Healthy Natural and Organic Treats for Dogs (cont.)

Natural Dog Treats

For owners interested in homemade or organic dog treats, Ward says, "It's still better to give natural, whole foods. I look for crunchy vegetables." He suggests offering small portions of snacks such as green beans, celery, or cooked yams, including canned ones. "You have to experiment with your own dog," he says. But avoid onions, garlic, grapes and raisins, which are toxic to dogs.

Some owners have told Ward that their dogs refuse veggies. But he encourages them to keep putting healthy choices before them, as parents would do with children.

In the summertime, Ward freezes small chunks of apples, kiwi, and watermelon into ice cubes for his dog to lick outdoors. "They're great for a hot day. Those are simple things that people can do," he says.

Nunez says chicken hot dogs or tofu hot dogs -- the ones for human consumption -- can also be cut into pieces for dog treats.

It's also easy to concoct delicious, natural dog treats at home, Ward says. Here's one of his recipes:

Lickety Split

1 frozen banana

1 cup rice milk or nonfat yogurt

Place ingredients in blender. Mix until creamy. Serve chilled.

Each 4 oz. serving has about 65 calories. To reduce calories, substitute 2/3 cups strawberries instead of using a banana.

Table scraps and bones

What about feeding a dog from the dinner table? Nunez discourages the habit because it trains a pet to become a mealtime mooch. "You don't want to get the dog used to begging at the dinner table," he says.

In contrast, Ward says it's unrealistic to expect dog owners to avoid table feeding. But that doesn't mean that owners should slip their dogs greasy chicken skins or scraps of fat.

"I think it boils down to having good choices," Ward says. "If you're going to feed from the table, make it vegetable choices."

Both veterinarians agree, though, that contrary to popular belief, dogs should not chew on bones, either from the pet store, butcher's counter, or leftovers from owners' meals.

"It's a common thought that dogs have been eating bones since the dawn of time. But bones can cause a lot of problems," Nunez says. Dogs can fracture a back molar when they crunch down on a bone, or they may swallow bone splinters and suffer gastrointestinal irritation. "As a general rule of thumb, I tell people to avoid bones," Ward says. "I don't see any need from a nutritional standpoint, and it runs an inherent risk."

Compressed rawhide bones, horse hooves, and pig ears can also irritate or obstruct the intestinal tract, experts say.

So what's a bored dog to do? Instead of giving a dog a bone to gnaw, place a few healthy treats inside a rubber Kong dog toy, which makes the pet work harder to dislodge snacks with its tongue. "That occupies a lot of time," Nunez says.

SOURCES: Ernie Ward, DVM, president, Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

Sarah Abood, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of small animal clinical sciences, Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Mark Nunez, DVM, president, California Veterinary Medical Association.

Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: "Pet Obesity Facts and Risks."

Reviewed on May 1, 2010

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