As the number of overweight/obese humans rises, we seem to be bringing our furry companions along for the ride. A recent study shows that there are more and more pudgy pets – and many of them have become “treat junkies.”
The National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study estimates that over 45 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats are now overweight or obese. Dr. Ernie Ward, the lead researcher of the study, suggests that dog and cat treats are chiefly to blame. He notes that to a 40-pound dog, a premium pig ear is equivalent to a six-pack of 12-ounce sodas.
Dr. Ward: “Today’s treats are so loaded with sugar and fat I call them ‘kibble crack.’ Modern treats are creating cravings that go far beyond what is normal in many pets.” Dr. Ward says the obesity problem is the greatest threat to the health of the U.S. pet population.
Here, SFVS internal medicine specialist Alan Stewart, DVM, weighs in on the treat question, with some practical advice for pet parents:
Dog treats are like the open bag of chocolate chip cookies. We don’t really need them, but they make us feel good. Appropriate dog treats can certainly be fun and fulfilling for both the giver and receiver. Treats can also be very useful for training, behavior modification and rewards.
However, treats can be a portal of entry for many calories. The general recommendation is that the “treat allowance” should be no more than 10 percent of the calories ingested by the pet. Ideally these are nutritionally balanced treats. Some of the best treats are pieces of the pet’s current kibble or another brand of dog kibble that is appropriate for the life stage of the dog. Sometimes chunks of Hill’s T/D make excellent treats AND help dental health. Other ideal treats include carrot sticks, cucumber or celery sticks.
Generally, it is best to go with low-fat treats (<25 percent ME from fat) because it allows us to give more! Additionally, for a dog, it is the concept of a treat and not the amount that it important, thus a typical “milk bone” can be cut up and go a long way.
Some of dogs’ favorite treats are chews and raw hides. These are particularly fatty and (therefore) delicious, but a great way to provide caloric excess and lead to weight gain.
Sadly, discovering caloric counts on most treats takes some investigative work and are not readily apparent. Furthermore, calorie count can vary from the beef flavor to the fish flavor. It is best to check with your pet’s primary care provider for specific suggestions and needs about treats and not to rely on the Internet, advertisements or friends and family for advice.