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10 steps to choosing the right healthy treats for your dog

10 steps to choosing the right healthy treats for your dog

What treats to avoid and how to make the best treats for your dog

Forty-five days ago, my team and I went for a retreat in Tofino B.C. Without a doubt, the beautiful, wild and rugged west coast of Canada is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is home to bears, whales, wild eagles and big trees and is a true dog paradise. In Tofino, dogs run on the beach, happy and free, blending with adults and children without any problems.

I love going out on trips with my team because I learn a lot more about them and also about me.

Some of you may wonder, why I remember exactly how many days have passed since I was in Tofino. The first night we went out for dinner and I thought I would challenge myself by not having any desserts. One of our team members, Alicia, joked: “I bet you are not going to last past tomorrow!”  And so I decided that I will not only last for 48 hours, but 48 days! No chocolate, no desserts, no sugar, honey or maple syrup or anything that contained these ingredients :-(.

Of course, the next day my team presented me with a three tier box of the best handmade chocolates from Vancouver!” I bravely survived all the lip smacking of my dear friends and colleagues, all the ahhhs, oohs and hmmmm’s.

But that was not the hardest part. For six weeks now I have been resisting the countless number of people who made it their sport to try to make me break my promise. 

C’mon, Peter, have just one cookie, one chocolate, one piece of pie, one Margarita.  Nobody will know! We won’t tell! 

This got me thinking, why did people work so hard to convince me to break my promise? Some of them wanted to treat me, others wanted me to join them and enjoy the delicacies and perhaps some wanted me to fail because they would love to stop their sugar addiction and could not.

I often say that dogs are very similar to us. They too love treats and some pooches will not stop barking and howling until they get what they are asking for. 

Mr. Pavlov knew many years ago that reflexes are more powerful than anything and, while I am not saying dogs should not get treats, there are a few important things to remember when you or others treat your dog.

That is why I put together 10 hints to healthy treats for your dog:

  1. Ideally, make treats yourself if you can. Dehydrated, baked or cooked pieces of non-medicated or organic meats are great. Click here for another homemade treat recipe
  2. If you are buying treats, ensure that they are not made in China and other countries with poor quality control.
  3. Avoid treats that are too good to be true. Think about it. A pound of dehydrated treats was made from 10 times the amount of fresh ingredients. If you buy a pound of dehydrated chicken breast for $10, the math does not add up. I would not touch them.
  4. Beware of frequent feeding of liver treats. Once again, dehydrated treats are much more nutrient and vitamin-rich but, in the case of liver, you can overdose the fat-soluble vitamins. Plus liver contains more toxins and impurities than muscle meat because it is a main detox organ of the body.
  5. Beware of small fish treats like sardines and herring. Once again, it is hard to track the source. Not all preservatives are listed and small fish can be a problem due to strontium contamination.
  6. Some people like to feed salmon skin, which from a nutritional point of view is good. However, even salmon contains low to moderate levels of mercury and, if fed frequently, the mercury levels can be surprisingly high. If you are concerned about mercury and other toxins in your dog’s body, you can have your dog HairQ tested.
  7. One of the riskiest adventures for your dog’s health is giving cheap or  grain and wheat-based treats. The canine digestive tract is not built for digesting grain, which can cause degrees of inflammatory bowel disease. The gut is central to your dog’s health and immunity and dogs benefit from grain-free treats and addition of non-dairy canine specific probiotics.
  8. The best way to prevent your dog from becoming a cookie monster is to give them irregularly. That way he or she is not unhappy if you run out of treats or you are too busy to give one. The same applies to feeding. Remember that dog’s in nature didn’t have a clock and the rabbit or bird didn’t land “on their plate” exactly at 7 p.m. every day. 
  9. Because of the above, I propose that you do not allow strangers give your dog treats and if they insist, or are your friends, give them your healthy treats and let them know that for health reasons (or allergies), your dog is only allowed certain type of treats.
  10. If your dog’s favourite treat is a bone, avoid rawhide, beef tendons and highly processed dental bones. There is a reason why they can sit in bins and baskets for months on end. It is common that they are full of preservatives and chemicals and it is hard to track what was added, so it is better to stay away from them.

We all love treating our dogs and we all love to eat treats from time to time. After 48 days, which is in less than a week, I am planning to have my favourite all-natural gelato and I know I will give a lick or two to my dog. 

Life is not about depriving ourselves and our dogs of pleasures but, it is good to know what treats are healthy and which ones to avoid. I am all for sharing the odd treat that should not be a part of your dog’s regular diet such as gelato, cheese or a small piece of pizza crust, as long as he or she is not allergic. We just need to be careful to make treats a special occasion once every few weeks as opposed to a daily occurrence.

I promise that your dog will be as happy to get a piece of homemade cooked or dehydrated meat as if they would with an expensive store-bought treat that may have ingredients of unknown origin and quality.

Giving your dog a treat is an expression of love. Choosing a healthy treat is a smart choice!

Recommended reading:

Does your dog suffer from monkey love?

12 things you must know about dog treats

© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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