Healthy, high quality treats are important at any time, but especially if your dog has specific wellness issue.
Walk into any pet supply store and you’ll see a vast array of dog treats. But a lot of those colorfully packaged goodies are unhealthy choices. Full of questionable ingredients, not to mention artificial colors and flavors, they’re little more than junk food for dogs. The good news is that rising consumer demand for healthier food and treat choices has resulted in a growing selection of high quality dog treats made from whole, natural ingredients. The trick is separating the good from the bad when you walk into the store.
As you would with pet food, start by reading labels and avoiding all products that contain a lot of grains, animal by-products, synthetic additives and other chemicals. Also avoid treats that aren’t manufactured and sourced in North America. Jerky and bully sticks from China can be especially problematic, and there have been recalls on these products over the last several years.
It’s also a good idea to eliminate gluten, which is a common canine allergen, and typically isn’t easy for dogs to digest. Also, keep in mind that these ingredients are also highly manipulated by man. “Avoid GMO grains or genetically engineered foods,” says veterinarian Dr. Jodie Gruenstern of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex. “These can be a source of pesticides in the body and potentially cancer-causing.”
Choosing healthy treats is crucial for every dog, but you need to be even more vigilant if your canine is a senior or has specific health concerns such as obesity or allergies.
“What treats should I give my overweight dog?”
Overweight and obese dogs should avoid treats high in carbohydrates and starch. Dr. Gruenstern adds that protein is a key ingredient to look for when deciding which treat to give an overweight dog, and that a simple freeze-dried meat is ideal as a low-calorie treat.
Low-calorie treats are also ideal for avoiding weight gain during training. You can easily go through a few dozen treats during an in-depth training session. To avoid weight gain, cut them into small pieces. For example, if you start with six calories per treat and cut each one into small pieces, you could give your dog as little as one calorie per positive reinforcement. Many trainers use this method of low-calorie treating so they can cover a lot of ground without risking weight gain in the dog.
“What treats should I give my senior dog?”
Many senior dogs are just as healthy as their younger counterparts, but if your older canine has a sensitive stomach, you need to be extra careful when treating. One thing you can do is freeze some of his regular food in an ice cube tray and give him the frozen bits as treats.
Otherwise, avoiding stomach upset means staying away from fatty ingredients in treats. Look for ingredients that offer meat without the fat. For instance, some contain beef fat, but no beef. Always check the ingredients list on a treat package to ensure it mentions whole meats, and not just the fats from those meats.
It’s beneficial to give your older dog treats that contain coconut oil, sweet potato and chia. Beyond tasting great, these ingredients produce energy, an important consideration for senior dogs that may be tired or listless.
Dr. Gruenstern adds antioxidants to the list of senior-appropriate treat ingredients. “Look for cranberries or blueberries or dark, leafy greens listed on the label. Seniors with constipation issues may benefit from those that contain fibrous vegetation such as pumpkins or green beans.”
“What treats should I give my allergic dog?”
As we touched upon earlier, gluten and wheat often produce allergies in dogs. Add soy and corn to that list as well. Corn is a popular filler in cheap, low-quality dog food and treats because it is easily mass produced. Both we and our dogs have a hard time avoiding corn because not only is it a common filler, but farmers often feed cows and other livestock corn in place of grass. Because of this, your dog is eating traces of corn when he eats red meat. With this in mind, avoid treats with corn as a filler because chances are your dog is already getting corn in the meat.
If your dog has allergies, have your veterinarian run a test to uncover what he’s reacting to before deciding on a treat. Once this is established, cleanse your dog’s system with a vegetarian diet, since dogs are rarely allergic to vegetables. Thereafter, you can begin introducing exotic meat treats such as rabbit and white fish. Dr. Gruenstern agrees that rabbit is a good hypoallergenic meat. “Try to choose a unique meat source which the dog has not been exposed to previously,” she says.
Low-calorie dog treats packed with wholesome ingredients can be given many times throughout the day to enforce positive behavior and good manners. Just be sure to purchase premium products, read the ingredients on the label, and cut up treats so they are roughly the size of your fingernail. Dogs have a very keen sense of smell, and even a tiny treat will have them salivating and eagerly displaying their best behavior!
Amberly Scott Hindler owns and operates Lux Dog Daycare, Inc. in West Los Angeles, (luxdogdaycare.com). She worked in client services at high-traffic veterinary hospitals in Los Angeles for many years after graduating from the University of Southern California. Amberly is the recipient of a Gold Circle Award for Journalists from Columbia University’s Scholastic Press Association.