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PetPourri: Tips for Treating – A Proper Prize for Pooch

By Ashlee Verba

You know they know where you keep them, what sound the wrapping makes and what exact trick will seal the deal in earning that glorious prize. When it comes to incentives, nothing does it quite like a good treat. But what makes a good treat good? As owners, we buy what we think our pets enjoy most, be it the taste of bacon or the chewiness of those sweet potato morsels. But what we rarely consider is what goes into those treats that go into your dog and how it might affect his overall health.


Dog treats are federally regulated under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) established by the Food and Drug Administration. Yet, even with regulations in place, there’s still some question as to the nutritional value of animal treats. Think hot dogs or frozen fish sticks; the FDA may approve them as “edible”, but the impossibly long list of ingredients might make you suspect otherwise. A mish mash of pieces and parts, additives, preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals make them some of the most unhealthy food on the market. The same may hold true for your go-to pet treat.

A Winning Strategy

Finding the best treat for Fido is all about reading labels. Similar to human food, ingredients are listed in order of weight, meaning the first few make up the bulk of it. Because dogs are primarily carnivores, ideally you want a treat that has meat listed as one of the first ingredients, followed shortly by vegetables, fruits and natural preservatives like rosemary. A good rule of thumb to follow is that the easier and more recognizable the ingredients the better.

Things to avoid include artificial colors or flavors, high levels of sodium, sugar, saturated or trans-fats, propyl gallate (a potentially cancer causing preservative) and byproducts. Byproducts, whether meat or grain, are simply cheap fillers used to make more product with less money. While meat byproducts contribute a small amount of protein, they typically consist of parts not favorable for human consumption, i.e. necks, heads, feet, intestines, kidneys, brain, spleens, bone meal and “digest of beef or chicken”, which refers to undecomposed flesh. Since dogs in the wild would generally eat these parts of the animal anyway, albeit in more natural proportions, the inherent problem with byproduct is not simply what it is but where it comes from.  There is no quality control or regulation on where these meat parts are obtained. At worst, they could have come from animals that were deemed inedible and rejected by butchers. If you could get sick from it, do you really want your pooch eating it?

In some cases the word “byproduct” will be on the ingredient list, as in “lamb byproduct”, but they aren’t always so obviously named.  “Potato product” and “grain fermentation soluble” are grain byproducts that should also be avoided. Treats containing byproducts can be up to 70% carbohydrates–the dietary recommendation for dogs is only 30%. Too many carbs in Fido’s diet could lead to digestive issues as well as all the long-term effects of obesity.

Tip: Avoid the carb/additive/preservative overload by selecting a treat labeled “Certified Organic” by such makers as Wet Noses, Karma and Plato.

Lactose and other dairy products should also be avoided in both store-bought and homemade treats. Most canines don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase in their system to break it down, which can cause gas, diarrhea and even inflammation of the pancreas. High sugar levels should be avoided as well, as sugar creates an excellent environment for the over-growth of bad bacteria in the mouth and stomach, which can lead to digestive issues and discomfort.

Long-Term Chew Treats

So what about rawhide bones and pig ears? The ingredient is pretty straightforward, but there are still particulars to look for on the label. Both are typically treated with chemicals when being processed; however, U.S. produced rawhide and pig ears are held to sanitation and production standards, whereas those produced in other countries may have been treated with toxic or illegal chemicals. To ensure your mutt isn’t biting off more than he bargained for, make sure you purchase chews that have been manufactured in the United States. Don’t be fooled by pictures of American flags on the packaging or ambiguous statements like “Made from U.S. beef” either; it must specifically say “Made in U.S.A.”

Rawhide chews and pig ears have pros and cons. Nutritionally speaking, rawhide is high in protein, around 80-85%, contains 10-12% fiber/moisture and 1-2% fat, making it lower in fat than pig ears. It also contains fewer calories per ounce than the typical dog biscuit. This particular type of treat should only be chewed for a few hours per day. Pig ears, on the other hand, contain little nutritional value and are very high in fat. For this reason, they should be considered a special occasion treat only. 

Each lets your dog indulge his natural desire to chew while strengthening his jaws, scraping plaque and alleviating teething pain in puppies. They can also act as a mental stimulant for older, less active dogs. For voracious chewers, problems may arise when large chunks of rawhide are consumed. Enzymes in the stomach can cause a piece to soften and enlarge, which could result in a digestive blockage requiring surgery to fix. Both pig ears and rawhides also have the potential to splinter or break off in small, jagged pieces that can perforate the intestines.

If your dog is an aggressive chewer/swallower, monitor his chew time closely; if he tends to break off large pieces and swallow them or you notice the treat is splintering, toss it and find an alternative. All-natural bully sticks are a good option to stave off boredom, but should only be given for 2 hours per day for their poor nutritional values. If your dog insists on devouring chews rather than chewing them up slowly, try sticking with treats that are meant for instant consumption.

Natural and Homemade Treats

Of course there is always the option of obtaining treats on your own terms. If you want to give a dog a bone, remember that pork, chicken and other poultry bones are not an option. They are far too thin, splinter easily and can also get lodged in the throat or roof of the mouth. Beef bones are best, specifically knuckles, and your local butcher just might have one for you. Just be sure to select a size appropriate to your breed. You don’t want to give a Great Dane a golf ball sized bone he can easily swallow. Make sure it has neither been cooked nor frozen at any point, as that increases the chance for splintering. No matter the type of bone, there’s always a choking risk. Always monitor your dog’s consumption.

To bypass mass producing companies altogether and support local commerce, try visiting treat bakeries like Barking Dogs Bakery & Boutique, Three Dog Bakery and Alaska Bakery.  These businesses offer fresh-baked treats for pets made from natural ingredients and a lot of love. Pet treateries are increasing in popularity and can be found all over Las Vegas; Google the one nearest you.

Great dogs deserve great treats. Make sure they’re getting what they deserve, even if that just means making the small step to consciously read the label.

A Tasty Treat Fit for Humans


Nothing says lovin’ like homemade goodies from the oven. Spoil your pooch with this easy, home baked treat.



  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ⅓ cup cottage cheese (fat content is up to you)
  • ⅓ cup mashed black beans
  • ½  lb uncooked ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mash together ground meat, soy sauce and chicken broth in a mixing bowl. Add cottage cheese and mashed black beans to the mixture. Combine all the ingredients and mold small cookies into bone shape. Grease a cookie sheet and place treats in even rows. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool and serve.

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