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Howlingly good holiday gifts for your pets

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It may not be a good idea to give a pet as a gift for the holidays, but you can't go wrong with giving your own pet a present. At least one name on your list won't complain about the wrong size or color!

Millions of Americans are expected to splurge on high-end toys, treats, and accessories for their pets this holiday. At a time when we're working longer hours and our furry family members are spending a lot more time alone, there's a wide range of imaginative toys that promise to soothe their separation anxiety as well as slim down our lazy cats and pups. Read on for some of the hottest trends in battery-operated cat toys, treat-dispensing dog puzzles and other goodies.

Cat and mouse

When it comes to innovative toy ideas, this year is the cat's meow.

If you’ve got a tubby, bored kitty, Mouse in the House will get it moving. It's the first automatic, programmable toy designed to stimulate the feline's hunting instincts.

Fling-ama-String is another way to get lazy cats pouncing and playing. Attach the battery-operated gadget to any doorknob and watch it fling out string from a small conveyor belt. Two speeds can be set for frisky and more sedate felines. The fling-ama-string won the editor's choice award from Cat Fancy magazine. It comes fully assembled, costing $24.95.

Do cats like anything better than to scratch and snooze? Eco-friendly furniture, made from pressed cardboard, is a stylish solution for finicky felines who reject carpet-covered scratching posts. Ranging from $20 to $130, the recyclable scratchers come in various shapes and sizes. They're like catnip to a clawing kitty.

My dog could paint that!

Indulge your pet's creative talents with kits. The $24.99 kits come with art paper, non-toxic paints and a frame for hanging your fur kid's masterpieces. Simply tape the paper on the floor and cover it with a paw protector. Then let your Van Dog or Picatsso walk all over it. The artwork can also be transferred to mouse pads, T-shirts and coffee mugs.

Ding, ding I need to go to the bathroom! Teach your dog to ring you with the Tell Bell potty training device when he wants to go outside. The company claims that within weeks your pooch can learn to ring the floor bell for you to open the door. The Tell Bell comes with a bell, a 30-minute training DVD and instruction manual for about $24.97.

With the $27.99 Doggie Driver golf lovers can practice their swing while exercising their pup. The golf club-shaped toy sends tennis balls sailing up to 100 yards. For really active dogs, the Ball Launcher, also from Hyper Products, is a sling shot that holds up to four tennis balls and will launch them up to a distance of 220 feet.

No dog can ever have too many chew toys. The Pull ‘N Play Puppy Gym for growing puppies is a $49 blanket topped with a variety of chewable toys hanging from bungee cords. The dangling toys are designed to help strengthen canine muscles and ease teething problems. It's sold at pet superstores nationwide.

Is your dog smarter than a 5th grader?

Find out with the Hi.Q. treat-dispensing puzzle toy designed to help dogs who are home alone deal with separation anxiety. Filled with large and small treats, the non-toxic flexible rubber pieces link together, challenging the dog to figure out how to get to the goodies inside. A single link costs $12.99; double links, $24.98; triple, $36.97.

Remember the shelter pets

While you’re shopping, don't forget the thousands of animals in shelters across America. A donation to your favorite animal charity can help make the holidays more comfortable for abandoned and unwanted dogs and cats.

Have an un-fur-gettable holiday!

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.