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Food & Nutrition

Treats Treats and More Treats

Val Cairney September 4, 2020 172

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image of a cat having treats

Hello and welcome to this episode of Val Talks Pets. Today, I am talking about every pet’s wish…treats, treats and more treats!

We love to give our pets a reward good behavior, to help train, to satisfy our own desire to give them something special, and to enjoy their excitement on their faces when they are offered a treat. There are treats for dogs, cats, small animals in all different sizes, shapes, flavors, textures, you name it. There are puppy treats, training treats, Senior treats, chewy treats, crunchy treats, it is endless. So you can imagine how difficult it is for store associates to answer what seems to be an easy question. Do you have dog treats? Oh yes, we do. So let’s see if I can make a bit of sense and organization to treats for pets.

Let’s start with dog treats. The first thing you with these is to identify whether you are asking for a longer term chewing treat or a treat that you dole out for doing something clever, or for just being cute.

Let’s separate away from the chewing variety for now, like pizzles and bones, etc. and work through the regular treats. Let’s start with puppies. In my podcast episodes on new puppies and frequently asked questions, I addressed some of the specifics of puppy treats. But let me go over these again and add some tidbits. The first thing we want to know when someone comes in looking for a treat for a puppy, is the age of the pup. If the pup is only eight to 20 weeks, so two months to four months, I generally stick to recommending a softer chewy treat that is specific to puppies. There are some great brands that offer chewy puppy treats that includes DHA, which is a type of Omega 3 fatty acid found in eggs, certain types of organ meat and fish. Dogs cannot produce the amount they need. So it is to be supplemented either individually in a fish oil for example, or through food. DHA is essential in the development of both the brain and nervous system. It has been found that puppies that are fed high levels of DHA are easier to train and socialize. So what better way to get that extra DHA than with a puppy treat that contain it.

The chewy type of treat for puppies of this age, helps with rewarding good behavior without having them work overly hard to eat the it, and protects their baby teeth from harm or being broken by an overly hard treat. Also, some small breed dogs when puppies have the tiniest mouths, so a hard treat to crunch down on maybe too difficult and defeats the purpose of the treat. Once the puppy starts getting its adult teeth, you can start to open up the selection of treats, but I personally would still keep to the puppy variety. There are crunchy type treats for puppies that sort of fall in between the soft and chewy and hard and crunchy. There are again some great brands that offer a puppy treat that is more like a cracker in consistency. This allows the pup to get that crunch, but again, the new teeth just coming in or have just come through are not at risk for damage. I know this sounds very precautionary, but it’s something to keep in mind when buying a treat for your puppy.

Okay, so your pup is now a year old and all selections are open to discover, and discovery is what it is all about. Dogs just like people have their favorites. So you are now on a quest to find what is your dog’s favorite type of treat. This is where you will have to experiment with different types of textures, flavors and shapes. There are chewy ones that are shaped like squares, like little rolls, octagon, shaped like a bone, it goes on and on. Some are grain free. Some have only one protein and a fruit. Peanut butter is popular. And some have glucosamine and chondroitin. Some are strips or are like jerky. It is again overwhelming with regards to the type of chewy treat that is available. But here’s the thing. Does your dog actually like the chewy type of treat? It is not unheard of to give a chewy treat to a dog and have him or her spit it out. In that case you have just discovered this dog does not either like the texture or the flavor.

A lot of dog owners will use small chewy type treats for training. And this is a great idea as they are easy to give and don’t take long for the dog to eat. However, I have always found that using chewy training treat can be a bit messy when you carry them in your pocket. They tend to get gooey and stick to each other. But that’s just me. And believe me they are used a lot for training, so obviously these people have found a way to use them without the gooey pocket. Another type of treat that has become quite popular is the dehydrated sweet potatoes and chicken morsels and liver pieces. They even make a sweet potato treat look like a fry. If you have a dog that has in tolerances to many grains or proteins, this is a great option because as long as the ingredient is nothing other than that dehydrated sweet potato or liver, you are pretty safe that the product will not cause any adverse reactions to your sensitive dog.

Okay, so let’s move to the crunchy treats or biscuits that we are quite familiar with. Just like any of the treats on the market, biscuits also have a level of quality that matches where you are purchasing. If it is important to you to make sure that the ingredients in your dog’s treat is wholesome and of good quality, you will have to venture to pet specialty. Now I’m a label reader. So I always check out the ingredients of treats. One of my favorite that I like to get my dogs that are peanut butter contains whole wheat flour, oatmeal, wheat bran, crunchy peanut butter, apples, carrots, eggs, rosemary extract, green tea extract and spearmint extract. As a treat goes, this is a pretty good option. But if my dog had a wheat intolerance, these would not be for him. So it is a good habit to read labels and ask your pet care associate for advice.

