There are nearly as many types of dog treats on the market as treats for humans: sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, meaty, fruity, fatty, savory,...
Making meals from scratch is the only way I know to have exactly what I want for my dogs no ingredients from places with spotty records for quality assurance, no multi-syllabic additives making a label longer than I like. After I covered the pet-food recall in 2007, I changed the way I eat and the way I feed my pets. For my dogs, that meant commercial products from companies I trusted, along with raw-food meals from regional sources of meat, grains, and vegetables. It wasn't a huge shift from raw to cooked when my Flat-Coated Retriever, McKenzie, started chemotherapy for soft-tissue sarcoma a few days after her seventh birthday. At the suggestion of her veterinary oncologist, I dropped the carbs, rebalanced the diet with the help of some expert advice, and started feeding McKenzie Meatloaf" to all three of my dogs."
Bravo!, maker of top-quality frozen raw diets, recently introduced a line of freeze-dried meat treats that meet all of our selection criteria. They come in four varieties: all-beef “hot dogs,” turkey, buffalo, and “Trail Mix,” which contains those three plus tiny cubes of freeze-dried cheese. We like the latter best, because the variety seems to hold our dogs’ attention longer. Bravo! uses only domestic sources of responsibly raised meats.
Surely there is no such person as a dog owner who never gives his or her dog a treat. We all like to see our dog's tail wag, and his face light up with attentive anticipation, right? But how do you know that the treats you give him are healthy? It's actually pretty simple. As with every food you buy (for yourself or your dog), it's all about the ingredients. If you do not already read the label of every food item you consider buying, get in the habit! Most of the information you need to know in order to determine the product's quality is legally required to appear on the label. Ingredients are listed on the label by weight; there is more of the first ingredient on the list present in the treat than the second ingredient, and so on. (One exception: If equal amounts - by weight - of different ingredients are present, the manufacturer can list those ingredients in any order; that is, as long as they are still in order relative to the other ingredients). The first few ingredients on the list are the most significant; since they comprise the majority of the content, they should be especially high in quality.
Experiment with a wide variety of foods to find out what treats your dog loves most. If higher-value treats don't work, remove your dog to a less distracting environment, gradually increasing distractions as he's ready to handle them.
While a dog treat should be something special for the dog, it shouldn't undermine his health, or counter the positive effects of a healthy diet. Artificial preservatives and colors can cause cancer. Too many sweets can contribute to the development of diabetes; fatty treats can trigger an attack of pancreatitis. And an excess of treats can pose serious problems. It can spoil the dog's appetite for healthier, nutritionally complete and balanced foods. If the treats contain ingredients to which the dog is allergic or intolerant, an excessive allotment can trigger a dramatic reaction. And, of course, a chronic excess of treats can cause obesity, which contributes to many other disease processes.
To our dogs, food is love – and security, affirmation, and reinforcement. When we give our dogs what trainers refer to as “high-value” treats – foods that are especially sweet, meaty, or pungent – our message gets through to them especially loud and clear. Behaviorists are highly appreciative of the ability of food treats to “classically condition” a dog to tolerate, and then even enjoy, environmental stimuli that he previously found frightening or threatening.
Nowhere in all of the gigantic field of pet supply marketing are the packages so cute and the names of the products so amusing as in the dog treat category. Many of the biggest companies use every color in the rainbow to illustrate happy dogs on the packaging – in addition to their use of artificial food colors to make the treats resemble people food such as crispy bacon, tiny hamburgers, and adorable marrow-filled cross sections of bone.
Dogs generally like sugar, which occurs naturally in certain foods, including fruit, milk, and vegetables. When dealing with anything that dogs eat, our bias is toward natural, whole foods, rather than artificial or highly processed ingredients. We'd rather see a dog eat a strawberry, for example, than a treat with an artificial strawberry-flavored, artificially sweetened treat. This may be an unscientific, instinctive response, but dogs (and people) have been eating real foods a lot longer than they have been eating artificial foods; we trust real foods more.
We found only four commercial products intended as hot-weather treats – though, truthfully, this was a bit of a reach. Only one product is an actual frozen treat, purchased in grocery stores or pet supply stores equipped with freezers (many stores that sell top-quality frozen raw dog foods also sell this treat). Two other products are sold in a form similar to pre-made Jello or pudding cups: edible in that form, but intended to be frozen or refrigerated and eaten cold. The fourth product actually is ice cream – freeze dried and meant to be fed in small, not cold pieces. This product niche could use a few more contestants!
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