Healthy Treat Options for Dog Enrichment
Treat your dog, but consciously
For years, positive reinforcement has been a huge aspect of dog training, and as most of us know and have most likely personally experienced, dogs are more eager to learn when there is food involved.
Many obedience classes or training programs utilize small treats, typically called training treats, to help your dog respond accurately to a command. For example, when potty training a puppy, the most common piece of advice owners get is to constantly praise your puppy for going potty outside, the best way usually involving their favorite treat. It’s almost ingrained in us as dog owners to reward our pups for any type of good behavior, but did you know that doing so could be detrimental to their health as they get older? In 2019, a study conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital showed that out of 1.9 million patients seen across 1,000 of their clinics throughout the country, 51% of dogs were considered overweight. Obesity in dogs is an epidemic in the United States and it’s something that as dog owners, we need to be extremely conscious of as obesity can lead to several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, joint disease, metabolic changes, and many more.
Veterinarians use a scale called the Body Condition Score (see chart below) to determine if the pet’s weight is ideal for his or her body type. Many dog owners have a difficult time picturing what their pet’s ideal weight should be, so the chart includes pictures in addition to descriptions. If you have concerns about your dog’s weight, please reach out to your Veterinarian to discuss options and rule out any potential medical reasons for excessive weight gain before starting your dog on any type of diet.
There are some things that you can easily change at home to reduce the number of calories in your dog’s diet. All I ask is that you keep an open mind about the options, some of them may not work for your dog, and that’s okay! Always bring up any questions or concerns with your Veterinarian, they are the professionals and will always be happy to help!
So, let’s chat about dog treats. How many of you have chosen dog treats at the store simply based on the label and/or branding? If you have, you’re not alone. Big brands can continually sell their products because of their attractive branding and their use of attention-grabbing words (i.e.: natural, organic, healthy, etc). It’s important to do your research on specific brands before buying, but let’s explore some healthier options together.
Keep in mind that your dog may initially refuse to eat these new treats, especially if they are used to getting the yummy, fatty ones. Don’t be discouraged if your pup turns their nose up at the healthier options at first. Once the “good” stuff is no longer being offered to them, they’re going to realize how yummy the new stuff actually is, so stand your ground!
Fruits and vegetables
This seems obvious, but many people don’t know that your furry friend can also get in on the benefits of fruits and veggies! The trick is figuring out which ones your pup enjoys the most and then finding fun ways to give them as treats, such as stuffing them in a Kong toy, using a food puzzle, or simply just practicing a new command.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are best as they don’t contain any extras like the canned versions typically do. Keep in mind that for dogs, there are many toxic human foods, so make sure to do your research before giving your pup anything new. I’ve included a chart that lists safe and toxic foods to help you out!
*Pro-tip: try freezing different fruits and veggies to give as treats, the cold and the crunch can be a fun surprise for your pup!
Homemade Dog Treat Recipes
Another awesome option is to make delicious treats for your pup at home, many of which involve only a few ingredients and are super simple to make! A lot of the recipes you’ll find include peanut butter, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, or apples. The various combinations you can make with these 4 ingredients adds a sweetness that your pup is sure to enjoy!
The perk of giving your pup homemade treats is that you don’t have to sift through the long ingredient list on the package of store-bought treats and you can make them as big or as small as you want, depending on what you’re using them for and how many treats you are allowing your dog to have throughout the day. It is also better for the environment since you are buying less plastic treat bags!
There are so many great recipes out there, just make sure you double-check that there are no toxic ingredients beforehand. This recipe from Blue Jean Chef for sweet potato and apple treats is one that I have tried for my pup and found great success with. I don’t typically have much free time throughout my day so I enjoyed how easy these were to make and I love that the nutrition information is provided as well! Give them a try and let me know how your pup likes them!
Full Moon Pet
This wonderful company prides itself on making dog treats with simple ingredients that are sourced from family farms where you can be sure the animals are treated appropriately. The ingredient list is straight to the point, so you don’t have to use Google to figure out what all the extras are. As if that wasn’t good enough, the kitchens where these treats are made are USDA approved for human consumption so these treats are actually edible for dog owners as well, which makes them 100% human-grade! Good enough for us, great enough for our pups too!
They make a variety of sizes, including training treats and jerky treats in flavors from chicken to beef to venison. The one thing to keep in mind is that the treats will likely dry out if the package is left open, so make sure to seal it tight! These treats can be purchased straight from their website, on Amazon, and in some larger retail stores as well. Learn more at www.fullmoonpet.com.
dog treats are just that, a treat!
There are some really great options out there when it comes to making sure your dog has the best treats, just make sure to do your research and figure out what’s really in those dog biscuits you’ve been giving your pup for years, you’d be surprised by all the ingredients that aren’t vital to your dog’s health. It is our duty as pet owners to make sure we are giving our pets the healthiest and happiest life, and if that means calling it quits on the fatty treats and table scraps, so be it!
If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear about them! And again, always be sure to contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns regarding your dog’s diet.