The other thing I often consider is the size of the treat because, one, I have a big dog and two, I don’t want him to have too large of a biscuit because we give him one when he eats his breakfast and then his dinner and maybe one or two in between. So I don’t want the calories adding up. So sometimes I choose a treat that is for a medium dog instead of the large biscuits that say “LARGE”, the bag. But it is up to you how you choose in this regard. But I would say take into consideration the size of the biscuit and the ingredients. Now in terms of ingredients, I want to add here that this can be a lot more important than you realize. I had a pet parent recently that was having a real difficult time getting her pets reactions to food under control. We went with a certain type of food and I asked what other things the dog was eating. When she described to me the treat he was getting. I had to tell her that the culprit was probably the treat, and it would be best if they discontinued it immediately. Well, she came back about a week and a half later and said they stopped the treats that they were giving completely and that with the food we chose, all symptoms that stopped. My hunch was that the treats were probably the problem all along. So read your labels. And I think that if you are putting effort into buying the best food for your dog, then it is best to also include the treats in that. So try not to fall into the junk food.

Crunchy treats can also take on many different shapes and flavors, and they can also be specific for all breeds. There are puppy crunchy treats and senior dog treats that will add additional glucosamine and chondroitin. There are also weight control or lower calorie treats plus dental treats. Now let me be specific here about the dental kind. Don’t get sucked into something that you see on TV or is marked as a dental treat, it may not be wholly correct. Unless the treat has some kind of enzymatic property in it, that will coat the teeth to break down the plaque, you are wasting your money. Read the label!

Some treats will have properties in them to help with itching, skin and coat, breath, stress and anxiety, hip and joint, burning the grass when peeing, it goes on and on. Treats for dogs can be more than just a simple reward or a fun thing to give to your dog. So if there’s some specific issue with your dog, you may be able to find some help in dealing with it through a treat. Or just find what type of treat your dog likes and enjoy his reaction when you say “Would you like to treat?”.

So let’s move on to cat treats. There are again a ton of them on the market. It’s funny how cats are often painted as being picky. But when it comes to a treat, there seems to be some leeway. As with dog treats, cat treats also come in chewy, and crunchy. Interesting though there are few companies that make them for kittens or senior cats. The same as for dogs, you need to find out if your cat is a crunchy fan or a chewy fan. I can say that the crunchy ones do seem to be more popular than chewy. The shape of the treat is also quite important to cats. My two cats enjoy different treats from each other, and I know it has to do with the shape. My female cat has a difficult time with chewy treats. They just fall out of her mouth. So she gives up and walks away. As for the crunchy type, she does well with ones that are more shaped like a fish. If the treat is too small, again, she has trouble with keeping it in her mouth. The other cat does well with most shapes, but he’s not keen on the chewy kind. He can navigate the really small star-shaped treat no problem. This is one thing I find hysterical! When we give out the cat treats, of course the dog is sitting there wondering why he isn’t included. So I give each cat a treat, and then just for fun, I give one to the dog. Now this is the smallest little treat you can imagine. And when he takes the treat, he takes it so gently, and then you can actually hear him crunch it. How he does this, I have no idea. We laugh our heads off. Anyway, the thing here is the shape. So when choosing a cat treat, you will have to identify chewy from crunchy as well as the shape.

As with dogs, there are also cat treats that are specific to hip and joint, add vitamins, calming properties, skin and coat, and dental. Again, look for the enzymatic property to really have a dental treat that is effective. There are also simple proteins available in cat treats too. You can get freeze dried chicken, shrimp, fish, lamb, venison, you name it. If your cat has sensitivities, these freeze dried options can be a great choice to avoid any intolerance flare ups. As with dogs, match the cat treat quality with where you purchase it. It seems like they sell cat trees just about anywhere and I’m always suspect when I’m in a hardware store and they have cat treats. There is quite an abundance of kitty junk food on the market. So again, read your labels and decide where you are comfortable with the ingredients and the quality of the treat you give to your cat.

Now, can you use treats to train your cat? Well, I’m going to say yes on this, because many cat owners will tell you, all they have to do is rattle the bag and the cat comes running. We can train our cats to use a certain cat scratcher by putting a treat on the scratcher or giving them one when they use it. So yes, we can use treats with cats to shape a behavior we want.

Okay, so who else likes a treat? Well, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, hedgehogs. All the small animal pets love treats too.

