I’ve started my holiday shopping, and as is often the case, I seem to have better plans for my animals in comparison to my human family members.

My best idea this year is to turn Apollo’s skuzzy old leash into a toy. He is obsessed with shaking it to death every time we go on a walk. I know I should discourage this behavior, and I do when it crosses the line from cute to annoying (which only creates confusion for the poor guy, I’m sure). Sometimes, however, it’s just easier to go with the flow. So my plan is to cut the leash into two or three pieces, add a few knots, and voilà — a cheap prey item that I’m sure he’ll love more than any toy I could buy for him at a store.

I will also be getting Apollo a new leash (and perhaps some Bitter Apple or something similar to discourage him from displacing his behavior onto the new leash), but frankly this gift is more for me than for him.

What makes a good present for a pet? I think it is something that improves the quality of the animal’s life. Too often we buy things that make our lives easier or more fun and call them presents for our pets. Did your cat really like those antler ears you bought last year? And the joy of shopping for animals is that that they honestly couldn’t care less how much you spend on them, which is why I feel perfectly justified in repurposing Apollo’s old leash and calling it a present.

I think the best presents are boredom-relievers. Research has shown that boredom and stress play huge roles in the development of behavioral and other health problems in both dogs and cats.

For cats, how about a comfy fleece pad (or even an old sweatshirt) placed on a chair or perch in front of a sunny, south-facing window? If you are feeling flush, buy a birdfeeder and mount it within site of the window. If your cat could benefit from some exercise, tie a string on a cheap "mouse" and make it scurry across the floor, but keep the string away from your cats when you are not supervising play since the last thing you want is to have one of them swallow it.

For dogs and cats, how about a puzzle feeder? Simply put a portion of your pet’s regular food ration inside and make him work for it. Zoos use these kinds of things all the time to provide mental stimulation for their animals.

An active dog would love anything that gives him more opportunities to be outside and/or play. Toys don’t have to be elaborate; it’s more about finding time. Perhaps you could give your dog some "coupons" he can redeem for trips to the dog park, or walks on especially beautiful days, or a discount package at a doggy daycare provider that emphasizes play.

Happy Shopping!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Lars Christensen / via Shutterstock