Every pet store offers a great variety of dog treats. Usually it’s not just one shelf, or even an isle. It’s a few isles with all kinds of flavours. It can be quite confusing for dog owners to pick the right treats. Which ones would be healthy, not too pricey, and, of course, approved by the four legged gourmet? We at Pawz Club talked to Natalie Gill-Carew, who is the store manager at Pet Valu in Essex, Ontario. We asked Natalie about dog treats and she provided us with a general guidelines for confused dog owners.

Pawz Club: Are treats like candies – sweet, much desired but not quite healthy and, in fact, not even necessary? Why do people give treats to their dogs?

Natalie Gill-Carew: Some less healthy treats could be compared to candy or other junk food, but many treats are very healthy and can be a great training tool particularly with puppies. Treats can be a great reward for positively reinforcing good behaviour. Treats should be used in conjunction with verbally telling the dog they’ve done a good job and showing affection to the pet. And people give treats for a variety of reasons – sometimes just as a way of showing love to the pet.

PC: What treats are healthy? What should I look for when buying dog treats?

Natalie:There are a vast array of healthy treats. They range from single ingredient (normally a protein) to holistic (treats made with whole foods). There are treats made specifically for allergy or food sensitivity concerns (also known as Limited Ingredient Treats). Some are made from just fruits or vegetables for those dogs who need a lower protein treat. There are treats made for dental care which break down tartar and plaque and freshen breath.

PC: How accurate should an owner be when counting calories in their dog’s diet? Should dog owners count low calorie treats or is it safe to give as many low calorie treats as a dog want?

Natalie: Calories from treats should always be accounted for in a pets’ diet. Too many treats can certainly contribute to obesity in any pet (just as in humans). Low calorie treats are always a good idea to help maintain your dogs’ weight. Dogs do not need big treats at one sitting. Taking a treat and breaking it into smaller pieces is a good idea. Limiting the number of treats per day is also beneficial. There’s nothing wrong with all family members rewarding the dog with a treat but the pet parents need to monitor how many are being given. Younger children may not understand that it’s not okay to give 10 or 20 treats at a time so the adult needs to ensure all family members are aware.

Anyone wanting to give treats to another person’s dog should always ask first. It should never be assumed that it’s okay to give someone else’s pet a treat.

PC: Dogs can be as picky as cats when it comes to food flavors. What are some most popular treat flavors? Is there a flavor that is “fool-proof”, and every dog loves it?

Natalie: All dogs have individual tastes just as humans do. There really isn’t a fool-proof choice that every canine will like. It is important, when the dog is a puppy, to introduce a variety of healthy treats. Most dogs like meat based protein treats (chicken, beef liver, turkey, salmon, etc). Others enjoy peanut butter or cheddar treats.

PC: There are many “craft treats”, (homemade) on the market today. Are they safe? What do I look at when buying a homemade dog cookies?

Natalie: Home made bakery treats are becoming more prevalent in the marketplace. It’s all about the ingredients. Consumers should read the package to ensure the ingredient list is healthy. Most bakery treats will be created with human grade ingredients. Some recipes for baking your own dog cookies at home will not have a long “shelf life” and will therefore need to be refrigerated or frozen. It is a good idea to check expiration dates as well.

PC: “Your food should be your medicine” – what treats could really help to maintain canine health? (And how can I know that it is true, not just for advertisement purposes?)

Natalie: Again, looking at whole foods (whole proteins, fruits, vegetables) will all provide some form of health benefit. Many treats will also have added vitamins, minerals and supplements which can also enhance the health of a dog. Ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin can improve mobility. Omega 3’s and 6’s can help with Skin and Coat health. Pumpkin and Sweet Potatoes aid in digestion.

The rule of thumb is treats are what the word says, treats. They are not meant to take the place of whole nutrition from a good kibble, canned food or raw diet. They are a nice addition to the dog’s diet when used in moderation. They can help keep your pet happy and healthy and that’s what any good pet parent wants for their four legged friend!

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