Dog Treats VS. Dog Food

My taste-testers: Corby, Abner, Marley, and Pacey

My taste-testers: Corby, Abner, Marley, and Pacey.

I think that it’s important for me to take this opportunity to make a clear distinction between the dog “treats” that I typically make and discuss on this blog and “dog food.” Just like humans, dogs should have balanced diets. According to the ASPCA, “treats should make up only 5 to 10 percent of your pet’s diet–the rest should come from a nutritionally complete pet food.” Quality commercial dog food is specifically formulated (by veterinarians and nutritionists) to give your dog the vitamins and nutrients that he or she needs to be healthy. It’s important to always be conscious that treats are special snacks that should not in any way be considered a substitute for your dog’s regular food.

Baking homemade dog treats can be a fun and rewarding experience if you just use common sense. I like to approach treats for dogs in the same way that you should approach dessert for humans. A special treat is perfectly fine in moderation but can do harm if eaten in excess. For example, a pupcake with cream cheese frosting or a cheesy biscuit is totally okay if it’s given very sparingly as a special reward; you will, however, inevitably give your doggie an upset stomach if you load him or her up with too large or too many dairy-laden treats. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I know from experience that when you love your pet and want them to feel pampered it can be very easy to overdo it. Simply exercise good judgment, and if you’re ever in doubt, consult your veterinarian.

Similar to the manner in which you would slowly integrate a new type of dog food into your pet’s diet, it’s best to introduce any new treat in very small amounts. Just like humans, some dogs can have allergies to foods or ingredients that are considered safe and healthy for the general population. When you are baking a treat recipe for the first time or trying a new ingredient, be sure to give your dog only a small taste at first and keep an eye out to make sure that they have no negative reactions. The most common allergic reactions are vomiting, diarrhea, and itchy skin. Obviously, if you notice any of these symptoms, stop giving your dog the treats, and if there’s any type of severe reaction, call your veterinarian immediately.

If you ever have any feedback or questions (in reference to a post or recipe on this blog or just a general question), please leave me a comment. I’m no expert, but I’m always happy to do a little research to try to find an answer to your questions about canine health.

The Doggie Danger Zone

The first step to baking your own treats should be to educate yourself about human-grade ingredients (a.k.a. “people food”) that can be toxic to your dog. The kitchen can be a danger zone for our pets, and it is our duty as responsible owners to keep their food safe. Below is a list of some of the most common people foods that are potentially poisonous to dogs. Some of the items are no-brainers, while others are much less obvious. Although it’s a great starting point, this list is not all-inclusive, so please visit the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center website (http://www.aspca.org/Home/Pet-care/poison-control) for more information. And if you ever suspect that your pet has ingested anything potentially poisonous, you can call their 24-hour emergency hotline at 888-426-4435.

Alcoholic Beverages: This one is a no-brainer. Do not ever give your dog alcohol. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, coma, or even death.

Caffeine (Chocolate, Coffee, Soda): Most people have heard somewhere along the way that chocolate is bad for dogs. This is true. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it is. The root of the problem is the caffeine content, so it’s best to keep your dog away from chocolate, coffee, soda, and any other people food that contains caffeine.

Salt: Large quantities of salt can cause a whole host of health problems in dogs, including death. You may want your dog to have a gourmet-tasting treat, but dog food simply does not need the seasoning that ours does, so there is absolutely no reason to include it. (Remember to also avoid any people foods that are high in sodium. Sneaking Spot potato chips or crackers is a real no-no.)

Onions and Garlic: Large quantities of these items can pose a health risk, but according to the Animal Poison Control Center, onions and garlic are not likely to cause a health problem when ingested in “an occasional low dose, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats.” Just the same, there’s no need to include potentially hazardous items for flavoring purposes—again, remember that dog food does not require seasoning like people food.

Yeast: The Animal Poison Control Center recommends that yeast-raised treats constitute no more than 5 to 10 percent of a dog’s daily caloric intake. Before a yeast dough is baked it poses a bigger threat. The yeast dough can rise in the dog’s digestive system and create painful gas. It’s a good general rule to avoid feeding your pet unbaked dough of any kind (see also” raw meat and eggs” below).

Xylitol: Today xylitol is widely used as a sweetener in gum and other candies, but it can cause liver failure in dogs. Never use it in a treat recipe, and be careful not to feed your dog people foods containing it.

Macadamia Nuts: These nuts are frequently found in human treats like cookies and tarts, but they can cause vomiting and tremors in dogs.

Grapes and Raisins: Grapes and raisins can cause canine health problems even in small quantities. In large quantities, they can cause dogs to have kidney failure. Be very careful not to include raisins in any of your treats.

Raw Meat and Eggs: Just like people, dogs are susceptible to bacteria found in raw meat and eggs (like Salmonella and E. coli). Cooking/baking kills these types of bacteria, so again, it’s best to avoid feeding your dog any unbaked dough.

Apple Seeds, Stems, and Leaves: It’s important to note that the flesh and skin of apples is A-okay for dogs, but the seeds, stems, and leaves are potentially harmful.

Milk and Cheese: Although dairy products aren’t necessarily toxic, be aware that they may give some dogs an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Below are a few of the ingredients that I was concerned about when I first started baking for my dog. I looked them up, and the Animal Poison Control Center affirms that in small quantities the following items are safe for consumption:

Carob chips/coating

White yogurt coating

Food coloring

Cocoa powder

Fresh/dried herbs

Carrots, zucchini

Almonds, pistachios, peanuts