Treat Hack: Dogs with Allergies & Special Diets

SarahTreatsLeave a Comment

St Louis Dog Training

When you are training positively, it’s a given that you’ll be dispensing a lot of small, meaty treats to your dog for good behavior. But what if your dog is allergic to common proteins, like Chicken, Beef and Lamb?

Or worse, what if you are strictly limited to feeding your dog one type of food… and that’s it? Concepts like “low-value vs. high-value” get thrown out the window rather quickly when you’re strictly limited to kibble as treats.

Dogs with Protein Allergies

The great news is that, in the last few years, pet food manufacturers have recognized that allergies to best-selling proteins are becoming more and more common and have started making novel proteins available. It’s not uncommon now to find proteins like rabbit, venison and even alligator available in your local pet specialty store.

A word of caution: Always read the ingredient label. Just because a treat lists the primary protein on the front of the package, be sure to read the full ingredient list. It’s not uncommon that some treats might include other protein sources, like chicken fat, that could cause an allergic reaction in our dog.

Some high-value options for treats with novel proteins might include:

  • Rabbit Instinct Raw Boost Mixers for Cats – For cats? Yes, for cats! These freeze dried raw meal mixers are formulated just like the dog formulas, except with rabbit as the primary protein. (The dog and the cat formulas can be used interchangeably.) Note that the ingredient list does include pork and pork liver in the recipe.
  • Stella and Chewy’s Savory Salmon and Cod Meal Mixers – Just like Instinct Mixers, S&C’s meal mixers can be used as a meal topper, or they can also be used for high-value training treats.
  • Zuke’s Mini Naturals Peanut Butter Recipe – Zuke’s have always been a favorite training treat. They are small, moist and cost-effective. If you’re unsure about any particular meat protein for your dog, you might consider using these peanut butter treats. They look just like the meaty versions, but don’t have any animal proteins in the recipe. Your dog will never know!

Dogs with Special Diets

Life gets a little harder, okay a lot harder, when you discover that your dog can only eat one type of food. It might be that the diet relies on hydrolyzed protein, or your dog has an extremely sensitive stomach and can only stomach one certain brand/protein formula.

Unfortunately, your options for treating are more limited. However, with a little creativity, it is definitely possible to find some higher-value options for your dog:

  • Canned versions of the kibble formula – Lots of kibble brands also come with compatible canned versions. Canned food can be balled and frozen for easier handling, or might even be sliced and cut into bite-sized pieces and baked into dry treats. (See instructions from Hills Prescription Diets.)
  • Food squeeze tube – Another option for your dog’s canned food is to spoon the food into a Coghlan’s food squeeze tube and use the tube to dispense high-value “licks.” You’ll want to read this article about what you might mix it with to thin out canned food to the perfect consistency. (An obvious omission, though, is to thin it out with plain old water!)
  • Use the primary protein in the food – Unless the food relies on hydrolyzed protein, it might be possible to use the primary protein in the food itself as a high-value treat. For example, Hill’s® Prescription Diet® d/d® Skin/Food Sensitivities has a venison formula. It might be possible to use plain venison meat as a high-value training treat, but certainly do check with your vet first to avoid any complications.

Trainers want your dog to be healthy and happy

It’s absolutely not the goal of positive trainers to make life difficult for people with dogs on restricted diets. We’re just interested in seeing students and dogs experience the fastest success possible, and we know the fastest way to a dog’s brain is through their stomach!

More importantly, it’s in trainers’ best interests to ensure that dogs in our programs stay healthy and ready to absorb new information in an itch-free, belly-friendly, calm and relaxed way.

Do you have a treat hack or creative treating solution that has been successful for you and your special-diet dog? We’d love to hear about it in the comment box below!

Images courtesy of

Additional Resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *