We don’t spoil our pets—but we do treat them like family. We especially love to treat them with all sorts of seasonal goodies. If you love your animal companions as much as we do, then you are probably guilty of sneaking them a little holiday food. This can be more common when friends and family try to use food to get on your animal’s good side.
There are a lot of treat dos and don’ts out there. You know your animals better than anyone, but here are some guidelines you can give guests:
- DON’T use treats to “bribe” the animal. If the animal is focused on getting the treat, they are not focused on listening to you. Ever seen a horse charge past a person to get their grain? Or a dog try to grab the treat and nip a finger? Treats should be used as rewards, not lures.
- DON’T use treats to “trick” an animal into doing something it fears. Many animals won’t eat when they are stressed, and rewarding stressed behavior may make them more reactive in future.
- DO give treats when an animal is calm and attentive to you. You should always be in control of the animal and the treat.
- DO give praise with treats. It’s like a double-treat with no extra calories!
- DO keep treat sizes as small as possible. Most animals would rather get 10 tiny treats than 1 big treat, even if they are the same amount of calories.
- DO use treats to help animals explore new place or meet new people. The key is keeping the animal calm and using the treat to reinforce that this is a good space or good person.
- DO set out special holiday treats that friends and family can offer to your animals without worry. As you cook, save an unseasoned or raw portion of some foods for you and your guests to share with your pet. You can also make holiday cookies with a special horse/dog/cat friendly recipe. (That means the fun and tradition of making cookies without needing to eat all that sugar yourself!)
- DO monitor your pet closely after introducing new foods. Allergies can come in all shapes and sizes, and large quantities of new foods might upset their stomach. No one wants to spend the holidays with their animal sick from eating the wrong holiday thing. So here are our favorite treats to share with our 4-legged friends:
- Horses: Apples, carrots, pumpkin, beats, zucchini, celery, lettuce, squash
- Dogs & Cats: Unseasoned turkey, sweet potato, carrots and green beans, cooked pumpkin or winter squash, cranberries.
- Do not give to any animals: Chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, candy or sugar cubes, chicken/turkey bones, fat trimmings or grease, anything with Xylitol (an artificial sweetener very toxic to dogs), potatoes, tomatoes, mixed nuts, onions or garlic, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, anything seasoned or salted.
Like people, animals have their own tastes and may not like all the holiday foods, so it may take a few tries to find the perfect holiday treat for your animal companion. You can also find fun treat recipes online–some are even no-bake, which makes them perfect for small hands. Cheers to having a safe and filling holiday season.