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Table of Contents
First off, let me apologize for the title. I’m sure that people who write on a regular basis for those women’s magazines that are so ubiquitous in the checkout line at the supermarket have a special key on their keyboard that, instead of having a single letter, spits out the phrase “go from fat to fab.” It’s between the key that delivers “delicious 3-ingredient meals” and the one that offers up “de-clutter your house in just 10 minutes.” Anyway, I just couldn’t resist.
I probably shouldn’t be critical, though. After all, I do have phrases that I use over and over. Maybe I should have some special keys made up so I don’t have to type over and over things like, “Never leave a dog of any breed alone with a child”, “No dog should ever be left tied outside for hours,” and, “I only feed Janice and Leroy store-brand dog food.”
Well, there I go with a digression right out of the gate! I’ll try to get back on the topic of low calorie dog treats, but first I think we should talk about the problem of canine weight gain in general.
As I suggested in 15 Fattest Dog Breeds – Why Do They Get So Big? weight gain in dogs doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are any number of reasons why a dog can “pork up.” Sometimes, it’s because the owner doesn’t offer a good diet, or they over-feed. Sometimes the dog is under-exercised – couch potato owners are more likely to have couch potato dogs. Excess weight can also be a natural consequence of aging (as anyone who has ever looked sadly at the “skinny jeans” they wore when they were in high school or college can tell you).
Do Dogs Mind Being Fat?
I’d venture to say that a bit of weight gain doesn’t much bother a dog. Dogs don’t obsess over standards of beauty in the way that humans do.
To put that in perspective, let me tell you that I don’t obsess over my weight. I’m carrying a few more pounds than I probably should, and I freely admit that my doctor has told me on more than one occasion, “Ash, you could stand to lose some weight.”
Here’s the thing, though. The doctor isn’t all that concerned that my health is in danger, and the extra poundage isn’t stopping me from doing the things that I enjoy. If I got to the point where I couldn’t, say, tie my shoes comfortably, or if I got winded during normal exercise with Janice and Leroy, they I definitely would consider my weight to be an issue. I think dogs probably feel the same way – weight isn’t an issue until it gets to the point where it’s causing discomfort.
Janice is a case in point right now. Okay, I know that if we’re being completely accurate here, she’s not fat – she’s pregnant. But the effect on her comfort is much the same as if she were morbidly obese. She struggles on the stairs, tires easily, and can’t get comfortable when lying down, no matter what position she chooses. Also, neither Janice nor I are getting much sleep – she tosses and turns all night long. She’s nearly as wide as she is tall right now, and that’s saying something when you’re talking about a full-size Boxer!
I think Janice and I are both hoping that she’ll deliver toward the early end of the 58-63 days it takes for a dog to get through a pregnancy. But once she does, she’ll drop weight quickly, and then my main concern will be getting her back up to her optimum weight. She almost certainly doesn’t want to stay the size that she is right now, because it’s interfering with her comfort.
She can’t manage her weight on her own, though – she needs my help. After all, dogs don’t make their own meals. So, they can’t increase or decrease their calorie intake to ensure that they maintain a good body weight. Unless…
What About Free Feeding?
This is probably another example of my needing a “special key” since I’m always saying, “I free feed Janice and Leroy.” If you haven’t read any of my posts about free feeding versus feeding on a schedule, this is simply a method of leaving food available to a dog at all times. I just dump a big bag of dog food into a large basin, and let Janice and Leroy “have at it.” I’ve done that with all my dogs, and I’ve never had a dog with a weight problem.
Some dogs, though, can be gluttons, and might need to be fed on a schedule. My position has always been that if a dog doesn’t see food as a reward, or a “special event,” the likelihood of the dog overeating is low. My approach is, “It’s there; take it or leave it.” Of course I’ll keep a close eye on Janice following the delivery, but last time around she pretty much looked after her own dietary needs with great success.
Is Your Dog Overweight?
Sometimes, it’s not easy determining a dog’s perfect weight. Most of the time, though, if you have a purebred dog, there are any number of sites that you can look at online that will tell you what the proper weight range is for your particular breed. Your vet can also offer an opinion as to whether your dog has “chunked up” a bit too much. There are some breeds that are very prone to weight gain, so you might need to keep a close eye on your dog if he’s among those breeds. Again, you can refer to 15 Fattest Dog Breeds – Why Do They Get So Big?
Regardless of whether your dog is a purebred or a mix, one way of determining whether your dog is carrying too much weight is to do a “touch test.” You do this by putting your thumbs next to either side of your dog’s spine, and then lowering and spreading your fingers down toward his rib cage. You should be able to easily identify each rib.
