20 December 2020

Are you buying your pets presents this Christmas? The best gift is you

| Sharon Kelley
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Mr Smiggle, Region Media's head of HR.

Mr Smiggle, head of HR at Region Media, is looking forward to Christmas. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, or you have fish, turtles, reptiles or a pet beetle, your present to your pets this Christmas should be a safe one and doesn’t need to be expensive.

RSPCA ACT CEO Michelle Robertson says enriching your pet’s environment is a great way to improve their enjoyment of life, and can include anything from new bedding to sights, sounds and smells.

“Toys for cats, dogs and bunny rabbits are easy,” she says. “For dogs, you can use an old cereal box with food in it, which is a puzzle for them to solve to get a reward. Scale it down for cats – use an empty toilet roll folded over and they’ll puzzle out how to get to the food.”

For pets in aquariums, including reptiles, a change in the environment is a treat. New aquarium ‘furniture’, such as a cave, provides them with a hiding place and something to stimulate their curiosity. Or a new, scented branch in a reptile terrarium, or a patch of sun, can provide enrichment of their environment.

When it comes to Christmas dinner, don’t give in to those pleading eyes staring at your Christmas turkey.

“It’s OK to give them treats, but human food is not a treat for pets,” says Michelle. “It can be very rich and make them sick. Don’t give them human food at Christmas – their bodies can’t digest the high level of fat in the foods we eat so give them pet food or pet treats instead.

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“You also must be careful if you buy toys for your pet that they don’t break. It’s not good for them to eat pieces of plastic so make sure the toy is sturdy enough for your pet.”

If your pet already has all the gifts you can think of, consider donating a pet present to the RSPCA Giving Tree this Christmas for the 280 vulnerable animals they have in their care. Set up an RSPCA ACT Giving Tree at your workplace, school, community group or home, and collect items that will make all the sheltered animals feel extra special this Christmas.

“You can make your pets happy by spending time with them and loving them,” says Michelle. “That’s the best present.”

Here’s a quick list of inexpensive gifts for your special creatures this Christmas. And remember, spending time with your pets is the best gift of all.


Put some dog treats inside a cereal box, and fold over the top. Shake the box, let the dog know there’s a surprise in there, and let them puzzle it out. Or, take your dog for a walk somewhere you haven’t taken them before, with new smells and new things to see and explore.


Cats are curious creatures, and hiding food in an empty cardboard toilet roll can pique their curiosity. Put the food inside the toilet roll tube – wet food they can smell – and fold over the top. Buy your cat a roll of tinfoil, scrunch it up into little balls and roll them across the floor.


For a fish, a change in the aquarium environment can be as good as a holiday. Enrich their environment with a new rock to hide under, a new cave to explore or new water plants, which can all provide stimulation for fish.


Whether you find your reptile a new sweet-smelling eucalyptus branch, or a new rock to sun themselves on, reptiles are easily pleased. They enjoy a spot in the sunshine so, if you can, position their tank to take advantage of the morning sun, and vary their diet with eggs or grapes.


Change the place your rabbit’s hutch is located. Stimulate them by providing hiding places and platforms in their hutch, and encourage play with objects, food and toys that allow digging and scent marking. Encourage them to forage by hiding leafy greens or carrots inside the hutch.


In natural environments, birds spend up to 70 per cent of their time foraging for food. The toilet roll trick is a great one for birds. Put some seeds inside a toilet roll tube and put it in their cage for them to examine and explore. Put their food in different containers in different spots in their cage to encourage them to be curious.

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