A holiday present for Fido or Fluffy used to be an extra table scrap or a new squeeze toy. But as with gifts for their human counterparts, pet presents are becoming increasingly high-tech.
Like presents for young children who lack the dexterity to enjoy their new playthings, pet gifts are usually for the human who owns the pet. Allie Robino of Austin, Texas, bought a dog-treat maker for her eight-year-old rescue mutt Bentley, but it'll be her baking the biscuits - not Bentley.
She bought PetSmart's Sunbeam Holiday Dog Treat Maker, essentially a waffle-maker with dog-bone moulds, for Bentley when she took him to see Santa Claus at a Fort Worth pet store. Even though he and her other dog, Shiner, will be the primary beneficiaries of the purchase, it's mostly a gift for Robino, who admits to having problems making things at home from scratch.
"A lot of these kinds of things end up being more complicated than the company promises, but this was super easy to use and the finished product looked great. Believe me, if it were possible to mess up, I would have messed up.," she said.
Robino said it was the only time she has bought a gift for a pet that requires electricity, figuring that would put Bentley in a rarefied group of animals with high-tech presents. But there are actually plenty of gadgets in stores for animals, from the predictable (dog-barking control, electronic self-cleaning cat litter boxes) to the surprising (exercise equipment, air conditioners for doghouses, pet air purifiers for human houses).
Technology is having an impact in every area of the pet world, including food, toys and care products, said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association. He believes health-care advances are moving the fastest.
"There are many advances on the pet-rehabilitation side of health care that weren't even heard of a few years ago. There are also new advances in medication, treatments, and even testing and diagnostic areas. For example, you can send off your pet's DNA to find out their breed and even give at-home tests to determine if certain diseases are present," he said.
Rehab equipment for pets, such as a dog-size treadmill, are no longer just for veterinarian clinics. Pet owners can buy the DogPacer's Minipacer treadmill ($479), which is made for dogs under 55 pounds. The original DogPacer treadmill will accommodate dogs up to 179 pounds and sells for $499 - about the same price as human-size gym equipment.
For owners who exercise with their pets, the Sharper Image Pet-O-Meter Pet Pedometer ($19.99) counts steps, calculates distance and tracks the calorie intake of the human partner.
Vetere believes the best high-tech pet product is the microchip, which can be implanted in dogs, cats, birds, horses and other animals and will help reunite owners with lost pets.