By Amanda Baltazar
Many of us are guilty of providing our dogs with more pet treats than they can chew. But too much snacking, while seemingly pleasant for our dogs, may not be the best thing for their health. In fact, an overly fed pet can quickly develop heart disease, arthritis, obesity, stroke, or even cancer.
Here’s how to best treat your dog without spoiling his health:
1. Treat Your Dog Without Food
There are many ways to do this, says Dr. Kendra Pope, DVM, CVA, CVCH, CVFT, CVTP, a veterinarian with St. Francis Veterinary Center in Woolwich Township, N.J. Dogs and cats respond very well to praise, which is given in a high-pitched voice that’s happy and excited. So use your verbal skills along with hugs and love, she says. You can also treat your pooch with an extra game of fetch, by going for a swim, run, or even a car ride.
Animals are very different from humans in what they consider a treat, Dr. Pope points out, and they understand these other forms of praise. Food for us is much more emotional than it is for dogs.
2. Make Your Own Dog Treats
Many of the fruits and vegetables* that we humans are encouraged to eat are also beneficial for our dogs, Dr. Pope says. They should be cut small to boost digestion (especially for diminutive dogs), and vegetables should preferably be raw or only lightly steamed so your dog can absorb the nutrients.
Meat and most fish are also great treat foods for pets, says Dr. TJ Dunn, DVM, veterinarian at All Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Minocqua, WI. You can even bake your own cookies/biscuits with your existing wet dog food formula. Cut the food into slices and bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the pieces are crunchy.
Dr. Pope does, however, advise against treating with raw meat or raw organ meat because it can lead to food poisoning, such as Salmonella or E. coli, which also poses a risk for humans. The dog may tolerate the poisoning, she points out, “but they could pass it on to us when we are cleaning up their feces.”
3. Buy From the Big, U.S.-based Brands
Try to buy commercial pet treats from reputable brands because “big name brands either have more money to spend on safer foods or can safeguard against it,” Dr. Pope points out. “And, big dog food companies are more quickly able to do a recall.”
4. Understand the Dog Treat Ingredients
The more words you don’t understand in a commercially prepared treat’s ingredient list, the worse the food likely is for your pet. Look for ingredients that are recognizable, Dr. Pope says, and avoid preservatives and dyes. Treats that are high in fat, sodium (e.g., pig ears), or calories should also be avoided.
5. Watch the Table Scraps
If you are going to treat your dog with table scraps, be sure to steer clear, Dr. Pope advises, of onions, garlic, raisins, chocolate, and grapes, all of which can be toxic to dogs. Also avoid giving your dog fatty foods such as steak, pork, or bacon. “Watch the whole caloric intake,” she says.
You may also simply want to put the table scraps into your dog’s bowl when he’s not looking, suggests Dr. Dunn. Otherwise, you may end up with a dog that begs at the table at every meal.
6. Limit the Dog Treats
Treats should not make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily diet because they are not balanced, says Dr. Dunn. Too many treats may mean your dog gets too much of something (typically calories) and too little of the essential vitamins and minerals he needs.
7. Consult Your Veterinarian
Remember that your veterinarian is one of your best resources for information on which treats to give to your pet. “But owners need to be aware that we have only so much training in food and we’re taught to feed the commercial dog food, so if owners want to make their own, they should seek out someone else,” Dr. Pope says. A veterinary nutritionist is the best place to start.
*Check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any "human foods", as some may be toxic to dogs and cats.