Think about what most pets are fed: one brand of food, lumped into kibble or a can—the same old thing once or twice a day, every day, whether the pet likes it or not. Boring! How about putting some zest in your pet’s life, enhancing dinnertime flavors and adding some variety to the daily humdrum diet?
Every individual animal has different nutritional needs. These differences might be slight, but it’s still asking a lot for any one food to provide all the requirements for each individual animal. If you must rely on commercial foods (and if home-cooking your pet’s everyday meals is not up your alley), I’m convinced it’s better to change the diet every so often … just to help ensure you provide all the needed nutrients for the individual. And one way to boost the nutrients in a day-to-day diet is to make some healthy treats to feed separately or add to the existing diet.
There’s no better way to add health-giving nutrients than to add some herbs, mixed in with the dinner dish, and my wife (the real cook) and I have found that mixing up a batch of treats every so often is not much of a chore at all (see recipe on Page 15). What’s more, we can mix up a small batch of inexpensive treats every few weeks or so, and because all the ingredients in the treats we feed are super fresh, we don’t need to add synthetic preservatives, colorings or flavors.
We’ve always treated our pets as a part of the family, so they usually get a taste of whatever we’re eating after we’re finished with our meal. One evening, as I was fixing myself a yogurt drink, I gave our dog, Pokey, a tablespoon-dollop of lowfat, unsweetened yogurt just to see how he’d react to it. From the first taste, he absolutely loved it, and plain old yogurt has become one of his favorite treats. After we’ve emptied it, we even give him the yogurt tub to lick clean, and he ends up chasing it around the house in a gleeful feeding frenzy.
Not only is yogurt a treat, it also is “treatment” to help keep the digestive tract healthy, and Pokey showed me that, at least for some critters, there’s no need to hide the yogurt in tasty foods to get them to eat it.
In fact, not only is yogurt one of Pokey’s favorite treats, it makes for a great medium to hide other, not-so-favorite, treats in. I’ve taste-tested Pokey with lots of stuff mixed in with yogurt, and so far I’ve been able to hide most veggies and all the herbs I’ve tried so far except nutmeg.
Pizza is another of Pokey’s favorite taste treats, and I’ve been able to hide almost any herb in a chunk of pizza. Pokey also appreciates cheeses, and he gobbles down herb-cheese mixes as a treat. Peanut butter is another food that most pets like, but Pokey has no use for it. I’ve tried several of the commercially available peanut-based treats, and he takes the treat as a matter of courtesy, trots to the other side of the room and drops it on the floor, where it might lay for days until we pick it up and toss it out.
On the other hand, Pokey agrees with most other cats and dogs who love meats. So meats are the base for the treats we make for Pokey for several reasons: Organic meats are readily available, even here in Kansas. We can change the type of meat we use every so often—beef, pork, chicken, turkey, bison, etc. Lowfat meats are available. (This is a real concern because more than half of all dogs, cats and other pets now are obese. We need to keep the fat content of foods and treats as low as possible.)
So, an easy-to-make meat, flour and herbal treat is my choice for Pokey’s training treats. But any food your pet likes can be used as the basis for making your own training treats. And a healthy addition of herbs can be added to anything that pleases your pet’s taste buds.
DOC KIDD’S BASIC TREATS
½ pound ground meat
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 to 1½ cups oatmeal (or other grains, such as wheat, cornmeal or flax meal)
Flax or fish oil, if necessary, to make the mixture stick together
Herbal mixture of choice (start with 1 tablespoon; gradually, over the course of several batches of treats, increase the herbal amount up to several tablespoons)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix meat and egg with the oats, grain or flour (and oil if necessary) until you have achieved a mixture that sticks together fairly well. Roll out the mixture into strips about ½- to 1-inch-thick. Make the strips into lengths that will fit into your cooking pan. Place these rolls in the cooking pan, and cook for about 20 minutes, until the rolls appear brown on the outside but still slightly soft in the middle. Remove, cool and divide into portions that will last several days. Save one portion for the next few days and freeze the other portions in separate baggies for later use.
Treats can be cut or broken off the rolls and fed in small chunks for training aids or as a treat to be added to your pet’s daily dinner fare. Keep treats refrigerated or frozen until used up, then make another fresh batch.
Notes: Dogs and cats do not necessarily enjoy the same food flavors we do. Do not add sweet, salty or smoke-flavored foods to the treats. Cats can be most persnickety, but they almost always favor foods with a fishy taste. Add some of the water from canned tuna fish to enhance treats for cats.
When adding herbs to the treats, remember that basically any culinary herb that you would normally add to your dinner plate also can be added to your pet’s food dish. Some pets object, at least initially, to the tart taste of herbs, so you might need to gradually adjust their tastes to the healthy herbs. So far, Pokey has gobbled his taste treats flavored with cayenne (Capsicum annuum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), oregano (Origanum spp.), thyme (Thymus vulgaris, seemingly his favorite), basil (Ocimum basilicum) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.). He’s also been fine with calendula (Calendula officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) and cleavers (Galium aparine)—all of which grow in abundance in our garden. •
Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and clinical pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for 10 years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in Kansas City, Missouri. Visit our website, www.HerbsForHealth.com, to order Dr. Kidd’s pet-care books.
Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.