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Now that you have your brand new puppy to raise and to love, I bet you can’t wait to spoil it silly. Who can resist those heart-melting puppy eyes?
But before you start showering your dear puppy with treats, it might be good for you to have an idea of what those treats contain. There is a whole sea of options out there. Some are great for puppies, and some are not so great.
There is also the question of when and how much treats to give your four-legged baby. Used correctly, treats will not only make you and pup happy, it will help you to keep it healthy and well-behaved.
Yes, with the caveat of the type of treat you are giving, how much of it, and the timing.
You can give puppies treats after they are weaned and are able to eat solid food. Wait until they have all their baby teeth to eat these treats, including the molars. Otherwise, you’ll hurt their little gums.
Dogs and puppies seldom say no to food. Giving puppies treats before they have the molars to chew properly might also pose a choking or indigestion hazard, depending on what the treat is.
Most dog breeds start to wean around the second to third month onwards. Individual puppies within each breed can develop faster or slower than their litter mates.
But first, let us look at what’s available in the shops and roughly what these treats contain.
Before the pet food industry evolved, this was the first form of treats. It consisted of anything that was from the dinner table or scraps from the kitchen.
Needless to say this is not an advisable thing to do. Firstly, table scraps usually contain seasonings and sauces, which can have too much salt. Dogs cannot flush out excess salt from their systems like we can. This salt then accumulates in their kidneys and causes renal disease.
Secondly, table scraps might contain certain foods which are harmful or even toxic to dogs.
Certain fresh foods are okay such as certain greens, fruits and meats. This isn’t to say you should ban processed foods from your pup's treats, but you need to know what it is made of.
Sometimes called dog biscuits, these are the most available form of dog treats. They come in a huge variety of flavours, shapes, sizes and ingredients. Some are fortified with specific nutrients such as glucosamine, spirulina, calcium and so on.
But how are these crunchy treats made? To get that crunchiness, the ingredients are ground up to mix them well then put into molds and finally baked until they are dry.
The good stuff like meat ingredients need something to hold everything together, and make them into a form which can be baked. This is where flour, binding agents and other similar ingredients are used.
Commercially sold crunchy treats often have a long shelf life. This is made possible with preservatives. Higher quality brand products do not have added flavouring and other chemicals.
These are softer, chewy treats which also come in a huge variety of flavours, shapes, sizes, ingredients and textures. Similar to dog biscuits, non-meat products are required to make them.
Soft treats with a chewy consistency sometimes contain gelatine. There are also soft treats shaped like small pearls that melt in the mouth. This type is often baked, made mostly from flour.
Rawhide chews are an age-old product in the dog treat market. They were shaped like a bone but now they also come in the form of slices, spirals and so on.
There are two types of raw hide “bones” – compressed rawhide and just plain rawhide. Both are made from animal skin. Typically, cow hide is used but it could be any hide from a large animal.
If you have ever been to a tannery, you would know that rawhide has a rather unpleasant odour. The skin must first be treated before you get the end product. It involves a series of chemical treatments to remove fat and hair from the hide, to preserve the hide and to delay the rate of decaying.
Some rawhide bones appear white and clean because the hide has been bleached with some more chemicals. More chemicals are later added to make them smell oh-so-nice (maybe like bacon) or look prettier (coloured green, red, etc).
Of course, there are healthier options out there but this is how really raw animal skin is processed into something marketable and acceptable for the human senses.
The function of dental chews is similar to rawhide, i.e. to give dogs the chance to gnaw. They are believed to help to clean dogs’ teeth.
However, dental chews are not made from animal skin or bones although they have been famously shaped as such. Nowadays, dental chews come in a wide variety of flavours and shapes, usually about the length of short sticks.
Some dental chews are slightly softer than rawhide, some are harder. Dogs can shave these chewy chews off slowly. The main ingredients are gelatin, flour and flavouring. Some brands are amped up with minerals and vitamins.
“Dehydrated” means all the moisture of the treat has been removed either through freeze drying or air drying methods. These natural dry treats are made from a variety of meats or seafood, animal parts (such as cow trachea) or animal organs (like green tripe or cow stomach).
Because the production process involves removing moisture and vacuum-sealing, this type of treat usually does not contain chemicals or require preservatives. Nevertheless, you’ll need to check the product label for additives and choose a brand that is trustworthy.
The most unprocessed dehydrated dog treats are the healthiest. These will smell the worst to humans but very delectable for dogs.
Talking about bones, real bones can be considered a treat as well. Only raw uncooked bones and certain types of bones are advisable. Cooked bones are a big no-no as they tend to splinter. Bone splinters can injure a dog’s mouth, throat and intestines badly; even cause death.
A relatively new trend has entered the pet food industry. Cow hooves are now processed into hollow hoof treats. Some come with stuffed meat or peanut butter.
Because it is such a new product, not much is known about how the hooves are processed and what is used to process them.
Nonetheless, we know that hooves are essentially giant toenails. This means it is made of keratin. Although keratin is harmless, the hardness of chipped hoof is not.
Yes, you read correctly. These are actual deer antlers. What species of deer they are taken from depends on where you are living and where your pet food supplier gets his products from. Each species of deer will have a different antler size, hardness and texture.
The antler is a bone extension from a deer’s skull. Antler treat is also a relatively new type of product. Not much information is available on how it is processed commercially.
These can be meat, animal organs, vegetables or fruit cut into bite-sized pieces.
All sorts of recipes are available for dog owners to bake their own dog treats. These are generally the crunchy or soft biscuit types. As such, the ingredients would include some amount of flour but devoid of preservatives or harmful chemicals.
Plenty of dog cafes or dog-friendly cafes now offer special fresh dog treats. There are tarts, quiches, meat floss, dog pizzas, colourful meat-based cookies, cakes, burgers, popsicles, bak kwa, chicken feet, cupcakes, ice cream for dogs, and the list goes on.
“Safe” means to say the treat will not choke or hurt a puppy. The treat should also not break its teeth or cut its gums. If swallowed, it should not lacerate its throat, cause blockage in the intestine or puncture the intestine.
For very young puppies with milk teeth or very small breeds, the safest treats are soft treats. Older puppies aged at least 6 months and larger breeds can take harder ones such as crunchy treats.
Raw uncooked food is alright but extra precaution must be taken to ensure it is thoroughly cleaned first, especially raw meat.
The healthiest treat should contribute to a puppy’s growth and not contain empty calories. Healthy snacks like bits of carrot, green beans, or bell peppers give your puppy something to crunch without many calories.
Fruits such as banana slices, berries, watermelon and apple slices (without the seeds) are good for health. So are dehydrated treats.
Basically, anything that doesn’t contain additives, artificial colouring, flavouring as well as excessive carbohydrate, salt and sugar will be a healthy treat.
Here are a few guidelines:
The ideal times are between meals and during training.
Treats and snacks should only make up 10% of a dog’s daily calories.
As a parent to your puppy, it is your responsibility to choose wisely what is best for your pup. Little dogling will just lap up whatever you lay in its bowl. If you really don’t have the time to comb through all those products on the shelf, the safest path is to ask for a recommendation from your regular vet.
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