Nothing says you care quite like a handmade gift, but why should the humans have all the fun? Surprise your favorite feline or canine companion with a gift from the heart such as homemade biscuits, gourmet chicken jerky or tempting catnip treats.
"DIY gifts for pet lovers are really fun to make," says Jennifer Quasha, author of more than 40 books, including "The Dog Lover's Book of Crafts" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!"
"The whole time you're working on the project, you're thinking of your friend, his or her pet, and how much they will like or get a chuckle out of what you are creating," Quasha says. "It says that you care enough to spend a lot more time making something than going out and buying something."
While you're in the kitchen crafting your signature Christmas cookies, pour an extra cup of cocoa, and cook up these gourmet goodies for the dogs and cats on your list -- and don't forget the gift wrap. For paws-itively pleasing packaging, pack the tasty treats in holiday tins or festive Chinese takeout-style containers. In lieu of a bow and gift tag, top it off with a new collar and personalized dog tag -- or for the kitties, a catnip toy mouse or jingle ball.
*Super Soup Bone
Instead of splurging on pricey bones at the pet store, make your own from an inexpensive grocery store staple: beef soup bones. Traditionally used for making homemade broth, these hefty bones are simple to prepare, and they're just as indulgent as the basted, meaty beef bones but at a fraction of the price.
To prepare, place in a glass baking dish and cook at 250 F for two hours or until the bone is golden brown and the meat chunks are crisp. Remove from the baking dish and place on paper towels until cooled. Store in a zip-close bag in the fridge until gift-giving time. Bones can be refrigerated up to two weeks or stored in the freezer for up to two months.
*Gourmet Chicken Jerky
Chicken jerky for dogs is all the rage, and for good reason. It's chewy, satisfying and packed with protein -- but it's also pricey and potentially loaded with unhealthy additives. Bake your own at home in a food dehydrator, and you'll be certain it's 100 percent natural.
"As a dog owner, I care about what my dog eats as much as I care about what I eat," says Pamela Braun, recipe developer and the voice behind the website My Man's Belly. "One of my favorite gifts to give to my friends that own dogs is a gift of dehydrated chicken breast treats. With all the concerns surrounding treats being imported from China, these homemade treats show your friends that you care about their pet, just like you care about them."
Slice boneless, skinless chicken breast into 1/4-inch slices. The overall shape doesn't matter, Braun says, but the thickness of each slice should be uniform.
Lay out the chicken pieces on the dehydrator tray, leaving room between each piece. Dehydrate for eight hours at 145 F. The chicken pieces should snap when broken. If they're still flexible, continue dehydrating until crispy. Store jerky in zip-close bags or airtight containers.
Don't have a dehydrator? Place sliced chicken on baking sheets, and bake in the oven at 200 F for two hours, or until done.
*Catnip Tuna Treats
These catnip-infused tuna treats are sure to please even the most finicky feline. The recipe makes enough to share with all the cat lovers on your list, and it sure beats the standard store-bought fare.
1 can tuna, well-drained
1/3 cup Bisquick baking mix
1 large egg, beaten
2-3 tablespoons milk
1 cup dried catnip
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place tuna in food processor or blender, and blend into a thick paste. In a large mixing bowl, mix the tuna, Bisquick, egg, milk and 1/2 cup dried catnip until well moistened. Add additional milk as needed. Mixture should resemble thick, sticky dough.
Roll the mixture into small, bite-sized balls. Roll each ball in the remaining catnip and place on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 F for 5-8 minutes until set. Treats should be soft, not crunchy. Let treats cool at room temperature for two hours. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days or in the freezer for up to one month.
*Peanut Butter "Gingerbread" Biscuits
With wholesome ingredients like oats, bran, molasses, barley and apple scraps, these mouth-watering treats made in a food dehydrator will have your dog begging for more. For an extra decadent treat, add a thin layer of "chocolate" icing made from melted carob chips.
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup oil
3 tablespoons natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup honey crunch wheat germ
In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, oats and wheat germ. Stir in oil, peanut butter, vanilla and water. Knead till smooth, adding more flour or water as needed. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Shape into bars, or cut with cookie cutters in the shape of bones or gingerbread men.
Place cutouts on dehydrator tray and place in dehydrator at the highest setting (145-155 F) for 6-8 hours. Add time if needed, as treats should be very dry.
(Recipe from Excalibur Dehydrators)