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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Eat, Bark and Be Merry: Healthy Holiday Treats for Our Pets

Nov 30, 2015 08:47AM ● By Sandra Murphy

As with families everywhere, special taste treats are on the menu for many dogs, cats and wild birds during the holiday season. Owners are cautioned not to share rich, unfamiliar foods from the table that can be detrimental to an animal’s health. Better fare are homemade treats of organic, safe and tasty ingredients—true gifts from the heart.

Homemade assures the quality of ingredients, avoids unhealthy additives and allows the giver to adjust for individual taste or food sensitivities. Most healthy recipes can be made from readily available ingredients.

Wild Birds

Offer them a variety of seeds and fresh water. Always use unsalted, unseasoned seeds. Mix harder-to-crack striped sunflower seeds with the smaller black oil version to attract the largest number of birds. Organically grown peanuts in the shell, dried fruit, oranges, pomegranates or rehydrated raisins offer a burst of energy. Impale round fruits, halved, on a small dowel rod attached to the feeding table to hold them in place.

Note that oats go to waste, shelled sunflower seeds spoil and cracked corn attracts raccoons. Pass on any kind of popcorn.

DIY Suet

Mix one part organic peanut butter with five parts organic, non-GMO (genetically modified) corn meal. Smear into a pinecone to hang from a branch or directly on tree bark for woodpeckers and wrens to enjoy. Don’t use low-fat peanut butter because birds need to pack in the calories in order to stay warm.


Cat Treats Holiday RecipesOrganic catnip, fresh or dried and baked into a crunchy treat, will bring kitty running. In recipes, avoid canned tuna because of bisphenol A (BPA) concerns; also minimize the frequency and portion of tuna and salmon treats due to mercury accumulation in the fish. Unseasoned tuna or salmon packed in water in a pouch is a better choice. Many recipes labeled for dogs can be converted for cats by making them into smaller bites.


“When possible, I put organic and local foods, non-GMO, hormone-and antibiotic-free, grass-fed and humanely raised properties at the top of my list. A healthier dog means fewer vet visits and more years together,” says Tonya Wilhelm, a dog trainer in Toledo, Ohio. “Buy in bulk from a co-op or farmer and maybe share with friends to get the best price.”

Dehydrated Foods

Dehydrating removes moisture from food while retaining nutrients, and comprises a distinct cooking method. Stephanie Raya, resident chef at Excalibur Dehydrator, in Sacramento, California, recommends, “For safe chicken and pork, pre-cook before dehydrating. Beef can be dehydrated from a raw state. My Boston terriers also love dehydrated, sweet potato chips.”

Natural Awakenings recommends using organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) ingredients whenever possible.

A number of commercial dehydrated meat and fish jerkies have been recalled (search Homemade treats offer superior control of ingredients.

“When I make my pets’ treats, I know what’s in their food, including the herbs used for flavor,” says Raya. After she’s ensured that the food is thoroughly dried, she packs it in vacuum bags and stores them away from light. She notes that dehydrating takes longer than baking, but is cost-effective at 25 to 50 cents an hour. Veggie options include dehydrated zucchini chips, butternut squash chips, cherry tomato bites, matchstick carrots or peach or other fruit slices.

Make it Festive

A cat’s sense of smell is 10 to 15 times better than ours, but is still modest compared to dogs that out-sniff us by a factor of 30 to 60 times; that’s why putting wrapped treats under a holiday tree or in a stocking is a bad idea. Store them securely and then bring them out when it’s time to open gifts. Use blue tissue paper for easy-to-open Hanukkah gifts, red or green for Christmas (bows, yes; ribbons, no). For dogs that love puzzles, placing treats inside a wrapped box adds to the fun.

Remember that rich or unfamiliar foods can make pets sick. Instead, gift them with their own healthy, safe treats from known ingredients so that everyone has a happy holiday.

Connect with Sandra Murphy at [email protected].


Special Holiday Pet Recipes

Coconut Bites

Yields: Approximately 20 cookies

1 orange, peeled, seeded, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 banana, peeled, chopped into bite-size pieces
½ cup coconut flour
Lemon zest

Coconut Pet Treats RecipePreheat oven to 275° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Put the orange and banana into a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth.

Combine blended fruit and coconut flour. Mix well. Form into 3-inch flat discs and place on a lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Lightly sprinkle lemon zest on the uncooked treats.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Remove cookies and place them on a rack to cool.

