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Real Food Treats Improve Your Pet's Health
Last review: 08/12/10
We love to give our dogs treats, and they love to get them. The healthiest treats we can give our dogs and cats are made from real, fresh food. Since we like to give them variety and tasty tidbits as well, we'll review briefly each category of treat.

Biscuits are an old standby, so familiar we don't think much about what's in them. Unfortunately, they are what they look like: Cookies! They have more grain than most dry foods, and flavorings of all sorts. A few of these a day can have a big impact on your dog's diet.

Yodel, a 30-pound beagle, gets two biscuits three times a day: when he goes out in the morning, for "lunch" and after he goes out for the last time at night. Each of these biscuits contains about 50 calories. Because Yodel's entire ration of calories for the day is about 550, and those six biscuits account for more than half of his daily calories alone, he only gets to eat half-cup of dry food the rest of the day.

Often, this arithmetic is not often done, however, so there are lots of obese beagles, or beagles on "diet" food eating six biscuits a day and still getting fat. While the people and the dog may be having a good time, being overweight will shorten the dog's life, and he is much more likely to develop arthritis and diabetes. (1)

Break biscuits into small pieces, or buy treats that are very small. Whether they are made of organic ingredients or are the cheapest you can buy, they add to the carbohydrate level of your dog's diet. Better to use treats more in keeping with the natural diet of dogs and cats: Meat based treats.

Meat-Based Treats
Meat-based treats come in all shapes, from jerky to tiny freeze-dried cubes, from meat-only to complete diets.

Meat only treats include freeze-dried or dehydrated meat ranging from liver (cut small and use sparingly) to turkey breast strips and lamb lungs. These treats add mostly protein to the diet, but still must be considered part of the day's food. A 20-pound dog that gets a full piece of lamb lung is getting most of his food for the day, and it's not a balanced diet. Break these treats into small pieces too.

And, please read labels carefully: Many "meat" treats include large quantities of grains.

Freeze-dried meat and vegetable diets make excellent treats. They are designed to be complete, so all the humans need to consider is how much to give. The forms might be small cubes (Steve's Real Food) or burgers that can be cut into little cubes (Nature's Variety and BARFWorld). The new Charlee Bear Natural Nutrition Snacks are the first "treat" that falls into this category. These foods include protein and fat, so they add more calories than meat-based treats of the same size.

There are many meat- and fish-based treats designed for cats too. Cats love them, but read these labels carefully, as there are many smelly treats on the market for cats in attractive packages that contain low quality ingredients. Many cats view "cat grass" (available as a kit or already growing) as an excellent treat upon which to graze, providing entertainment and live green nutrients for cats that often live their lives indoors.

All meat-based treats should be bought in small packages and used promptly. Long-term storage in the freezer will protect fats and keep treats fresh.

Real-Food Treats
Real-food treats are the cheapest, easiest and the most nutritious. If you feed your dog or cat real-food treats you can easily judge the popularity of "people food" treats. Your animals are there when the refrigerator door opens, wondering if there's something there for them! Inside, there are blueberries, carrots, apples, melon, cheese and meat. What could be better? Sardines are a great treat with an intense flavor, popular with all species.

Cats like meat, though some favor odd things like a piece of popcorn or a lettuce leaf. Cats are unpredictable, as any cat owner can tell you!

As with all treats, size is important, but since real food has water included, a piece of apple has far less impact on dietary balance than does a medium biscuit. Raisins and grapes have been found to be toxic to some dogs, and should be avoided

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