Tip #1: Don't Overfeed Treats to Your Pet
Dog or cat treats -- even very healthy ones -- should not constitute more than 15 percent of your pet's daily food intake, and preferably less than 10 percent. And it's best to limit them to training and behavior rewards, as a bedtime ritual, or as a "time to get in your crate" enticement.
Also keep in mind that cat and dog treats are not a complete form of nutrition for your pet, and should never be substituted for balanced, species-appropriate meals. Overfeeding treats on top of daily food intake will result in an obese pet. Overfeeding treats while underfeeding balanced meals will result in a dog or cat with nutritional deficiencies.
Tip #2: Treats Should Be Sourced in the U.S. and Made in the U.S.
The chicken jerky dog treats and other treats suspected of causing illness and death in pets have ingredients imported from China. Despite the efforts of the FDA and independent laboratories to isolate the contaminant, nothing has been identified, and five years after the first reports of sick and dying pets, the treats are still being produced by major pet food companies and sold by major retailers. So I would certainly strongly recommend avoiding any product containing ingredients sourced from China.
That said, I have found several excellent quality treats from New Zealand and Canada. The important point is to know and trust your treat company's commitment to purity and quality control.
Tip #3: Treats Should Be High-Quality
A high-quality pet treat will not contain grains or unnecessary fillers, rendered animal by products, added sugar (sometimes hidden in ingredients like molasses and honey), chemicals, artificial preservatives, or ingredients known to be highly allergenic to pets.
Most excellent quality, human-grade pet food producers -- typically smaller companies -- also make a few types of treats. So if you're already feeding your dog or cat a high-quality commercial pet food you trust, see if the manufacturer also makes treats.
Another option is to shop online, especially if you've done your research and know exactly what you're looking for.
Tip #4: Offer Fresh Human Foods as Treats
I recommend avoiding all grain-based treats. Your dog or cat has no biological requirements for the carbs in these treats, and in addition, they are pro-inflammatory.
Consider instead living "human" foods. Berries are a great treat because they're small and loaded with antioxidants. You can also offer small amounts -- no more than 1/8 inch square for a cat or small dog and a 1/4 inch square for bigger dogs -- of other fruits (melons and apples are good fruits to start with) as well as cheese.
Many cats enjoy bits of zucchini or cantaloupe. You can also try offering some dark, green leafy veggies as treats for your kitty. It might even keep her away from your houseplants!
Excellent training treats for dogs include frozen peas and raw almonds, cashews and Brazil nuts (but NEVER macadamia nuts).
Tip #5: Prepare Homemade Treats for your Pet
If your dog happens to be wild for dehydrated chicken strips (chicken jerky), you can make your own quite easily.
Just buy some boneless chicken breasts, clean them, and slice into long, thin strips -- the thinner the better. Place the strips on a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and bake them for at least three hours at 180 degrees. The low temp dries the chicken out slowly and the strips wind up nice and chewy.
Let the strips cool, and then store them in plastic bags or another airtight container. You can also freeze them.
If you buy commercial canned food for your dog or cat, you can "repurpose" a can for use as a supply of healthy treats.
Open a can of your pet's favorite brand, preferably something with a strong aroma, and spoon out little treat sized amounts onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Put the baking sheet into the freezer until the bite sized bits of food are frozen. Then move them to an airtight container and back into the freezer they go until you're ready to treat your pet to a treat! (Most dogs will enjoy the treats frozen, but you'll need to thaw them to a chewy consistency for kitties.)
For recipes to make pet treats at home using beef, liver and turkey, check out my blog titled "Nutritious, Delicious Pet Treats You Can Make in a Flash."
Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.
Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.
By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.
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