As you move your fingers back and forth, you should feel a bit of “rolling.” This is the movement of fat under your fingers and on top of the ribs. This is perfectly normal, as there has to be a bit of fat to protect the bones from injury. However, if you get a “spongy” feeling, chances are your dog could stand to lose a few pounds. If you can’t find the ribs at all, then your dog is definitely overweight.
Do the “sight test” too. When you look down at your dog, you should be able to clearly identify his hips, waist and shoulders.
It’s actually a good idea to do the sight test and the touch test periodically, since often we’re no more likely to notice weight gain in our dogs than we are in ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I think that for most humans, the tip-off that they’re gaining weight (unless they weigh themselves every day) occurs when clothing doesn’t fit quite as well as it once did. It’s pretty easy to add another clothing size in little time, without even realizing that it’s happening.
Is It Hard to Control Weight Gain in Dogs?
With a little effort, you can control and even reverse weight gain in your dog, the same as you could in yourself. First off, if you’ve been in the habit of using your dog as a garbage disposal, stop! Your dog doesn’t need those table scraps, and some could actually be bad for him (see Your Dog is Not a Human, so Don’t Feed Him Like One!). Next, stop giving treats for no reason – only use them for rewards during training.
The other thing you can do is change your dog’s regular food, and start feeding on a schedule. If you’ve been free feeding, you can always go back to that later. Until your dog achieves his optimum weight, though, you might want to go with a weight management dog food.
To see how well your weight reduction program is going, you should weigh your dog regularly. If your dog isn’t huge, this is pretty easy to do. Just pick up your dog, and then step on the bathroom scale while you’re holding him. Take note of the number that the scale registers. Then, put the dog down and get on the scale yourself.
Yes, you really have to do this – in order to know what your dog weighs, you’ll need to know what you weigh.
Now, take your weight and subtract it from the total weight of you and your dog. The number you get is your dog’s weight.
Of course, unless you’re exceptionally strong, and have a scale that handles extreme weights, a big dog is going to have to be weighed on his own. Personally, I can’t pick up either Janice or Leroy, so if I wanted to have them weighed, I’d simply drop in at the animal hospital and ask to use their scale. Animal hospitals don’t charge for this service.
The other thing you really need to do is increase the amount of exercise that your dog is getting. This is, of course, assuming that the dog is generally in good health. If you’re dealing with a senior dog with joint problems or other health issues, consult your vet before you make any significant changes to his exercise routine.
A vigorous walk once or twice a day will go a long way to improving your dog’s condition, and yours as well. You can also play games in the back yard – I’ve never yet encountered a dog that didn’t love chasing a ball or a Frisbee!
Another little trick that can help to peel off the pounds is making your dog hunt for his food. I’m not talking about sending him out into the wilderness and saying “Go find a rabbit or something; that’s going to be your supper!” I mean breaking up his meal into small portions, and hiding the food in various places around the house or yard. You can also hide food inside toys that have special compartments just for the purpose. If you feel that your dog absolutely must have something extra, instead of just handing out treats indiscriminately, you can also fill these toys with low calorie dog treats.
Is Obesity in Dogs a Real Problem?
Yes, it is. In fact, the research suggests that nearly 50% of dogs (and cats for that matter) are carrying far more weight than they should. I’ve already talked about some of the causes of canine obesity, but one thing that definitely doesn’t help is high calorie dog treats.
We’re all guilty of giving into that pleading gaze. “Mom, Dad, if you guys really loved me, you’d stuff me full of Pupperoni and Bacon Bites!”
Look, dogs are the world’s best scam artists, and they’re highly skilled at convincing you that they will just die if you don’t give in. You need to develop a hard heart, for your dog’s own good.
I’m not saying never give your dog treats, but I am saying that if your dog is fat, then it just makes sense to offer low calorie treats. So, with that in mind, here are some great recipes that you can experiment with.
Low Calorie Dog Treat Recipes
You’ll find that you don’t need any special ingredients for these homemade treats. Most of the time, you’ll already have the ingredients on hand, and if you don’t, they’re easily purchased at any supermarket.
1. Beef, Cheese and Green Bean Treats
To make this recipe, you’ll need half a cup of low-fat cheddar cheese, 3.5 cups of whole wheat flour, half a cup of cooked or canned green beans, a cup of reduced-sodium beef broth, half a cup of skim milk, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a bit of extra flour for rolling out the treats.
Now, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the cheese and the flour together in a bowl, and set it aside.
