In his more than 40 years as an Oklahoma City veterinarian, Dr. Bob Marshall has witnessed the pet market explode, with Americans projected to spend more than $72 billion on their furry friends this year, according to the American Pet Products Association. The plethora of pet products can be overwhelming, so Dr. Marshall and local retailers share tips to ensure your pets enjoy a healthy, happy holiday.
Just like people, pets tend to overindulge in holiday treats, with their people generally the culprits. Moderation is key, and pet parents should evaluate both calories and ingredients. Dr. Marshall’s research led him to Charlie Bear brand, approved by his 2-year-old Golden Retriever, Pistol Pete, which only have two calories each, compared to upwards of 100 in an average MilkBone. Fresh fruits and vegetables safe for dogs, like carrots, green beans, cucumbers and sweet potatoes, make a tasty alternative to processed treats.
Dr. Marshall advocates purchasing fresh-baked treats from local retailers well-versed in pet diets. Three Dog Bakery in Edmond makes all-natural, human-grade dog treats without salt or sugar. Barking Dog Bakery in Oklahoma City offers hormone- and antibody-free chews, and serves up more than 20 flavors of clean, limited-ingredient cookies, cupcakes and cakes, with Snickerpoodle their most popular. Barking Dog will even make treats exactly to your veterinarian’s ingredient specifications, perfect for health-conscious owners and pets with special diets.
Unless specifically discussed with your veterinarian, Dr. Marshall advises dog owners to be wary of grain-free pet food, and to understand that higher priced food doesn’t always mean better quality.
“Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores like some assume, and they need some grain in their diet,” said Dr. Marshall. “Without it, they can develop digestive issues.”
This summer, the FDA issued a notification of an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, associated with eating grain-free pet food. Dr. Marshall says while this condition isn’t unusual, the sudden rise is. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores and require specific amino acids in their diet, so look for food and treats specially formulated for them. Barking Dog makes seafood flavored cat granola and cat candy canes with dehydrated fish.
“Always consult your veterinarian or the American Veterinary Medical Association website to determine which pet and people foods and ingredients are safe and best formulated for your pet,” said Dr. Marshall.
Cat toys can keep curious kitties from playing with things they shouldn’t, like your Christmas tree or the ornament hooks. When purchasing dog toys, owners should heed their ability to swallow just about anything. Marshall has, most memorably, removed a steak knife and 3-foot-long tug-of-war rope from dogs’ stomachs.
“Know your dog’s chew habits and buy toys or treats accordingly,” said Dr. Marshall. “There is no chew toy that’s indestructible, so never leave your dog alone with a chew toy.”
Pete, for example, doesn’t get rope or cloth toys, and Dr. Marshall looks for toys labeled for vigorous chewers. His favorite chew toys is the classic Kong, which Pete prefers filled with natural peanut butter, and chewing antlers, though pet owners should seek those sourced sustainably. Pete’s antlers get tossed when he’s whittled them down small enough that he could swallow them. Dr. Marshall advises against rawhide bones with knotted ends because he’s seen dogs swallow them whole and warns against rawhide manufactured in China, known to cause health problems. Shop safely at Three Dog Bakery, only carrying rawhide sourced in the United States, and A1 Pet Emporium, ensuring no products are sourced from China.
Dr. Marshall’s all-time favorite pet invention is the microchip, the pet recovery system that can reunite pets who run away in the holiday hubbub. For both safety and style, Pete also sports a black-and-orange collar with his name and Dr. Marshall’s phone number embroidered in large letters from www.orvis.com. For the fashionistas, Barking Dog Bakery carries locally-made collars, and Plenty Mercantile’s Oklahoma City and Edmond stores offer durable, up-cycled leashes made from used climbing rope, as well as dog jerky made from local bakers.
For the four-legged friend who has everything (or the animal lover on your list), a donation to a local rescue group or nonprofit makes a thoughtful gift. OKC-based Pet Food Pantry delivers free pet food and supplies to low-income senior, veteran, homeless and domestic violence victim pet owners. A $25 donation provides a pet with a month of food, supplies and flea and tick prevention, allowing the pet parent to afford their own food and medical supplies. Donations of pet food or supplies can be dropped off at numerous local sites.
As with any member of your family, the best gift you can give your pet this holiday season is time spent enjoying each other, whether at home, visiting the pet-friendly local retailers mentioned here, or in a training or agility session. Dr. Marshall is a proponent of K9 University’s courses that use praise rather than treats or clickers.
“Dogs want to please and obey, but you have to help them understand what you want them to do,” said Dr. Marshall, who values his time spent training and serving in the community with Pete, a registered therapy dog. “It’s just as rewarding to me as it is Pete.”