Fine chocolates, a bottle of champagne, and a dozen roses-what better way to tell your sweetheart you care? But what if your source of unconditional love walks on four legs and greets you with a wet nose or a soft purr?
If you’re tempted to toss a bonbon to Fido or pour a saucer of bubbly for Fluffy … stop right there! Human treats are no way to demonstrate your love for the fur-kid, no matter how loyal, loving, or cuddly.
Say no to chocolate
Before we consider the healthy treats cats and dogs can have, let’s look at some human foods they shouldn’t have. On top of the list is chocolate, which contains theobromine (also found in tea, coffee, and cola). Theobromine increases breathing and heart rate and can cause irregular heartbeat and restlessness.
An ounce of unsweetened baking chocolate contains 390 mg of theobromine; animal deaths have been reported after ingestion of approximately 100 mg per kilogram of body weight. Most dogs find chocolate irresistible—a good reason to keep such confections well out of reach of eager noses and curious paws.
Another absolute no-no is alcohol. Again, consider the relative size of pets and humans. The effect of alcohol on an adult human’s body is greatly magnified in a pet’s smaller frame and can lead to confusion, dizziness, even coma and death. No animal deserves that.
Grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, avocado, and excessive fatty foods are all things that might be part of a Valentine’s Day dinner. None of them should make their way into a pet’s mouth.
Food fit for the dogs
So, what kinds of treats are safe and healthy, yet special enough to show you care? A trip to your local natural foods store will yield a number of organic, preservative-free dog treats with no added salt or sugar. Castor & Pollux or Good Buddy Cookies list simple ingredients that name real foods—chicken, barley, peas, rice, oats, cheddar—with no mention of meat byproducts.
Lick Your Chops Treat-Umms combine just two ingredients, such as chicken strips with liver, or fish and sweet potato wraps. Not many dogs can resist those flavours!
If you’re giving treats to your pet, you should feel comfortable eating them yourself. (If you’re vegetarian, you can feel comfortable in theory, if not in practice.) If you live in an urban area, seek out a specialty bakery that makes its own animal treats.
Christine Cho of Big Dog Little Dog Bakery (Burnaby and Langley, BC) has found that, with an overuse of poor quality (even rancid) ingredients in manufactured pet foods, dogs can develop lifelong allergies. So she has developed wheat-, corn-, and meat-free treats for allergic dogs, along with a wide range of specialty biscuits, all of which are made with fresh ingredients and are preservative free.
Treats for finicky felines
There’s a reason dogs get most of the treat attention here: many are food hounds, with eating their centre of focus. Cats, on the other hand, tend to be picky eaters with other things on their minds. A most welcome natural treat for your feline would be a pot of special cat grass (found in pet supply stores) or a pinch of organic catnip. Or try baking her some sardine biscuits (see sidebar). Cats won’t crunch on large biscuits, so keep these treats bite-sized.
Now give your furry valentine a cuddle … and don’t feel guilty about keeping the chocolates for yourself!
Fish Biscuit Cat Treats
2 – 3.5 oz (100 g) tins of sardines in oil
1/4 cup (60 mL) powdered milk
1/2 cup (125 mL) wheat germ
Mash sardines and oil in a bowl; mix in remaining ingredients. Roll the resulting dough into very small balls, and place on lightly oiled cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork and bake at 350 F (180 C) until brown. Let cool before serving. Store unused treats in an airtight container.