Food rewards aid in training, reduce fear in unfamiliar situations, and are just plain fun to give. Here’s what to know about treats for cats and dogs
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Did you celebrate International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day last month? Even if you didn’t know about it, you probably gave your dog or cat a treat that day for any number of reasons.
Pet lovers give treats as rewards during training sessions, after a great agility run or nosework search, or for pottying in the right spot; as distractions in situations that cause the pet to be fearful, such as visiting the vet or the approach of an unknown person or dog; or to build a positive association with an item like a crate or carrier.
Ramona Marek says her Siberian cats Ivan and Natasha will do anything for cat grass. “I leash-trained Ivan in a couple of hours due to his ‘grass addiction,’” she says.
Dog trainer Laura Busch saves high-value treats such as homemade liver brownies and dehydrated chicken hearts for nosework trials and training class.
Janiss Garza’s Somali cat Summer makes frequent public appearances, and Summer’s response to treats helps Garza gauge whether her cat is feeling stressed.
“I save the really good treats for shows and other public appearances,” she says. “If she refuses them, I need to either take her to a safe spot or do something to calm her down or distract her.”
Veterinarian Marty Becker, who lectures around the country on the secrets of Fear Free veterinary visits, offers this advice: “Pets prefer certain flavors and textures over others. It’s crucial to use ‘the good stuff’ when it comes to gaining the pet’s interest in the face of pain, discomfort, distractions and change that takes them beyond their comfort zone -- home sweet home -- and into the hospital environment.”
He likes giving pieces of warm deli turkey, slices of turkey hot dogs and squeeze cheese. Choose treats that are soft and smelly, not any larger than the size of your pinkie toenail. During the exam and procedures such as having the temperature taken or vaccinations, offer 10 to 20 tiny treats per minute.
Sometimes we give treats just because. “Who’s a good boy?” isn’t simply a rhetorical question. We give treats to our pets because we love them and want them to feel special.
Treat manufacturers and pet bakeries know this, and they develop treats that feed into the human love of rewarding cats and dogs with items that resemble our own favorite foods, whether that’s bacon, cheese, chips, cookies or cupcakes.
Many pet owners also have favorite homemade treats that they serve up to drooling dogs and cats. For Lab breeder Linda Rehkopf, it’s frozen turkey meatballs. Val Hughes gives sweet potato and yam chips that she bakes in the oven. “Scrub the veggie, slice as thin as possible and cook for at least three hours at about 250 degrees, turning every hour,” she says. “Let them cool before serving.”
For faster, easier treats, pet faves include rotisserie chicken, freeze-dried liver, tiny frozen shrimp, small cubes of cheese or a small bit of cream cheese or aerosol cheese on the end of your finger. Many dogs love blueberries, banana slices, bits of fresh or dried apple or other fruit. (Avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure.) Cats often like cantaloupe.
Try the following recipe if you want to bake “brownies” for your dog or cat.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Blend 1/2 cup chicken liver or beef liver with one egg. Add 3/4 cup rice flour and blend well. Form the dough into small balls and bake for 45 minutes or until hard. Let cool. Serve to happy pets!
Q: My cat enjoys drinking leftover milk from my cereal bowl, but my mother says I shouldn’t give it to him because cats are lactose intolerant. True?
A: Cats have a reputation for loving milk. Maybe that’s because they have a long history of hanging out in barns with dairy cows and goats. At least that was my experience growing up on an Idaho dairy farm.
Cats will drink milk presumably because they enjoy the taste -- especially if it’s full-fat -- but it doesn’t necessarily agree with their digestive systems. Like some people, some cats are lactose intolerant and will experience diarrhea if they drink it. Other possible signs of lactose intolerance are vomiting or flatulence.
That’s because cow’s milk contains more lactose (milk sugar) and casein (a milk protein) than the milk kittens receive from their mothers. As kittens mature into cats, their ability to digest milk decreases because their body produces less of an enzyme called lactase that is involved in digestion of lactose. The body doesn’t absorb the milk sugar, causing intestinal upset. Beyond that, cream and whole milk are high in fat, causing cats who lap it up to pack on the pounds.
As with so many things, cats are individuals. Some of them don’t have a problem with milk, yogurt, cottage cheese or other dairy products. For those cats, a small amount of milk or milk products -- up to a tablespoon -- is fine as a treat.
Some pet milk products contain goat milk -- which has a different molecular structure than cow milk and is more digestible by cats -- as well as probiotics and digestive enzymes that can benefit cats. And remember, if you’re feeding orphaned kittens, stay away from any type of milk other than kitten milk formula available from your veterinarian or pet supply store. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
brings out snakes
-- As temperatures rise, snakes become more active, increasing the risk of bites to pets and people. Most snakes do their best to avoid interactions, but being disturbed while they are less alert from their winter rest -- called brumation -- may cause them to deliver a painful and potentially fatal bite. If you live an area where coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes are endemic, avoid letting pets explore brush piles or other areas where snakes might be. If you know or suspect that your pet has been bitten by a snake, even a nonvenomous one, go to your veterinarian right away. Your pet may need antivenin, or in the case of nonvenomous reptiles, treatment to prevent infection.
-- Celebrate National K9 Veterans Day on March 13. Dogs have been valued members of the military for centuries, but March 13 was the date in 1942 when the United States Army began training dogs for its new War Dog Program, also known as the K-9 Corps. That’s when dogs officially became members of the armed services. Modern canine veterans include Cairo, the Navy Seal dog best known for participating in the Osama bin Laden raid, and Marco, a U.S. Air Force military working dog stationed appropriately enough at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana before his retirement.
-- Why does your cat zoom around the room as if he’s being chased by invisible mouse demons? He’s burning off excess energy stored up from the day’s exhaustive schedule of napping, eating and napping some more. The behavior is especially common in cats who don’t get enough exercise or play during the day. A cat’s natural instinct is to save energy for explosive chases as they hunt at night. But since most of our cats live placid indoor lives, that instinct is channeled into bedtime “zoomies.” -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.