like humans are, creating painful and costly allergic reactions. She admonishes, “Your animals count on you to protect them.”

Feline Prowess

The Humane Society of America believes that wise use of toys, combined with regular playtime, contributes to the health and happiness of cats of all ages. Play satisfies their instinctual hunting drive, develops mental and physical agility and provides bonding time with their humans. The society recommends cat toys that offer variety: one to carry, one to wrestle with, one to roll and one to “baby.”

What is right for your cat? Pet store professionals know which products customers purchase and enjoy. As Castaneda remarks, “Cats are so creative and independent they can have fun with ping-pong balls, cardboard toilet paper rolls and plastic shower rings. Just make sure that what they play with cannot be eaten or harm them.”

Of course, the whole family can enjoy creating original cat toys using a bit of imagination, along with organic cotton, natural ingredients and a needle and thread. Just follow the same rules of thumb for homemade playthings to keep the animals safe.

Canine Wisdom

Dogs need toys to fight boredom when left alone for any length of time, according to the Humane Society. They also recommend four types of toys for dogs: at least one to carry, one to shake, one to roll and one to “baby,” for play and to release stress. Many dog toys should be interactive, to increase time with people. By focusing on a specific task—such as repeatedly returning a ball or playing hide-and-seek with treats or toys—dogs can take advantage of the opportunity to expend pent-up mental and physical energy.

Healthy and organic presents for pets are now widely available in neighborhood natural pet stores, as well as online. At such shops, people and pets can check out the choices firsthand and seek advice from the staff. If there’s a toss-up between products, ask if a portion of the product sales goes to benefit animal causes, making it a gift that gives again. That could be the tiebreaker.

Gail Condrick is a freelance writer based in Sarasota, FL. Reach her at


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