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Hazards to Avoid While Baking Homemade Dog Treats

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

homemade dog treats

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  • If your dog is on a special diet to prevent urinary stone formation, food allergies or sensitivities, treat ingredients can counteract that diet
  • Toxic ingredients, including a common sweetener called xylitol, are important to avoid when making dog treats
  • Talk to your veterinarian for insight regarding your dog’s needs, especially because baking treats in your own kitchen for your dog to enjoy won’t have much of an impact nutritionally if your dog’s optimal health suffers as a consequence
  • Treats shouldn’t comprise more than 10 percent of the calorie intake your dog consumes on a daily basis, with the remaining 90 percent derived from a complete and balanced fresh species-appropriate diet
  • When it comes to baking dog treats you know your dog will love, take care to give them something that will enhance their health, not detract from it

Making treats for your dog rather than purchasing the kinds manufactured by most companies that specialize in them is a wise decision, as the majority of them are loaded with sugar, preservatives, flavorings and colorings that aren’t just unnatural. They can be very unhealthy for your dog’s digestive system, not to mention other bodily systems as well.

Unfortunately, you can’t always trust labels that assure dog treats are “all natural.” So what’s the best way to give your canine companion a little something extra, but ensure it’s something that will be nutritious as well as enjoyable? Making your own dog treats, which will help address special dietary needs your dog may have and avoid potential dietary problems, such as obesity.1

Although it may seem a bit intimidating, with a few basic guidelines it shouldn’t break the bank or contribute to poor health. Susan Jeffrey, a veterinarian at Truesdell Animal Care Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, says that if your dog is on a special diet to prevent urinary stone formation or something similar, treat ingredients can counteract that diet, and the same can be said for dogs with food allergies and sensitivities.

Needless to say, sugar- and frosting-coated treats are completely unnecessary, unhealthy and probably not even something dogs enjoy that much. Also, Jeffrey asserts, avoiding fat is important because some dogs can develop pancreatitis with high-fat treats and foods, especially if it’s hydrogenated or “interesterified.” Pancreatitis is a painful inflammation of the pancreas that can result in hospitalization for a pet

As always, talk to your veterinarian for insight regarding your dog’s needs, especially because baking treats in your own kitchen for your dog to enjoy won’t have much of an impact nutritionally if your dog’s optimal health suffers as a consequence. So what are good ingredients to put in your dog’s treats? PetMD notes:

“Many vegetables and fruits are a safe bet … include[ing] broccoli, carrots, summer squash, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin, cucumber, celery, spinach, kale, dandelion greens, apple (and unsweetened apple sauce), peaches, pears, strawberries, blueberries and bananas.”2

Often, certain human foods such as fresh meats, berries and raw almonds in homemade dog treats are far better for your dog compared to most commercially processed treats. It’s important to look for organic produce whenever possible, to avoid excessive pesticide ingestion. And one of the biggest problems comes with dog bones given as treats, because they’re also known as recreational, but they’re not for all dogs.

It’s important to note that raw bones are the safest, but all chews can have consequences so always supervise your dog while he's working on a bone — don't let him out of your sight.

Things to Watch for When Preparing Dog Treats

That said, not everything that’s good for humans is beneficial for dogs, and some ingredients can be toxic enough to cause serious illnesses, even to the point of fatality. Here are a few other points to consider when embarking on your dog treat-making venture.

One ingredient to watch for is xylitol, which is relatively new in the sweetener lineup. It’s often used to (in the minds of some) make mints and chewable vitamins, as well as baked goods and some prescription medications, more palatable. While the granulated form of xylitol, a sugar alcohol, is one of the better alternative sweeteners for protein bars, coffee, tea and other beverages intended for humans, it’s not for dogs.

In fact, it’s extremely harmful for dogs, and it only takes a little to be dangerous. Symptoms of xylitol ingestion include vomiting, seizures, difficulty walking, loss of coordination and — the worst-case scenario — eventual collapse. If you’d like peanut butter to be one of the ingredients on your homemade dog treat repertoire, read the label carefully, as several peanut butters on the market contain xylitol.

Other toxic ingredients, some of which may surprise you, include chocolate and raisins. Likewise, the ever-popular jerky treats, especially those imported from China, have sickened multiple pets and even been fatal.