Next, get another bowl and mash up the green beans. Add the beef broth, milk and olive oil, and mix them together.
Go back to the bowl that contains the flour and cheese. Using your hands or a spoon, pull some of the mixture toward the sides of the bowl, creating a well in the middle. Then, pour in the bean mixture, and mix all the ingredients together. Use your hands to knead the contents until you have a firm dough. Then, sprinkle a countertop or cutting board with the extra flour, and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. If you prefer, you can also simply press it down with your hands until it’s about a quarter of an inch thick.
The next step is to use cookie cutters to cut out the treats. If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can up-end a glass and use it as a cutter. Whatever you’re using, though, dip the rim into a bit of the extra flour first so that the utensil doesn’t stick to the dough.
Now, spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray (if you have a Teflon cookie sheet, you can skip this step) and place the cutouts on the sheet, about an inch apart.
Bake for 30 minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool.
You can keep these treats refrigerated for about three weeks, or freeze them for up to six months.
The recipe makes about 48 low calorie dog treats.
2. Salad Treats
Oh, I just can’t resist digressions and stories! I remember back in my call center days, going down to the cafeteria one time and seeing that the salad bar looked really, really good! So on my lunch break, I loaded up my plate, went back to my cubicle, and my neighbor in the next cubicle said, “Trying to lose weight, Ash?”
Well, I was just beyond flabbergasted!
I managed a stony stare and said, “Why, do you think I have to?”
Score points for Ash!
The thing was, I liked salad. Still do. My lunch preference had absolutely nothing to do with whether I needed, or didn’t need, to lose weight – it was just that I wanted something delicious and crunchy for lunch!
So, back to the point. Maybe your dog needs to lose weight, in which case these salad treats are about as close to perfect as it gets. And if your dog isn’t chunky, these are still awesome treats!
To make them, you need a cup of baby spinach, three-quarters of a cup of mixed veggies (carrots, broccoli and cauliflower are good choices), a quarter cup of plain yogurt, half a cup of unsweetened apple sauce, two and a half cups of whole wheat flour, and half a teaspoon of baking powder.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, finely dice the vegetables. You can use a knife for this if you like, but much of the time, anything that can be easily cut with a knife is even more easily cut using scissors. And of course, if you have a food processor, you can do it literally in seconds.
Once the veggies are diced, put them in a big bowl. Then add the yogurt and the apple sauce.
Get another bowl, and mix up the flour and baking powder. Once they’re both nicely blended together, gradually add the flour/baking powder mix into the veggie mix, stirring thoroughly. Use cookie cutters or a glass dipped in flour to cut out shapes, and place them on a greased cookie sheet, about an inch apart.
You’re good to go, but if you like, you can also make a glaze for these treats using half a cup of yogurt and about two teaspoons of water. Mix together, and spread on top of the treats using a pastry brush.
Bake the treats for 20 minutes, and then cool on a wire rack. You can keep these low calorie dog treats in the fridge for about three weeks, or in the freezer for six months.
This recipe makes approximately 48 low calorie dog treats.
3. Low Calorie Italian Spinach Balls
Who doesn’t love Italian food? I know I do, and often, the notion that Italian food is naturally high in calories is wrong. It all depends on the ingredients, and the ones that you’ll find in these low calorie dog treats are definitely on the non-fattening end of the spectrum.
To make these treats, take a cup of frozen, chopped spinach, put it in a bowl, and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Don’t squeeze the water out of the spinach. Now, in another bowl, mix together three-quarters of a cup of rolled oats and three-quarters of a cup of whole wheat flour. Add two tablespoons of low-fat grated Parmesan cheese and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Using your hands or a spoon, pull the dry ingredients away from the center of the bowl, creating a well in the middle. Then pour in the spinach mixture, and stir gently until all the ingredients are combined.
Knead the dough in the bowl until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. If the dough seems too firm, you can add a bit of water until you get the right consistency.
Now, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a cookie scooper or a melon baller to make balls about an inch in diameter. Place the balls on a greased cookie sheet, and bake for about half an hour. Then cool them on a wire rack.
These low calorie dog treats can be kept in the fridge for a couple of months, or in the freezer for up to three months.
These are really great recipes for low calorie dog treats. However, I know that some of us lack the time, or the inclination, to make treats for our dogs. Fortunately, there are commercial varieties available as well for the lazy or the time-conscious among us.
Commercial Low Calorie Dog Treats
Some of those home recipes sound good enough for humans, don’t they?
