As easy as it is to simply open a can or scoop out dry food, our four-legged friends seem worthy of a little extra effort — if not for their total day-to-day diet, at least for a few treats now and then.

While some pet owners prefer to make all their companion’s food from scratch, that may not be a practical option.

According to Dr. Ruth Loomis, owner of Brookswood Animal Clinic in Bend, creating all of your pet’s food takes a serious commitment of time, energy and money, not to mention freezer and refrigerator space. She encourages anyone seriously interested in that Herculean effort to consult with a pet nutritionist, such as at University of California-Davis, to map out a plan. There you can discuss the balance of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals needed for your best bud, as these vary by breed, size, age and lifestyle. Also, like people, pets may have food allergies that require avoiding certain ingredients and enhancing others.

Loomis goes on to note that there are excellent prepared foods on the market for cats and dogs, and that supplementing them with home-cooked treats is a more viable option for most people. She confesses to topping her pooch’s food with grated Parmesan cheese.

If you are reluctant to commit to cooking full meals for your pet, consider pampering with some cooked vittles to supplement the ready-made food. Dr. Loomis recommends a few cooked vegetables as a topper, as they are appealing to animals without adding too many calories, and in fact can be used for pets on a weight-loss campaign because they give a ready feeling of fullness.

Do not feed…

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers a long list of foods that dogs and cats shouldn’t eat. On the list are avocados, alcohol, coffee, tea and other caffeine-laden beverages; grapes, raisins and currants; milk, macadamia nuts, gum and candy, especially those containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol.

Also on the list: chocolate, onion, garlic, chives, apricots, persimmons, peaches, plums and any other pitted fruits; raw eggs, meat or fish; raw potatoes; nutmeg, baking powder and baking soda. Salty snacks should also be avoided, so don’t share your bag of pretzels with Fido … OK, maybe just one or two.

It’s best to avoid using any of the foods on the do-not-eat list, as some can actually kill your pet or cause kidney failure or anemia, depending on the animal’s size and the quantity ingested.

If cooking full meals for your pet isn’t on your to-do list, try these ideas to add variety and nutrition to your best friend’s diet:

• Sprinkle liver powder (available at a pet store) over regular wet or dry food.

• Stir some cottage cheese, yogurt or kefir into the food for a little extra protein and calcium.

Cook up some eggs to top your bud’s kibble — perhaps as a weekend treat. To dress it up even more, make an omelet with steamed veggies (no onions) and a little grated cheese.

Drizzle dry food with some unsalted broth — beef, chicken or veggie.

Sauté some chicken hearts, livers or gizzards as a dry food topping. Serve whole or grind up with a little broth.

Dr. Loomis jokes that most of the things we do to enhance our pet’s food are really to make us feel better, as with a few add-ons the animals eat with gusto, making us feel like good pet parents. Her advice is to occasionally make nutritious homemade treats and enjoy the feeling of catering to your pet (literally). “But,” she cautions, “they will come to expect it and may ‘hold out’ for the extras.”

— Reporter: gwizdesigns@aol.com

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