Our dogs are our family. They are there for us when we need them the most, ready to comfort us and make us feel better with their wagging tails and unconditional love. We watch out for them like they’re our own children, we take them to the vet when they’re sick and we do everything to ensure they’re happy, healthy and comfortable. So why don’t we feed them like they’re our own children, too?
We spend so much time looking at food labels and trying to avoid buying food that isn’t locally grown or organic. Why do we feed our dogs the packaged, processed foods that we so knowingly avoid for ourselves?
If you’ve ever looked at the list of ingredients on the back of your dog’s food or treats, you might have found that you can’t pronounce half the words on the list. Some chemicals to watch out for are BHA, BHT, TBHQ, Sodium Metabisulfite, and Ethoxyquin. These chemicals are also used as pesticides and to manufacture rubber and petroleum products and can cause severe problems in dogs, including liver and kidney problems and brain damage, just to name a few.
Leah Warner began making her own homemade dog treats, free of chemicals, dyes and preservatives, in 1998. They were a hit with her dogs, so she started to give them away as gifts and discovered other dogs loved them, too.
At the encouragement of friends and family, Warner began her own business, Melissa’s Cottage, which she currently operates from her own home kitchen. As a lifelong dog-lover, Warner has been a member of the Hot Springs Kennel Club for over 20 years and teaches the club’s puppy classes. She has a degree in Animal Science and has taken classes in animal nutrition — so she knows her stuff when it comes to dog treats.
Warner said the number one benefit of buying or making your own homemade dog treats is knowing what ingredients are in your dog’s food.
“After my first dog, the second Collie I got, had an immune system disorder and he had a lot of problems with his foods, and he also had seizures. Preservatives in their food can cause seizures,” she said. “Here’s the scary part: the No. 1 preservatives in dog treats and prepared people food are BHA and BHT. Those are both preservatives that were originally made for cattle feed, to be fed to feed lot cattle for no longer than 14 months to two years, and we’re eating it all the time.”
Another benefit to buying homemade dog treats is that they actually taste good to dogs. Warner’s treats come in a variety of flavors, including peanut butter, peanut butter/banana, carrot and oatmeal, and banana/blueberry. Also available by special order is her famous “puppy crack,” which uses chicken, tuna or salmon.
“(Puppy crack) has almost a rubbery consistency. I use this when teaching puppy classes for Hot Springs National Park Kennel Club. Nine out of 10 puppies find it irresistible,” she said. “We call it puppy crack because it’s like nothing can resist it.”
Warner said she will occasionally try new recipes that she finds in books or online, but she usually ends up changing the recipes around and taking out ingredients that she knows aren’t good for dogs, like corn, corn meal and salt. She can also customize treats to what the buyer prefers.
“My dog, Nikki, for instance, hates blueberries. I can put five in her bowl and she will eat all of her food and I’ll look down and there will be five little blueberries still left, while my other dog, Liza, is just dying to get them because she loves them. Nikki loves strawberries; Liza won’t eat strawberries. So I can customize them for people. If someone says ‘my dog loves broccoli,’ I can make them a treat with broccoli in it,” Warner said.
She added that even though her dog treats are healthier than normal treats, they aren’t a substitute for dog food.
“They’re a treat; it’s a fun thing,” she said. “I have stamps and I can print anything on the treats. If someone gets a new puppy and you want to give them a puppy basket, I can put ‘new puppy’ or the puppy’s name on them. I’m doing ‘good dogs’ today. I’m thinking about doing a package and the label would be ‘political pups,’ and half of them will have the blue donkey and half would have the red elephant, and some of them would say Clinton and some of them would say Trump and we’ll see who sells the most. I think that’d be fun.”
Currently, Warner’s homemade dog treats can be purchased at the following locations:
• Airport Road Animal Hospital, 1449 Airport Rd.
• Pickles Pet Pourri, 330 Central Ave.
• Old Country Store, 455 Broadway St.
The small bags retail at $4.99 and the large bags at $9.99.
She is also accepting orders through email and Facebook.
Find her on Facebook at Melissa’s Cottage or email Warner at treatsatmelissascottage@gmail. com to place an order.