A Treat for the little guys will often be in the form of crunchy sticks and carrot or alfalfa or in little round type drops with yogurt. You can also get a great treat in strawberry and banana flavor that little friends really like. These can come in the form of a crunchy treat or a cracker type treat. Other treats will be in the form of a bag of seeds, raisins and fruit pieces, or the same but held together by honey in the form of a stick. And what is really fun is that some of the small animal treats will come in a completely edible box. It’s really fun to watch some of our little pets enjoy their treat, some holding it in their little paws. Again, watch for quality treats as sometimes the little guys can be sensitive and make sure you know the best type for your pet. For example, hedgehogs have a favorite treat in mealworms or crickets. Ferrets like cooked eggs, cat treats, and bits of chicken. As these guys are carnivores, it is suggested to stay away from grains, vegetables, and ice cream or chocolate. Rabbits love naturally sweet things like fruit, bananas and apples with the seeds removed are a good choice. Carrots are stereotypical thanks to Bugs Bunny and should only be given in small amounts. Whereas the carrot tops are a good choice. So there is an options outside the retail pet treat for little guys. And that can be really fun. Just watching your rabbit get the zoomies when he sees a banana is worth it.

So treats for dogs, cats and little pets. are really quite a part of the pet feeding experience. There are also other types of treats available for our pets that take on different forms than the traditional treat in a bag or biscuit.

For dogs, there are again a plethora of treats available. There is dehydrated lung, esophagus, pig ears, cow’s ears, jerky style treats. Treats that look like meatballs, sticks that look like pepperoni sticks. Handmade treat cookies that are specific to birthdays or look like ice cream cones. There is hard cheese type treats, fish skin roll ups, chicken breasts dehydrated. Again, it goes on and on.

Cats can enjoy actual filets of tuna or chicken in a broth or tube that you squeeze out the chicken or tuna or fish and they lick as it comes out. My male cat goes crazy for this stuff, but the female acts like I’m trying to poison her. And then we have all the chewing type treats for dogs in particular. And I’ll go over all of these in another episode.

We also have some human foods that we can treat our pets with if they like them. Some dogs enjoy vegetables and fruit. They can do well with carrots, green beans, broccoli and cucumber, for example. But remember, no raisins, grapes, some mushrooms, unripe tomatoes, onions, or garlic and nuts, and of course no chocolate. Great fruits for dogs are blueberries, cranberries, cantaloupe, bananas, and don’t forget pumpkin. Pumpkin is the Wonder food that helps with tummy upsets diarrhea and constipation. Here’s a funny story. We were having a Halloween party and the guests were outside doing a scavenger hunt. One of my friends came back into the house to grab a jacket and found our dog eating cheeses out of a bowl. His reaction when he saw her was priceless. After this, we tried to give him a carrot piece telling him it was a cheesy, he grabbed it with so much excitement and ran to his bed, only to find out it was nothing of the kind. The look on his face was priceless. Needless to say he would never fall for that again. And he makes it clear vegetables in the raw form are not on his list. He doesn’t mind some cooked carrots, whoever in his regular meal.

Cats can eat fruits and vegetables too, but they seem to be a bit pickier about this. Some people tell me that their cat loves vegetables. So it is, again, an individual thing. If you would like to try fruits with your cat, try an apple piece or banana. Blueberries work or try some watermelon. Don’t give them anything citrus or grapes or raisins or tomatoes. It’s a bit tougher with cats to give fruits as they cannot actually taste sweet flavors. If you would like to try some vegetables with your cat, try steamed broccoli or asparagus. They can also have steamed or baked carrots, but more than likely this will be a tough sell. But there is always that one, so why not give it a try?

Well, that has been a bit of a journey through treats for our pets and I hope you picked up a tip or two. Basically there is so many treats on the market that yes, you will end up trying quite a few until you find the type your pet likes. Always read the label, and try not to get too influenced by advertising and fancy commercials, showing cats doing back flips over a treat.

Pet Peeves

So that leads me to my pet peeve section.

Well, my pet peeve on this topic has to do with the fact that there is so many treats on the market. For this reason, as I talked about in my podcast on questions we get asked, I cannot help with descriptions of a treat that your dog likes as “Oh, it’s brown, and they are like a stick!”. Nor can I answer the question “Will my dog like these?”. I don’t know only you know. So because there are so many treats available, take a photo of the bag or box, write down the product and make note of where you purchased the treat. Again, no one store will have every treat. And take into consideration the quality of the treat you are getting. And for me, I like to support locally made treats with ingredients sourced from my country. So by all means treat your pet. I love a treat too. So why wouldn’t they? I love the wide eyed look and the tail wagging or the little paw that pulls my hand towards them when I have a treat in it. The look of sheer ecstasy when my cat licks like the dickens on his push up tube treat, just entertains us so much. Of course we videotape that.

So remember to make note of that special treat your pet likes, giving treats, bonds them to us as part of the family, but also make sure you are treating them with a good quality treat. So read your labels because as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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