I want to give my dog treats when she’s a good dog and just for fun, but I also want to make smart choices about her health. There are so many dog treat options – how do I choose a good one?
Dog owners in the United States spend nearly $2 billion per year on treats for their dogs! No wonder making choices among treats can seem so overwhelming. There are some simple guidelines that can help you to make reasonable choices about treats – both quality and quantity – supporting good health and still allowing for some fun.
Treats should never provide more than 10% of a dog’s energy/calorie intake, and a 5% target is better. Unlike commercially prepared dog foods, dog treats are NOT complete and balanced. Providing too many treats actually upsets the nutritional balance of the regular ration. For instance, one popular dog treat consists of dried cow tendon which is 85% protein – far higher than in an appropriate dog food formulation. And this protein is of very low biological value, meaning it does not contribute to the dog’s true nutritional needs.
Too many treats will interfere with your dog’s appetite for her regular food. This can contribute to a nutritional imbalance in the long term, and can turn her into a “fussy eater,” making it particularly challenging to use therapeutic nutrition should the need arise later in life to manage a disease nutritionally.
Finally, too many treats make a significant contribution to dogs becoming overweight and obese – both conditions are now afflicting family dogs at epidemic rates. While exercise does play a small role in maintaining optimal body condition, nutritional science tells us that “calories in” is by far the most important part of the equation. Do not be fooled by treats that are labeled “light” or “lower calorie.” These are not significantly lower in calorie than other treats and they do add extra calories to a dog’s daily intake.
I’ve been told my dog is overweight and she is eating a special food to help her lose weight. Are there treats she can have?
Water based vegetables like green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower are low calorie snacks. Not all vegetables fall into this category. For instance, carrots are surprisingly calorie-dense, so they do not make good treats for dogs. Fresh or frozen green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower are crunchy, inexpensive, easy snacks. They can be frozen inside a Kong® toy, allowing the dog to get rewarded as the veggies melt and can be pulled out.
Be sure to check with your veterinarian first in case there are vegetables your dog should not eat.
Another terrific low calorie snack that works great for a dog treat is air popped popcorn – no butter or salt, please! Dogs enjoy the crunch, and they can have popcorn snacks nearly any time – while training, as rewards for good behavior, and even to provide extra volume for a meal.
So many commercial treats have been recalled or have resulted in dogs getting sick that I’d like to make my own. Are there good recipes for dog treats?
The Internet has countless dog treat recipes! When choosing a recipe for homemade treats, it is best to keep it simple. Watch the sugar content (and don’t forget that honey and molasses are simple sugars) – less is better and none is best. And because homemade treats have no preservatives, be sure to store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
If your dog eats a special diet for any reason, be sure to ask your veterinarian about recipes you are considering for homemade treats. Most therapeutic diets can be made into treats pretty easily, and that will not disrupt the nutritional balance your veterinarian has prescribed. If you are using a canned food that has a fairly firm texture, slide the contents of an entire can out onto a cutting board. Cut the food into bite-sized pieces and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a conventional oven, bake the pieces at 350° for approximately 30 minutes, checking periodically for the texture you desire. Baking does change the texture of the canned food, but still offers the appropriate nutrient profile.
For a therapeutic dry formulation, grind kibbles in a blender or food processor, and mix with enough water to form dough. Shape the cookies and bake them in a conventional oven at 350° for 25 – 30 minutes, or until they reach your desired level of crispiness. When using treats of this kind, do not allow the quantity to exceed 5% of your dog’s total daily intake.
By making smart treat choices, we can reward our dogs during training, give them a little something to reinforce the good behaviors we want repeated, and simply build our bond with them.
Homemade Dog Treat Recipe
1½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup corn meal
½ cup rolled oats
1½ cup water, or as needed
½ cup canola oil
3 Tbsp. peanut butter
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 400°
- Grease cookie sheets
- Mix together whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, corn meal, and rolled oats
- In another bowl combine the water, oil, eggs, peanut butter and vanilla extract and mix well
- Gradually add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix well
- On a flat surface, roll out the dough and cut into fun shapes
- Place cookies on cookie sheets and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven off and let the cookies remain in the oven for an additional 20 minutes to get crispy.