Tip: Keep a few treats in an air-tight container and freeze the remainder for later.

Recipe courtesy of Tonya Wilhelm

Chicken Bites

Yields: Approximately 24 cookies

1 cup filtered water
10 oz chicken breast, boneless and skinless, cut into 2-in cubes
½ cup brown rice, dry
1 cup coconut flour
1 Tbsp ground flax seed

Place water, chicken and rice in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer covered, for one hour. Strain and let cool.

Preheat oven to 275° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place cooled chicken and rice mixture in a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth.

Place the purée in a large bowl. Add the coconut flour and flax seed; mix well.

Form into 3-inch flat discs and place on a lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Remove cookies and place them on a rack to cool.

Recipe courtesy of Tonya Wilhelm

Meatball Bites Pet Treats RecipeMeatball Bites

Yields: Approximately 24 cookies

1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
10 oz grass-fed hamburger, 85 percent lean
4 oz green pepper, washed, seeded, cut in bite-size pieces
2½ oz kale, washed
3 figs, stems removed
1 cup quinoa flour

Preheat oven to 275° F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat a frying pan on medium heat for three minutes. Add coconut oil. Coat the pan evenly.

Add hamburger and stir fry until almost fully cooked. Add peppers, kale and figs to the meat. Continue to stir fry until the kale is reduced.

Allow mixture to cool. Then, place mixture into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.

Combine the blended mixture and quinoa flour. Mix well.

Form into 3-inch flat discs. Place on a lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Remove cookies and place on rack to cool.

Recipe courtesy of Tonya Wilhelm

Cheesy Crunchies

2 cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup cornmeal
½ cup cheese (any grated cheese)
1 egg
1¾ cup filtered water
½ cup fine-grated Parmesan cheese

Cheesy Pet Treats RecipeMix all ingredients except Parmesan. Knead dough until thoroughly mixed.

Roll dough into shapes (like sticks or squares) or use cookie cutter. Roll
shapes in the Parmesan. Dehydrate in a dehydrator at 155° F approximately 4 to 6 hours or until dry. For cats, make much smaller shapes.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Stephanie Raya, Excalibur Dehydrator

Roxanne’s Beef Jerky Strips for Dogs

3 cups ground lean grass-fed beef
1 cup flour
2 tsp brewer’s yeast
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese, drained

Dog Jerky Strips RecipeCombine ingredients in medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread on a nonstick 1/8-inch-thick drying sheet.

Dry at 155° F until thoroughly dry and then cut into strips.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Stephanie Raya, Excalibur Dehydrator

Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Dog Biscuits

Yields: 36 biscuits

1 sweet potato, boiled or baked
¼ cup peanut butter, low in fat, sugar and salt
1 egg
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1½ cups organic old-fashioned oats (aka rolled oats)

Boil or bake sweet potato. Allow to cool before removing the peel if baked.

Heat oven to 350° F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Peanut Butter Sweet Potato Dog Biscuits RecipeUse a mixer to blend all ingredients together except the oatmeal. Once combined, fold in oats with a spoon. If dough is too wet, add more flour.

Roll out cookie dough to ¼-inch-thick sheet and cut with any shaped cookie cutter. Fill cookie sheets.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until biscuits are hard to the touch.

Cool and place in an airtight container.

Recipe courtesy of Livia J. Washburn, Trick or Deadly Treat

Kitty Patties

Yields: 8 small patties

½ lb grass-fed, lean ground beef
½ lb lean ground turkey
4 Tbsp low-salt chicken stock
4 eggs
½ cup oatmeal or 1 packet instant oatmeal

Mix meat and broth, and then add oatmeal and egg.

Form into 8 small patties.

Broil one or two at a time, leaving them fairly rare.

Allow to cool, and then serve. They’ll keep in the refrigerator up to three days if the meat is fresh.

Freeze the other patties until ready to use, good for up to four months.

Recipe courtesy of Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat at Large

Go Go Balls

Yields: 30 to 32 balls

½ cup water-packed tuna fish or salmon (from a BPA-free pouch)
4 oz light cream cheese
2 Tbsp dried catnip (or more to taste)

Drain the fish. If using salmon, remove the skin and bones.

Using a fork, flake the fish into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients.

Form small, marble-sized balls by hand and store refrigerated in an airtight container.

Recipe courtesy of Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat Spreads Out

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