These days, pets are the new Valentine, and people are showering them with love.
One in 4 people buy Valentine's Day gifts for their pets, spending a whopping $1.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Surveys show that people admit to cuddling their dogs more often than their partners, and to preferring time with their pooches over time with significant others or family members.
"What pets provide on a regular basis is joy and purpose — someone to think of other than yourself,” says Melissa Prestinario, 50, a pet owner from Eugene, Oregon.
Working from home and social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic means people have spent more time with their pets than ever before. Those animals play a central role in combating loneliness, says Nancy R. Gee, the director of the Center for Human–Animal Interaction at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
"I hear it all the time: ‘If it weren't for my dog, I would've been in huge trouble during this pandemic,' ” Gee says. “Companion animals are making a major difference in our lives."
And pet owners don't mind pampering their furry friends. Prestinario feeds her tuxedo cat, Nash, wild-caught tuna mixed with kibble or human-grade cat food made from chicken. Her golden retriever, Crosby, has a subscription to BarkBox, a company that sends customized boxes of themed toys and treats to pets every month. (The “Sit. Stay. Spa Day!” theme included a squeaker toy that resembled a detox drink.)
Her pets will definitely get some extra affection and treats on Valentine's Day, and Prestinario doesn't mind dipping into her budget for that.
"We like to spoil our pets because we love them unconditionally,” she says. While caring for them is a lot of work, Prestinario says, the payoff is “all the funny things they do keep your spirits up — and, of course, cuddling in bed at night is always good, too."
To show your pets the love on Valentine's Day, here are some special gift recommendations:
Indulge your dog
1. Gourmet treats. Protein-packed, vitamin-enriched, with locally sourced ingredients, high-end dog biscuits and bites can deliver nutrition and taste. Consider the Valentine's Day “cookie” box from Wüfers ($39), which features pink and white iced confections, or a personalized heart cake (in a variety of flavors) from the Dog Bakery ($34.99).
Dogs also love something meaty, like the dehydrated beef heart or pork kidney treats (free of salt, sugars, fillers, chemicals and preservatives) from Farm Hounds ($50 for the Just Organs assortment box). “Fireworks go off in their heads,” says Megan Williamson, manager of the Whole Dog Market in Atlanta. “Once they have a taste for it, their eyes light up and they're like, ‘What can I do for that?' ” There are lots of local pet (and human) bakeries that cook up special treats for dogs, too, so check your area for options.
2. Heart-shaped toys. They're made out of rope or rubber. Some are soft, some squeak. However they're made, these loveys guarantee hours of fun together. You can find lots to choose from, including this interlocking-hearts rope toy (Amazon, $12.99), this red chew toy (Petco, $10.99) or this plush tugger (My Other Best Friend, $13.99).
3. Valentine outfits. Why shouldn't dogs dress to impress? Personalize a striped cable-knit sweater (Mark & Graham, $45) or a heart-covered bandanna advertising free kisses (Yappy, $14.99). Or let your pet spread Valentine vibes with a collar covered in conversation hearts (Muttropolis, $26).
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Presents for cats
4. Teaser toys. Cats love to chase and pounce, so indulge their predatory instincts with some interactive toys. This doorknob-hanging string toy has won several awards and uses batteries for casting and reeling string that will entrance your cat (Hammacher Schlemmer, $39.95).
Leigh Daniels, owner of All About Dogs & Cats in Springfield, Missouri, uses a window teaser filled with catnip for her three cats (Chewy, $7.99). “I started moving it from room to room,” she says. “The cats are like, ‘Oh my gosh, where did that come from?' ”
5. Accessories. Cats want to get into the spirit of Valentine's Day, too. A handmade necklace crocheted with pet-friendly acrylic yarns (Etsy, $9.95), a bejeweled pink leather cat collar (Petco, $11.99), or a pink cat bowl that evokes love and Paris (PetSmart, $6.37) will make sure that your feline friend is accessorized properly.
6. Homemade goodness. Candy and chocolates are dangerous for cats, so whip up something simple in the kitchen to present on a platter. The internet is chock-full of recipes featuring fish for dinner, or in a cake for dessert.
Gifts for smaller animals
7. Something to gnaw on. A willow ball encourages chewing, promoting clean and healthy teeth, and alleviates boredom (101Rabbits, $7.99). These wood chews do the same but are infused with organic peach and pineapple juice — combining a toy and treat in one (Etsy, $2.94).
8. Grooming kit. Everyone wants to look their best on Valentine's Day, and a nice grooming kit for your “piggies” will reduce shedding, prevent hair balls and keep nails under control (Amazon, $12.94). Toss some special salad mix — and even some cilantro — in the food bowl for a special treat.
Reptiles and amphibians:
9. Live plants. They improve living quarters by providing fresh air and helping to keep tanks clean. Replicate the feel of a tropical forest with assorted tillandsias in multiple sizes (LLLReptile, $2.99 each for small varieties). Cameron Austin, a salesman at Scales ‘N Tails in Lakewood, Colorado, suggests different kinds of ficus, bromeliads or peperomia: “They definitely make [the enclosure] look and smell a lot better.”
10. New furniture. Branches, bark and man-made devices such as ladders (Amazon, $13.19), caves (Reptile Supply Co., various prices) and ramps (Zilla, various prices) allow pets to climb, bask and hide.