Now, here’s a question for you – just for fun. Leave a comment below. The question is, “Have you ever eaten a dog treat?” Tell me what type of treat you ate, and whether or not you liked it.
When I was in high school, on a dare, I ate a Milk Bone. Not one of the flavored ones, you understand, since the terms of the dare didn’t require that I do anything more than eat a plain one.
While I wouldn’t want a steady diet of Milk Bones, I have to say that it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, if I’d put a bit of jam on it, it might even have been perfectly palatable!
Sorry, digressing again!
I think the point I was trying to get to was that there are a lot of treats that might be perfectly appealing to your dog, but sometimes it’s just too much of a good thing. So, if you’re looking to keep the pounds off your best buddy, you should consider low calorie dog treats from reputable manufacturers. Here are several that you can try.
1. Charlee Bear Dog Treats
Charlee Bear dog treats are probably among the lowest of the low calorie dog treats, coming in at just three calories each. They come in four flavors, so your dog is never going to get bored. My friend Debbie swears that her Beagle, Chuck, just adores the egg, liver, turkey and cranberry combination, and he’s also partial to cheese and egg. Debbie always makes sure to have several in her pocket so she can give Chuck rewards when they’re working out down at the dog park.
I don’t know how they came up with the name, but I suppose it doesn’t much matter. Get Naked low calorie dog treats come in a number of sizes, and in addition to being great for weight loss, they also contain ingredients that help to improve joint and gut health. They’re wonderfully chewy, too, so they help with your dog’s dental health.
Old Mother Hubbard dog treats contain just five calories each, and contain no wheat, soy, or anything artificial. Not only are they good for your dog’s weight loss program, they also help with coat and skin health, and because they’re extra-chewy, they also work to keep your dog’s teeth clean.
Zuke’s Mini Naturals are nugget-style treats that come in a variety of flavors, including chicken, salmon and peanut butter. At just three calories per treat, you can use them pretty much as often as you like to train your dog or reward him for good behavior – or even just because he’s a good dog.
Peck’s Natural Dog Treats are practically calorie free – I’m not kidding here, they’re not even one calorie per treat, and they contain ingredients that are so good for your dog. These treats contain eggs, barley flour, blueberries, buffalo and molasses. Obviously, what this means is that you can reward your dog over and over without ever having to worry about adversely affecting his weight loss program.
As you can see from the foregoing, you don’t actually have to make low calorie dog treats if your dog is beginning to gain weight. In fact, some of the commercial varieties might even be better choices, if you’re looking for low-cal (or practically no-cal) goodies for your best buddy.
Sometimes, the best treats don’t have to come with a “brand” attached to them, and they don’t even have to be homemade. I can tell you that I often toss Janice or Leroy a piece of cooked carrot or green bean, or a couple of blueberries, and they seem to be every bit as receptive as they would be to a highly-flavored commercial treat.
I can’t really comment on homemade baked treats, though – I don’t make them. If I did, I’d have so much less time to research topics about dogs, and share what I’ve learned with you. And, to be perfectly realistic, I’d also have less time to work on my other writing projects – the ones that I do for something other than pure love, and that actually make me money!
What I’m trying to say here is that sometimes the best low calorie dog treats are the ones that come from Mother Nature. You can mix up some of Mother Nature’s best ingredients, or you can buy from a manufacturer that does pretty much the same. Most of the time, though, I just give my guys something that’s at hand and that I know is good for them.
You really don’t have to over-think low calorie dog treats. Many of them are readily available with no thought needed at all – cooked vegetables and fresh berries, for example. If you really want to spoil your dog, though, there’s no reason why you can’t avail yourself of the recipes I’ve told you about, or other recipes that you might find online. And if you’re not one of those people who cooks a lot for yourself (and hence doesn’t exactly have a surplus of cooked vegetables), or you don’t feel disposed toward cooking for your dog, there are commercial treats available that are very low in calories.
The upshot here, though, is that if your dog is overweight, you have a number of ways to help him go from fat to fab. They don’t have to cost a lot of money, and they don’t require a lot of effort. If you like to bake, then when you’re baking for yourself, bake for your dog, too. If you’re like me and think of your oven as something that you can shove dirty dishes in when company comes, take a look at the many brands of dog treats that have few or no calories.
Of course, a good diet is the most important thing, but I know that it’s not realistic to think that you’re never going to give your dog a treat. Go with the low calorie dog treats suggested above, though, and you’ll help your dog “peel off the pounds” – to use another phrase from those “special keys” that writers for women’s magazines seem to have.
Okay, I’m done being sarcastic. For now. Stay tuned, though, you never know what might happen!