While shopping for the holidays, you may be tempted to grab one of those cute gift tubs for pets overflowing red and green cookies so your pup or kitty can enjoy the season, too. But according to Colleen Kumm, owner with her husband Glenn of the Healthy Pet Bakery Shop, that’s the worst thing you can do. “Pet treats proliferate at the holidays, but those wonderful-looking cookies are made with food coloring, which is actual dye—and they often have a sugared yogurt coating,” she says. “Sugar is bad for your dog. It can shorten his life by years.”
A better way to share the joy of the season with your pets is to bake your own treats. “Your animals will know you’re making something special for them,” says Wendy Nan Rees, author of The Natural Pet Food Cookbook: Healthful Recipes for Dogs and Cats. “Holidays can be lonely. Our pets make them so not lonely. When we reach out to them by making a treat, they’re so happy. It’s a way for us to give them joy, to return some of their unconditional love. You can give the treats out as gifts, too.”
Pumpkin—plain canned pumpkin, not the pie filling, which can be dangerous—is great for dogs, says Rees. “It’s high in beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. That helps develop healthy skin, teeth, tissue, and mucus membranes, and it promotes good vision. Canned pumpkin is naturally sweet, and because it’s high in fiber, it’s filling without the calories. That makes it great for an overweight dog.” Rees often fills her dog’s Kong (a rubber toy) with canned pumpkin, freezes it, and then lets the dog chew on it—which he’ll do for hours.
Wendy Fujita, owner of Pawsome Healthy Pet Treats, notes that around Thanksgiving, people like to give table scraps to their pets, but advises against this. Instead, Fujita created a gluten-free treat containing pumpkin, honey, and cranberry that dogs think is straight from the table.
Cranberries are another healthy ingredient, Fujita says. “They contain two agents that act as bacterial inhibitors, which is what medications for urinary tract issues usually do. They reduce the pH in urine, making it more acidic, so that pH-sensitive bacteria cannot thrive in this environment.”
Kumm offers a doggie holiday treat made with organic peanut butter and cinnamon. “One serving of organic peanut butter has 15 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin E,” she says. “This fat-soluble vitamin acts as an antioxidant, fighting the cell-damaging free radicals.
“As for cinnamon,” she adds, “recent studies have shown that just a ½ teaspoon a day helps regulate blood sugar and raise insulin resistance. This is vital for animals at risk for diabetes, like senior and overweight dogs. Some studies show it to be antifungal, too; it works to combat Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infections. Dogs who suffer from allergies are often prone to yeast infections. These infections can be resistant to medication, but they aren’t to cinnamon.”
Not as many healthy treats are available for cats, who need more protein and fewer fruits and vegetables than dogs. As noted in Rees‘s book, a treat with salmon or mackerel, for example, provides vital omega-3 fatty acids that can reduce triglycerides as well as the possibility of developing certain cancers and tumors. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack.
So gather your ingredients, fire up the oven, and watch your pets enjoy the season!