The Trouble With Treats (and a Perfect Pet Recipe For Summer)

I’m what you might call an avid home cook. That means I devour cookbooks like other people read novels, contribute inventive recipes to baking blogs, and spend Sundays re-stocking my fridge and freezer with yummies and squares for the week ahead. Which means that, time permitting, my pets will also gain a little something from my kitchen’s usual weekend bustle: Treats!!!

 Can I have the recipe?

Can I have the recipe?

I’m certainly not alone in my kitchen kookiness. Last time I wrote about saving money by making your own pet treats (in The Miami Herald a couple of weeks ago), I was bombarded by requests for recipes. Turns out I’m not the only crazy person who spends hours in the kitchen whipping fridge must-go ingredients into hearty pet stews and baking bone-shaped cookies for animal birthday parties (or for no reason at all). 

Let’s face it; we love spoiling our pets. Trouble is, treats add calories. Calories add girth. And girth = wear and tear on joints, skin and internal organs along with a host of other issues. 

Then there’s the issue of a complete and balanced diet to consider. After all, feeding your pets a diet laden with tidbits and treats can lead to nutritional imbalances. A good rule of thumb is that no more that 10% of your pets’ calories come from questionably balanced pet treats. But that only works if you have a basic knowledge of the caloric content of the foods in your pets’ diet. And most of us don’t.

Fortunately, I’ve gotten relatively good at this. I start by looking on the pet food label for calorie counts (fat chance). If it’s not there, mosey on over to the diet’s website for the info (listed in kcal's per cup or can). As long as you keep track of how much you feed (and you should, of course), that’ll get you most of the way there. 

Now all you have to do is count calories on your treats. And this may surprise you! Many commercial pet treats contain as many calories as a whole cup of dog food or a half a can of cat food! Consider:

  • Milk Bones are 20 cals for the tiniest to over 200 for the large size. 
  • BusyBones (by Purina) are around 300 for the small to more than 600 for the big’uns.
  • DentaBones (by Pedigree) are about 100 for the small, 200 for the medium, and 300 for the large ones. 
  • Small pig ears weigh in at around 150 calories.
  • Rawhides range from 50 for the little strips to 500 or more for the big bones.

Which explains why I encourage my clients and readers to consider fresh, homestyle treats instead:

  • Green beans are only 23 calories per half cup.
  • Broccoli florets are 20 calories per half cup. Fresh, frozen or cooked, they’re the perfect treat.
  • Baby carrots (also called carrot nibblers) are usually 4 calories per piece.
  • Apple slices (now available pre-cut in most supermarkets) are 32 calories for half an apple’s worth of slices.
  • Cantaloupe cubes are 30 calories per one half cup. You’d be shocked to know how much some cats love cantaloupe!
  • Canned pumpkin is a marvelous source of fiber. It’s only 40 calories per half cup.
  • Air-popped popcorn is the best. At only 15 calories per half cup, they’re especially fun to use as tiny fetch edibles for cats.
  • Peas are awesome. At about a cal a pop, they’re amazing treats. Fresh or frozen, they’re adored by dogs and cats alike.
  • Cheerios are for kids, but they’re also great training treats for dogs. Cats love ‘em too. And, they’re only 14 calories per eighth of a cup.

But let’s say you really, really want to cook or bake for them and you need to know the calorie counts. No problem! All you do is head over to the calorie counter at CalorieCount.com, enter your recipe and then enter the number of servings you intend it to yield. 

Sounds easy, right? OK then … let’s get started. Here’s my favorite canine and feline recipe: 

Here’s a quickie recipe for a simple bacon-peanut butter treat (most cats like them too):

  • 1 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 3 strips cooked bacon (crumbled, with pan drippings cooled and saved)
  • 2 tbsp bacon bits for sprinkling (optional)

Combine all the ingredients (I do it with my hands, kneading the dough on the counter towards the end of mixing), press as flat as possible (about 1/4-inch thick is perfect!) into a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle optional bacon bits onto top of dough (press them in so they stay put) and bake in a 350F degree oven for 20 minutes or so (they should be just a little golden). 

For dogs: Before they cool, use a knife or pizza cutter to cut them into one-inch squares. As they cool they’ll get nice and crispy.

For cats: I bake these maybe five minutes longer so they're crispier. Do NOT omit the bacon bits! Let them cool somewhat before crumbling into little pea-sized pieces. 

Go ahead, make a bunch! These freeze really well in little plastic baggie-sized portions. Just leave them on the counter to defrost when you’re ready to serve the next batch.

Now all you have to do is cut and paste the ingredients into the CalorieCounter’s text box, include the number of servings, hit enter, correct any ingredient confusion the program might encounter (they make this super simple), and voilá, you have your calorie counts and a full nutritional breakdown of your treats. 

 My recipe's output. Cool, right?

My recipe's output. Cool, right?

Awesome, right? Works for your next batch of human treats, too! 

OK so now it’s your turn: What do you cook for your brood? And please feel free to share your recipes!!!!