Healthy Treats for Your Pet

We kicked off the holiday season with our Healthy Halloween Party on Halloween night. The night was dedicated to sharing tips for providing low calorie treats for cats and dogs, especially ones that can be found in local grocery stores. All the treats that were served were under 10 calories each, and many of them were both cat and dog friendly. The dogs who attended the party agreed that they were tasty, too!  But with any treats, moderation is the key. Please remember that treats should make up only five to 10 percent of your pet’s diet--the rest should come from a nutritionally complete pet food.  The treat tasting table consisted of the freeze dried liver treats (the same treats we give out at visits), canned green beans (be sure to use low salt green beans, as excess sodium is not healthy for pets or people), low salt pretzels, unsalted unbuttered popcorn, low calorie all natural dog treats from Blue Dog Bakery, 5 calorie mini Milk Bones. rice cakes broken into bite sized pieces, and cat treats and catnip. Goodie bags were given out with an assortment of treats to take home. If you want to shop locally for low calorie bakery treats, Three Dog Bakery is a good choice.

Other low calorie treats for dogs are carrot sticks, cucumber slices, zucchini slices, apple slices (without seeds), cooked lean meats, small pieces of baked potato or baked sweet potato (no unripe potatoes or potato plants), bananas, unsalted almonds, plain cooked pasta, broccoli, tomato, pumpkin, blueberries, cranberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.

Other low calorie treats for cats are cooked carrots and zucchini (either shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces), alfalfa sprouts, steamed broccoli, asparagus, green beans, winter squash, chopped greens, cantaloupe, small amounts of cooked fish, rice cakes, unbuttered unsalted popcorn, and cooked pasta. Catnip makes a fine cat treat - it's low-calorie and a pretty garden plant, too.  Cat grass is easy to grow in a sunny window, but be sure to use the grasses that are sold specifically for cats. Dried and fresh greens for cats are also available in pet stores.

Never feed the following foods to pets: grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, chocolate, onions, garlic, chives, avocado, yeast dough, sugarless (Xylitol) candies and gum.  If your pet ingests any of these foods, immediate veterinary care may be needed.

If your pet is eating a prescription diet, check with your veterinarian before introducing any non-prescription treats.  This is especially important for pets that are on diets to prevent food allergies. Good treats for pets on prescription diets can be made using the prescription food. Try these recipes from Hill's which can be found by going to http://www.hillspet.com/faq-feeding-and-treating.html. Only Hill's Prescription Diet® a/d® Canine/Feline food, Prescription Diet® n/d® Canine and Prescription Diet® s/d® Canine foods cannot be made into homemade treats using the following recipes.

Using canned prescription food:

  1. Open the can and shake the loaf of food out of the can.
  2. Cut the loaf into 1/4" thick slices, and then cut the slices into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Bake the treats in a microwave oven on high for approximately 2 ½ to 3 minutes.
  4. Store baked treats in the refrigerator and discard leftovers after 5-7 days.
  5. Homemade treats should not exceed 10% of your pet's total daily intake because heat alters the nutritional characteristics of the food.
  6. Do not freeze homemade treats.
  7. For a conventional oven, follow the instructions above and place the bite-sized pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until crispy.

Using dry prescription food:

  1. In a blender, add 2 cups of dry food and grind into a powder.
  2. Pour powder into a mixing bowl and gradually add about 1 to 1 ¼ cups of water, stirring until it forms a dough consistency.
  3. Shape into individual "treats" or "cookies" and flatten the dough using the back of a spoon (the cookies will not flatten like standard "people cookies" do)
  4. Place treats on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until crispy.
  5. Store baked treats in the refrigerator and discard leftovers after 5-7 days.
  6. Homemade treats should not exceed 10% of your pet's total daily intake because heat alters the nutritional characteristics of the food.
  7. Do not freeze homemade treats.

Using cookie cutters to make these treats is fun.

If your pet eats Prescription a/d, n/d or s/d, you can still make treats. Roll the canned food into little balls and place in the freezer to serve later as a frozen treat. This is especially refreshing to pets during the hot summer.

General tips for giving treats:

Make sure that all treats are cut into sizes that are easy for your pet to chew and swallow.  Chunks of hard fruits and vegetables can pose a choking risk, especially carrots. Tossing the treat increases the risk for choking.

If you notice any digestive upset as a result of adding new foods, be sure to discontinue giving foods that are causing trouble.

What seems like a little bite of our dinner or snack is not just a “little bite” of food to your pet!                  

  • 1 oz. of cheddar cheese for a cat = 3.5 hamburgers for a person                                                          
  • 1 oz. of cheddar cheese for a 20 lb. dog = 1.5 hamburgers for a person                                               
  • 1 cup of milk for a cat = 4.5 hamburgers for a person

Love liver treats but hate the expense? Make liver treats last longer. Make a trail mix for your dog by mixing dry treats such as unsalted popcorn, broken no-salt rice cakes, and low salt pretzels, and store in a tight container. The liver treats will add extra flavor to the other treats. For cats, make a trail mix of dry treats and add catnip to the container. Homemade trail mixes are great gifts too!

Make part of your pet's meals into treats. Measure out the daily amount of food. Put a portion of the food in the same area as the treats and use throughout the day as a treat or reward. Many cats and dogs are happy with just getting something from the “special” treat area. By using part of your pet’s regular meal in this way, your pet is not getting additional calories but still getting the reward, and it makes us feel better that we are able to give them a treat.

Alternative Treats: Instead of giving a food reward, play a game, go for a walk or even just give some extra attention as a great way to bond and reward your cat or dog.

Teach a trick for a treat or introduce puzzle toys that requires the cat or dog to work for the treat. This is a great way to increase your pet's exercise level, stimulate the mind, and give rewards at the same time.  In particular, cats in the wild are accustomed to stalking and hunting their food and eating small amounts at a time.  Puzzle toys help simulate this hunting activity, reducing stress in indoor cats.

Small changes to a diet or lifestyle can go a long way towards improved health for your pet. Thinking twice about what extra calories we give to our pets in treat form can have lasting effects. Visit our website (http://www.ahna.net/treats-tips) to compare the calories in cat and dog treats. Use high calorie treats in moderation on special occasions.  In this season of giving, give your pet the gift of healthy living and healthy treats!

Staff Education Note: As part of AHNA's continuing support of nutritional education, three of the members of our Patient Care Team, Lorraine, Jodi and Dorothy, attended an all-day Nutrition Conference (sponsored by Hills) held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Asheville.  Topics ranging from basic nutrition, understanding food labels, and important roles nutrition plays in life stages of the pet were covered.  Watch for many exciting upcoming nutritional events in 2013. Animal Hospital of North Asheville supports continuing education for all levels of staff.