Hopefully last week’s Paw Prints article on healthy (and unhealthy) pet foods was useful to pet caregivers as they navigate the maze of confusing marketing info. Several of our readers expressed an interest in some factual info about what to look for, and what to avoid, when buying treats for their dogs. Dogs love treats, and what better way to show love to your dog than by giving him treats, but it is important to choose HEALTHY treats, and to not over-treat your dog, which adds calories to his diet and puts him at risk of becoming overweight. Treats often add a substantial amount of calories to your dog’s otherwise healthy diet, and many treats are filled with artificial ingredients, fillers, and other additives that are not good for your dog. They usually provide your dog with few health benefits and are typically high in “empty calories.” Veterinarian Tami Pierce stresses that treats and snacks should make up only 10 percent of a dog’s daily diet. People often give their dog two, three, or four treats at a time without even considering the calories involved. The result is obesity.”

My favorite treat is carrots. A raw baby carrot makes a great on-the-go dog treat. Or cook them or freeze them. Carrots are healthful, delicious, inexpensive, non-messy, low calorie, and safe. Lots of dogs like sweet, crispy apple slices. Just remove the core and seeds. Pumpkin is a super treat (Plain pumpkin…not canned pie mix). Just drop small spoonfuls on a tray and freeze. Put into a plastic baggie and take out as needed. Left over bits of chicken can also be saved in the freezer, and low fat broth can be frozen in an ice cube tray, and stored in a plastic bag. Some dogs like green beans, and sweet potatoes, and I have yet to meet a dog who didn’t simply love a small tidbit of cheese. (Do not feed grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, or anything with caffeine or alcohol because of potential toxicity.)

If you buy commercial treats, don’t be swayed by powerful marketing techniques used by the industry. Most dog treats contain high amounts of sugar, and are ripe with preservatives, allergens, artificial colors, carcinogenic additives, and more. Even the popular Milk Bones contain BHA and some varieties are loaded with sugar. Snausages contain corn syrup and BHA and also contain polypropylene glycerol as a moistening agent derived from a highly toxic compound used in automotive antifreeze. Snausages , Pup-peroni, and Beggin’ Strips all contain artificial coloring, and are also all made in China—yet another reason to be wary, given the historic danger of Chinese produced dog treats. (Be aware of where the treats are sourced also, because just because a package says treats are made in the U.S., doesn’t necessarily mean that the ingredients are not sourced from elsewhere). Don’t feed jerky or rawhide, imported or domestic, to your dog…just ask your vet how many emergency visits have been necessary because of these treats!

I have yet to meet a dog yet who hasn’t liked Beggin’ Strips, but they are preserved with carcinogenic BHA, and they contain both sugar and artificial food coloring. Does your dog need to be eating sugar? Absolutely not! Do they like it? They LOVE it and will gobble up this cheap, addictive filler that is just as bad for your dog as it is for you. We offer you a simple, easy- to- make recipe for homemade Beggin’ Strips:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Combine in a medium sized bowl, using your hands to blend everything well:

  • 3 cooked slices of bacon, cooked and finely chopped
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 1 egg

Roll out dough to about ¼ inch thick. Use a knife to cut the dough into 1 inch wide strips, 4-6 inches in length. (You can use your fingers to ripple the dough if you want it to look like a piece of bacon) Place the strips on an oiled cookie sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes. BONE appetite!

Another VERY SIMPLE treat is Sweet Potato Chews: Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and slice a sweet potato into thin slices. You don’t need to peel the potato, just scrub it well. Place slices on oiled cookie sheet and bake for about 3 hours. Baking time will determine the hardness of the chew.

We all love to see the excitement and anticipation on our dog’s face when we offer a treat, but it is important to realize that many commercially-available treats are not good for them. Choose wisely to keep your companion healthy as well as happy!