It’s that time of the year when we get together with friends and family to enjoy each other’s company around a good meal. Our pets are very much part of our families, so it’s only natural for us to want to include them in the festive fun.
Do you offer your pets something special around Christmastime? Most of us do, and many of our readers do too. Annie Bailey says her Maltese-Yorkie crosses are far too fussy for home-baked doggie biscuits, but do enjoy a little biltong and dry wors as a festive treat. Julia Wilson says while she is cautious, she offers her dogs a little turkey and rice from Christmas lunch.
Dr Leigh Adams Tucker makes sure that Lincoln, her male Pug cross, eats a balanced meal, but says that at Christmastime it’s a little different, as ‘naughty’ family members often sneak in a treat. “We generally avoid scraps off the table because the food is so rich compared to Linc’s usual diet,” says Leigh. “However, it is a reality, particularly with my father, so we just tend to give Lincoln a smaller portion of his usual dinner over these times.” He also gets his favourite store-bought ‘best friend’ chicken strips.
We use treats not only to spoil our pets and show them we love them, but also for positive reinforcement training. We must, however, be careful of what we offer and how often we give it. Check the kilojoule content and factor this in with your dog’s current daily diet. Treats should only make up about 10% of your dog’s total daily kilojoule intake.
“Just as in people, an increase in food intake will result in an overweight pet and this includes treats, chews and titbits,” says Dr Patricia Mills, a small animal veterinarian in private practice. “A medium-sized dog having an extra chew as a treat during the course of a day is equivalent to a person eating a chocolate bar. Or the same dog eating a small portion of cheese as a titbit is the same as a person eating a whole hamburger as an extra snack during their day.”
When choosing the right treat for your dog, make sure the item is healthy and safe for dogs to eat. When buying commercial dog treats, check the kilojoule content and read the ingredient list. “Make sure there are appropriate ingredients,” says Dr Mills. “Is it digestible, is there too much fat added, are there no harmful ingredients such as xylitol and does it include salt? If there is no label detailing what is in the treat, don’t buy it!”
* Offer treats at the right time – either during training or between meals. See the block ‘Are training treats different to special treats?’
* Don’t offer a treat if your dog is jumping up around you. Ask him to sit nicely and when he is calm and collected, offer the treat.
* Dr Mills says that offering table scraps is a personal choice, although veterinarians do advise against it, not only because it may cause imbalances in the dog’s diet, but also because some human foods are harmful to dogs. “If you are going offer some to your dog, put it into your dog’s bowl and feed it where you usually feed him – do not feed straight from the table as this will encourage begging,” she cautions. “Restrict the amount, give only small portions and be very careful what you are giving your pets from your plates or your leftovers. A high amount of fat can cause pancreatitis, which is a very serious condition in dogs; bones can cause all sorts of complications; garlic and onions are toxic to dogs, as is chocolate, raisins, xylitol and many other things that we eat.”
* Consider safe fruits and vegetables as treats. They are low in kilojoules, sodium, phosphorus and fats. Start off with very small quantities to allow him to get used to it. Remember, not all fruits, vegetables and nuts are safe for dogs. If you are unsure, check with your vet.
* Treats don’t have to be edible. Giving your dog extra love, a daily walk or even a special toy are all ways to show your affection.