We are two weeks into the New Year and I am just getting around to making a few resolutions -- with a booming business, a family on the go and a polar vortex to contend with, I haven't had much time for reflection. But yesterday, something stopped me in my tracks: looking down at Wellington, I realized -- to my dismay -- that he had packed on a few pounds over the holiday season.
I hear time and time again from Petplan's expert vets how detrimental to a dog's health being overweight is, so you can imagine the punch to the gut I felt in realizing that my own beloved Wellington was looking... well... a little beefy.
The culprit? Too many treats from our holiday feasts. But table food doesn't have to be taboo -- in fact, there are more than a few human foods that are actually good for our pets. When sharing human food with furry friends, the Golden Rule is to make sure meats are lean, portions are limited, and that nothing is fatty or heavily seasoned. And so I have not resolved to stop sharing snacks with Wellington, but to snack smarter in the New Year.
While thinking about healthy living in 2014 -- for both myself and my pets -- I turned to my friend Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, for some advice on foods fit for sharing with furry friends. Using his list of go-to "superfoods" as inspiration, I've created some healthy, low-calorie snacks for everyone in the family, whether they have two or four feet. Here are some of my suggestions:
Peel a fresh cucumber from the garden and slice it into quarter-inch rounds, then top with a forkful of cooked salmon (fresh or canned) and a dollop of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt. The cucumber will deliver crunch and vitamin K, while the salmon packs a punch of inflammation-fighting Omega-3s to help keep cancer at bay. The yogurt provides probiotics to aid in digestion and give immune systems a boost. The perfect portion for your pup is one to two pieces, but you can indulge as much as you like!
Sweet Potato Sandies
Sugar is as bad for our pets as it is for us, but that doesn't mean that all sweet treats have to be off-limits. This cookie recipe uses banana as a natural sweetener for a healthy alternative to processed sugar (plus a kick of potassium!). Mix one large cooked sweet potato and one banana in a medium bowl. Add ½ tablespoon of vegetable oil and a ½ cup of quinoa flour. Place dough in teaspoon-sized drops on a nonstick baking sheet and lightly flatten. Bake cookies at 350°F for 30 minutes. Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, which helps stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin resistance. They're also high in vitamins B6, A and C, copper, manganese and dietary fiber.
Apples are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants -- after all, an apple a day keeps the doctor (or veterinarian!) away. But since a large apple contains about 120 calories, it is best to feed smaller amounts if your pet is watching his weight, like Wellington. For a healthy snack that's half the calories, core an apple and split it in two, making sure to scoop out any remaining seeds. Dab a few spoonfuls of plain, non-dairy coconut milk yogurt on top, and drizzle with raw local honey before eating. Give half to your dog and keep half for yourself for a yummy, crunchy treat! If either of you have allergies, a little bit of raw local honey can help desensitize you to certain pollens. Just don't go overboard -- a half-teaspoon per day for a 40lb. dog is a reasonable limit.
Egg and Broccoli Bites
For a poppable snack with a pop of nutrition, mix a handful of finely chopped cooked broccoli florets with four large eggs and a quarter cup of low-fat cottage cheese in a large bowl. Once combined, pour the mixture into a mini-muffin tin and bake at 350°F until the eggs have set. Let cool and store poppers in a Ziplock bag in your fridge. Whenever you or your pup are in the mood for something savory, there's a bite-sized treat at your fingertips! Broccoli is among the vegetables highest in sulfur compounds, which increase the liver's ability to detoxify the body. It is also rich in the eye-protecting compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, and vitamins A, K and C, folic acid calcium. Eggs are eggs-cellent sources of nutrition, too, as they are loaded with protein, vitamins D, B2, B12, K and biotin, as well as the minerals calcium, selenium, iodine and phosphorus.
Watermelon "Mojito" Pops
No vacation? No problem! Bring the tropics to your kitchen with an icy treat that mimics a favorite summertime cocktail. Start by slicing and seeding a section of watermelon, being careful to remove all of the rind. Cut into chunks and place into an ice cube tray, filling each section the rest of the way with water. Finely chop one mint leaf, sprinkle on top, and freeze. You may want to add Popsicle sticks for the ones you intend to eat, but your dog will be happy with just a cube or two in his bowl. Watermelons are a source of vitamins C and A, potassium, magnesium and water, and the nibble of mint can help freshen breath -- which will keep kisses fresh, too!
Dr. Ward also reminded me (and so I am telling you) that it is always a good idea to talk to your vet about any treats you are going to feed your dog, and of course, that healthy eating is only half of the equation. To get Welly back into fighting form, he'll also need some additional exercise and playtime in every day. By dumping junky treats for healthy snacks like the recipes above, and adding a little more movement to the day, Wellington -- and any overweight dog -- can whittle their waistlines in no time!