It can be hard to look away from puppy-dog eyes when you’re enjoying a piece of meat, a cube of cheese, or (in the case of me and my dog, Mohi) a slice of cucumber. Providing your pet with treats is fun, rewarding, and useful as a way of positive reinforcement training. Unfortunately, much like their human counterparts, many dogs, cats, and even smaller critters don’t receive enough exercise and thus can be victims to weight gain, lethargy, and the host of symptoms that overeating can bring. As their handlers, we’re in charge of their well-being, which means that choosing the best foods for their health is vital. Instead of opting for high-calorie, preservative-filled snacks, try these healthy treats.
Before we begin, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to ensure that the treats you choose to give your pet are safe. As a general rule, never feed your dog the following:
- Macadamia Nuts
Luckily, this still leaves a large list of foods for your pet to enjoy
Carrots are packed with vitamin A and fiber, and they are relatively low in calories. Carrots are also a crunchy treat that take most dogs several minutes, or longer, to eat, making for a good snack before you go out or to occupy an energetic pup.
Celery is very low in calories, hydrating, and high in antioxidants. My dogs don’t like the taste of celery but many love the crunch it provides. Try serving half to one full stalk.
Like celery, cucumbers are low in calories, contain a high water content, and are very crunchy. My dog will happily eat an entire cucumber by himself, but be warned that too many high-water content vegetables can induce diarrhea.
4. Frozen or fresh sardines
Before you say “ew,” give it a chance. Sardines are highly nutritious, with large amounts of omega-3s (which boost brain health and increase the shine of your dog’s coat) and B-vitamins. If purchasing canned, look for unsalted varieties. Or purchase frozen sardines for your dog to enjoy on a hot summer day. I recommend feeding these outside, on a deck that can be washed down, or on a towel that can be easily washed to avoid having your house smell entirely like fish.
5. Bell peppers
Bell peppers are high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E and are, like the above treats, low in calories. Start with a small serving to avoid stomach upset, but chances are, your dog will love the sweetness (especially if you use red bell peppers). Of course, never feed your dog hot peppers.
6. Mild cheese (in small amounts)
What dog doesn’t like cheese? Cheese is a good, but calorie dense, option for your pet so take care in feeding small amounts. Avoid feeding strong cheese, like blue cheese, and avoid high fat varieties to prevent stomach upset. In general, cheese is high in protein and calcium, but be careful to only use it as a real treat, and not as an everyday food.
Blueberries are delicious, fun to eat, and packed with fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants. You can add a few to the top of your dog’s meal, use a couple as training treats, or freeze them to make a cool and crunchy treat.
8. Organic peanut butter
I’m not a fan of peanut butter, but my dog certainly loves it. To reduce mess, try this handy tip from the Humane Society of the United States: make pup-sicles. Combine peanut butter and banana (optional) and stuff a kong or other toy with a cavity. Avoid using popsicle sticks to prevent possible choking. Then, simply freeze and give to your dog in the summer, before you leave to avoid having an anxious dog, or simply when Fido’s being a good boy.
Cats can also be given healthy treats, but are typically pickier than dogs. To reward your feline, or simply celebrate her birthday, try half a can of wild salmon, dolphin safe tuna, or pink shrimp.
As a general rule, remember that treats should only make up a small percentage of your pet’s daily diet—at most, 10%. The rest should be rich in healthy meats, fats, and vegetables.
What treats does your pet love? Have you tried making any treats from scratch? Let us know in the comments below!