Howlin' for More: Pets appreciate home-baked goodies just like humans do

It seems unfair, doesn’t it?

You, being the human, get to enjoy every culinary concoction under the sun. Craving Cornish hen? Just get out your roasting pan and your recipe book. Feel like a little crème brûlée for dessert? Fetch the mini-blowtorch and it’s a done deal.

Meanwhile, Fido, being the dog, can only watch your succulent feast with sad eyes as he shuffles over forlornly to his food bowl. Which holds, as usual, his kibble. The same kibble he ate for breakfast. The same kibble he ate for lunch. The same kibble he’s eaten every day of his life, morning, noon and night.

Oh, sure, his commercially prepared dog food helps him stay healthy and keeps his blood fortified with vitamins and nutrients. But wouldn’t it be nice if once, just once, Fido could eat something that didn’t come out of a giant bag that was dragged unceremoniously across the supermarket floor before it made its way into your home?

Something, dare we say, that had to be prepared using a mini-blowtorch? Or, at the very least, was baked with love, and maybe some yummy peanut butter?

Of course, with this guilty sentiment in mind, many well-meaning pet owners will slip their pets a little bite of dinner every now and then. But this isn’t a good idea. For one thing, the foods we eat are often filled with things that our pets can’t stomach. The calories and fat alone aren’t good for their smaller bodies; plus, a number of ingredients, ranging from grapes to chocolate to onions (see sidebar), are actually toxic to pets. (Death by chocolate, indeed.)

But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer your pet freshly baked, animal-safe treats prepared in that very same oven where you cook your own meals – using ingredients that are probably already in your pantry.

“We do our baking with everything we would keep in stock at home for ourselves, with wheat flour, applesauce and honey,” said Vicki Sence, owner of Three Dog Bakery in Ladue and mom to two Dachshunds. “We have commercial kitchen equipment in our bakery, but there’s no reason why you can’t use the same baking pans and electric mixers you use for your own food.”

Teresa Miller, owner of Treats Unleashed in Chesterfield, listed oatmeal, bananas, peanut butter, carob and cinnamon as other ingredients that dogs can savor safely. She suggested that would-be pet chefs be creative by making treats in fun shapes using cookie cutters. Don’t be too creative when it comes to the cookie batter, however. Your best bet, Miller said, would be to turn to a pet cookbook or recipe Web site to make sure you have the right nutritional balance of ingredients to meet a pet’s needs.

“Dogs have different nutritional requirements from us, so you can’t just give them lasagna because you think they will like it,” Sence added. But a well-chosen treat can be a staple of animals’ healthy diets, she said, comprising as much as 10 to 20 percent of their daily intake as long as the ingredients are healthy.

Author Janine Adams, who lives in St. Louis with a cat, two poodles and a pastry chef husband – all three of whom had input on the recipes in her newest book, “You Bake ‘Em Dog Treats” – is understandably an advocate of home-baked pet treats. “They are so easy to make and so inexpensive,” she said. “And you can’t really fail. If one of the ingredients is liver, your pet is going to love it.”

By Adams’ calculations, “inexpensive” may be an understatement. A little bit of liver and some tapioca flour – probably about $2 in ingredients – is enough to yield a baking sheet of about 100 Liver Leather cat treats (see recipe at right), which Adams’ liver-loving tabby, Joe, finds irresistible.

And the great thing about baking for pets, she added, is that they don’t care about presentation. While in her husband’s line of work, an imperfect tartlet won’t make it out of the kitchen, with pets, a lopsided biscuit is still noshable. No doilies, lemon wedges or sprigs of rosemary are required.

Because they are created to please dog owners as well as those owners’ furbabies, the pet delicacies sold at establishments like Three Dog Bakery and Treats Unleashed actually are as pretty as anything you’d expect to find sitting atop a pastry doily. Yet Miller conceded that when it comes to what pets really want, what’s paramount is the taste.

Following by a close second is smell. “The fresh-baked smell really draws the dogs in,” Miller explained. (Which might explain why the pungent Peanut Butter Barkers are Treats Unleashed’s top seller.)

That doesn’t mean your pet won’t enjoy a mass-manufactured, commercially prepared treat purchased from a pet store or supermarket, especially if she’s not picky. But a fresh-baked treat every now and then is a special way to reward your pet for mastering a trick, obeying a command or just for being that furry, fun fellow that he is.

“For humans, it would be the difference between a processed cheese and, say, a really good Gouda,” Sence explained. “There’s a look on your dog’s face that seems to say, ‘Oooh, this is gooder, Mom.’”

And creating the treat from scratch can make that special reward all the more special.

“I’m not someone who bakes for humans. My husband does that,” Adams confessed. “But [baking pet treats] is such a simple process and what I really enjoy is the response from my animals.”

Sence agreed that the look on a happy pet’s face is worth dirtying up a few baking pans. “It’s a bottom-line gut instinct for pet owners, and for women in particular: [Pets] are our family. We like to feed them and nurture them the way we feed and nurture the rest of our family,” she said. “If you ask many women, ‘How do you take care of those who you love?’ the answer will be simple: ‘We love them with food.’”

Unfit for Animal Consumption: Foods to Keep Away from our Pets

• No cup o’ Joe for Fido: All forms of coffee are off-limits.
• Protect your pet’s pancreas. Avoid feeding fatty foods.
• A deadly pet poison, macadamia nuts aren’t all they’re cracked up
to be.
• Moldy or spoiled foods aren’t good enough for humans, and they aren’t good enough for our animal friends either.
• Just say no to avocado.
• Death by chocolate, indeed: All forms of chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats.
• Something to cry about: If a pet ingests onions or onion powder.
• In case you didn’t hear it through the grapevine, raisins and grapes can lead to kidney failure in dogs and cats.
• Keep Spot sober – no alcoholic beverages for pets.
• Don’t pass the salt. This is one seasoning your pet’s kidneys can’t handle.
• Yeast dough is a no-no.

Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals