The Topic: Treating the special canine in your life with thrifty treats with Associate Editor Jennifer Chen
The Dish: With their floppy ears and soulful eyes, it's easy to spoil your canine companion animal with expensive treats and toys. Especially during the holidays, pet stores are packed with giant stuffed candy canes and special stockings just for Fido. If you're anything like me, you want to shower your lovable companion animal with an endless amount of things that they truly don't need (like yet another stuffed toy with a squeaker) because you love them to bits. But truth be told, they don't need a sparkly sequin sweater or a four-foot-long stuffed Santa to chew. What they need is you.
When my husband and I adopted Buddy two years ago, our then-five-year-old yellow Labrador, he was a whopping 118 pounds. So we went to work fast on our version of the doggie Biggest Loser and helped him shed the excess weight. I'm proud to report he's a healthy 90 pounds and he loves to play fetch—this from a dog who at first wouldn't budge from the driveway for walks. So I wanted to share the yummy, inexpensive treats and toys that I give Buddy so that his appetite is full and his figure trim.
1. Carrots. Dogs love to chew. So I grab a bag of organic carrots from Trader Joe's (approximately 89 cents a bag), trim the ends, peel, and give it to Buddy as a snack. He loves to lay down with his carrot "bone" and slowly work on it. And by slowly I mean chomp it down in 10 seconds. For smaller pups, try baby carrots. Our occasional office dog, Miss Jazz (VN contributor Jesse Miner's companion animal), a small Chihuahua mix, loves to nosh on little carrots. The vitamin-A rich snacks are low in calories, but high on crunch factor.
2. Pumpkin. Once when Buddy had, um, problems going to the bathroom, Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria recommended giving him canned pumpkin to ease his stomach. It helped. So when Thanksgiving rolled around and canned pumpkin was everywhere, I bought a bunch of cans to supplement his kibble. Pumpkin is full of fiber so it's filling but lightly sweet. Bonus, if you have to give your companion animal any medication, you can slip it in the purée without him or her even noticing.
3. Green beans and spinach. Frozen foods are a perfect way to sneak healthy foods into your companion animal's diet. I buy giant frozen bags of green beans and spinach for Buddy. Just before dinner time, I microwave them, let them cool or rinse in cold water, and add them in with his kibble.
4. Peanut butter. While peanut butter shouldn't be an everyday treat, when my husband and I go out for a few hours, we stuff a Kong (a dog toy) with some kibble and then seal it closed with a smear of peanut butter. We put the Kong in the freezer and let the peanut butter harden, so it takes him longer to eat it up. It's a good option for dogs who have separation anxiety because they'll be too busy licking up peanut butter to notice you walking out the door. I use roughly one tablespoon of natural PB.
5. Hide & seek. Buddy will eat his food in one fell swoop if he could. So when I feed him, I parcel out his food so that he slows down his pace of eating. One game I found that works is hide and seek. I take a cup of his kibble and hide it all around the house. Not only is this completely free, Buddy has to walk around and find his food, so I sneak in a little exercise too. I also have a Kibble Nibble ball that I fill with his dry food, and he has to push the ball around to get the kibble out.
The Final Word: For the special furry friends in your life, it's easy to get carried away with the vast array of treats, toys, and goodies available for them. But by giving them simple, healthy rewards, you'll keep their waistline and your wallet trim. And remember, this holiday season, the best gift you can give to your companion animals is your time and a good scratch under the chin!
On the left, our first day with Buddy, at 118 pounds.
On the right, Buddy today at 90 pounds.
Top photo courtesy of Barking District Bakery