Thursday, September 4, 2003

Treat your dog

Supermarket shelves are lined with tail-waggin' snacks - even vegetarian ones - for the family pet

By Marsie Hall Newbold
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] Rudy chooses a Bonz treat over a Bark Bar.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there,
Her cupboard was bare;
And so the poor dog had none.

The pup surely wouldn't have met the same fate today, because the selection of doggie treats has never been better.

We're not talking about the dry kibble you pour into their bowls at suppertime. No sir. These are doggie snack foods, specially formulated for between-meal canine noshing. A tasty "little something" for when a Fido feels famished.

Supermarket shelves are lined with them, brightly packaged and bearing dog-friendly names like Scooby Snacks, Snausages and Jerky Treats. Even health food stores have gotten into the act. At Wild Oats, you can pick up a box of Mr. Barky's Vegetarian Dog Biscuits, made with all-natural ingredients and nary a speck of animal byproducts.

Shapes look familiar

Many are shaped like the traditional Milk Bone, but others are made to fool a dog's eye and palate. For example, Canine Carry Outs, by Heinz Pet Products, are soft, chewy morsels that have the look and (we'll take their word for it), taste of real beef.

Dogwiches, by Nestle Purina PetCare Company, are made like sandwich cookies and Snausages (Heinz Pet Products) are shaped like that cocktail-party staple, pigs in a blanket. Check the freezer case - there's even a frozen treat meant for dogs who've had a hard day in the hot sun.

Coco, a "Heinz 57" mixed breed owned by Ellen Harris and David Brown, loves those cold treats, marketed as Frosty Paws.

3 out of 6 dogs go for beefy treats
"She's supposed to get reduced-calorie food, but we don't always do that," Harris admits. "My vet will kill me, but our dog will eat anything - mangos, raspberries and blueberries. She won't eat raw mushrooms or raw carrots, but she will eat grapes as long as I bite them in half for her."

You can make your own

Some pet owners stick to the traditional. Sort of.

Last Christmas, Rick Tombragel of Southgate tried his hand at homemade dog biscuits "from a little kit that Benny received as a Christmas present from Santa."

Benny is Tombragel's 11/2-year-old, 13-pound wire-haired dachshund.

"It looked like a bread or biscuit mix," he says. "There was a little bone-shaped cookie cutter included. He loved them."

Dr. William C. Wester II, a Cincinnati psychologist in private practice, has studied the relationship between man and beast.

"Most of us realize that our dogs don't care what their treats look like," Wester says. "But that doesn't stop us from wanting to do something special for them. The shapes and flavors are more for the humans who are buying them."

Wester and his wife, Sally, who live in Anderson Township, own Sparky, an 11-year-old beagle who does tricks for treats.

"He brings in the Enquirer every morning except Sundays, because his mouth isn't big enough," Wester says. "He runs through the house and he gets a treat. We always joke and say, 'Who is really conditioned here, the dog or the owners?' It's Pavlov's reversed. They're not totally dumb. They know where these treats come from."

Try not to overdo it

Dr. Dan Davis, a veterinarian at Grants Lick Veterinary Hospital sees nothing wrong with treating a pet, but he cautions against giving our pals too much of a good thing.

"Treats are good in regimented amounts," he says. "They are designed to be very tasteful and palatable, but probably have more calories and sugars than what a dog really needs. In small amounts I think they are OK, but with small dogs, if you are giving them several treats a day, the dog will become very obese."

Beware, too, of treats with a high fat and sugar content that can make pets, especially those with sensitive digestive systems, sicker than, well, dogs.

"There are some nutritious treats out there," he advises. "Really, all you have to do is give them a few pieces of their regular kibble and they will think they are getting the world on a platter. If people like to give treats, they should remember that the dog is going for the taste, not an amount.

"You can break off a little piece and not give them the whole treat. This reduces the amount of treats the dog is getting per day and still makes the owner feel good."

Still, they don't call them treats for nothing.

Tombragel admits the homemade biscuits he made for Benny cost a bit more than the dog's everyday, store-bought bones.

"But that's OK," he says. "Price is no object when it comes to Benny."

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