When in doubt, consult the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center to access its database of ingredients identified as toxic to animals. In case of a potential emergency, call 888-426-4435 if you think your pet may have eaten a poisonous substance. Plants of the genus allium, which includes onions, chives, garlic and leeks, make some pets sick (there have even been fatalities), while others don't seem affected.

Symptoms of allium poisoning can occur a day or several days after ingestion, depending on the amount eaten. Dogs can healthfully consume 1/4 teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic per 15 pounds of body weight and reap substantial health benefits, but don't go overboard.

Cute shapes such as dog bones, fish, stars and paw prints are fun to make and give to your dog, but be aware that baking molds, as well as the containers you may store the treats in, may contain bisphenol A (BPA), as well as BPS (bisphenol S), a contaminant linked to cancer, hormone and cellular disruption, and other serious health problems.

Last but not least, the kitchen can be dangerous for dogs, particularly in terms of hot stoves and open ovens. One way to keep your pup safe while you bake is to secure your baking operation by implementing a dog gate.

If Your Dog Is on a Special Diet

It’s not a good idea to keep your dog’s dish filled to allow them access to all the food they want, whenever they want it, and the same thing goes for treats. Knowing the amount that’s optimal for your dog depends not just on their breed and age, but the amount they’re given, and that includes treats.

Treats shouldn’t comprise more than 10 percent of the calorie intake your dog consumes on a daily basis, although a small amount of fluctuation is acceptable at times. The remaining 90 percent should come from a complete and balanced, fresh species-appropriate diet.

Dr. Donna Raditic, co-founder of CANWI and board-certified veterinary nutritionist with Nutrition and Integrative Medicine Consultants in Athens, Georgia, says the best method for monitoring the amounts your dog eats is by using a scale that tells you gram weight. She explains:

“If your dog eats 100 grams a day of a food that provides 35 calories per gram, they are getting 350 calories a day. So your treats may contain 4.0 calories per gram, and if it weighs 10 grams, you are adding 40 calories. So now the total calorie intake is 390 calories, and that can really impact weight management.”3

Additionally, dogs can suffer from gum (periodontal) disease just like people, and it’s not something to ignore, especially as your dog ages. Raw bones are one type of treat that help remove tartar and plaque as they’re being chewed, which will help ensure your dog retains strong, healthy teeth.

Other Considerations When Giving (or Making) Dog Treats

Humans may be aware that what they eat themselves will constitute part of a healthy diet — one that supplies a healthy amount of vitamins and minerals, satisfies hunger, staves off disease and also tastes good. But often what tastes good is difficult to stay away from, and it’s the same for our pets; they really don’t know what’s good for them!

Sometimes dog owners find it difficult to say “no” to dogs who seem intent on getting just one more treat, but it’s not really a demonstration of love to indulge them. It’s up to humans who care about their pets’ wellbeing to know the calorie count and ingredients in each one, and monitor their intake.

Portion size is also critical. Dogs care more about being rewarded than what size the treat is, so I recommend pea-sized treats for all dogs; Chihuahuas get fewer pieces than rottweilers, but they all get tiny morsels.

One study suggests that most dog treats on the market contain too many “undefined ingredients,” and not just sugars, but more than the recommended daily energy allowance. Labels should provide more detail about what the treats actually contain, the researchers said, particularly the amount of protein, in order to help prevent obesity and diseases like diabetes in dogs. Further:

“Dog treats represent the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry. European regulation states that dog treats should be labeled as 'complementary feed' and sets out rules for labeling to provide adequate information for consumers.”4

When it comes to baking dog treats you know your dog will love, take care to give them something that will enhance their health, not detract from it. One way to do this when making your own dog treats at home is to follow a recipe that provides a calorie calculation rather than just making up a dog treat recipe on your own.

My free e-cookbook, “Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets: Nutritious Recipes for Your Cats and Dogs,” is filled with homemade dog and cat treat ideas, which are personally formulated by me and my mom. The recipes include only high-quality, organic, non-GMO human-grade ingredients, so you can ensure that no preservatives, additives or unwanted fillers will be present in your beloved pet’s treats — and your pets are sure to love them.

+ Sources and References
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