The festive season is upon us and for most people, it's the perfect excuse to indulge that sweet tooth. But while you might throw discipline and diet out of the window and survive, the same might not be true for your pets.
Many pet owners look upon their pets as humans and treat them as such, but it's not the best idea in the world to give them party food to usher in the New Year. That yummy chocolate cake you baked and that heavenly packet of crisps that you bought from the supermarket could spell death for your beloved pet.
Speaking to The News Minute, Yamika Damani, a companion dog trainer and behaviourist who is also the founder of Clever Canine, says, "Foods high in processed sugar can cause hyperactivity, behaviour changes in your dog. The theobromine compound in chocolate can cause toxicity in canines and felines. Ice cream is high in sugar, cream and other synthetic additives which can be bad for your pet's tummy. As a general rule, avoid any processed human foods for dogs and cats as they are usually high in sugar, salt and synthetic additives, colours and flavours."
Theobromine, which is present in chocolate, makes humans feel great but is indigestible for many animals, including dogs and cats. The chemical circulates in the bloodstream, damaging the central nervous and circulatory systems. As for desserts, sugar is not toxic but large doses of it can lead to dental problems, diabetes, obesity and other problems. And remember, what's a small quantity for you might be a very large dose for your pet.
Shasvati Siva, who works on animal rescue, says, "Festivals are man-made and there's no reason to give unhealthy foods to animals around this time or whenever. Festivals and animals don't really have a connection. But if you're celebrating at home and would like to give your pet something special, just buy treats that are suitable...you can give your pets these even otherwise to reward good behaviour and so on."
However, be careful about the treats you purchase, even if they may ostensibly be for pets. Yamika cautions, "Even some dog treats bought from the pet store are very processed and full of harmful additives and synthetic flavours etc. So always read the label for ingredients before you make a purchase. Nowadays there are many local companies that are making great all-natural treats for dogs that are free from preservatives etc."
Other than store-bought treats, fruits are a good option too. Yamika says, "Fruits have naturally occurring sugars which are completely safe for your dog. The roughage in the fruits is also an added benefit. Some fruits that can be given are apple, banana, watermelon, mango, pears. Fruits to avoid are grapes, avocado and citrus fruits."
Shasvati points out that like humans, animals too have their preferences. While cats do not, in any case, like processed foods much, dogs have their unique tastes and they prefer some treats over others. As a pet owner, it's your job to figure out which healthy treat works for your pet.
And it's never too early to begin. Yamika points out that pets who demand human food are usually ones that are fed off the table. "It's more of a behavioural problem caused by the owners who are spoiling the dog by feeding off the table/their plates. So, feeding off the table and plate should be completely avoided with every dog from day one."
But what if your pet is already 'spoilt' and you wish to turn things around? Shasvati says that beginning the training early is important: "Training your pet is very important. They have to learn from a young age itself that when you're eating at the table, it's your food and it's their food in their bowl."
Yamika has a few suggestions for pets addicted to human foods: "For a dog who is already used to begging for food, you must distract the dog by making them do a basic sit, shake hand or a stay before giving them any treat/food. This will make them work hard for their food instead of begging for it. Also, you can give your dog an interactive toy such as a Kong when you are having your meals at the table, that way they will be too busy to beg."
For those who still want to give their pets some mithai to welcome the New Year, Clever Canine has naturally sweetened coconut bars called "Barkies", biscuits and sugar-free ice-creams. Doggie Dabbas is another company that makes yummy but healthy food for pets. Yamika suggests that if you wish to bake a cake for your pet, you can use carob, a plant based alternative which is a common substitute for cocoa and chocolate products.