We all like to treat our dogs from time to time. One glance at those big begging eyes usually has us reaching for the snack bag, quick-sharp. But what treats should we be feeding our pets? Are some better than others? And could we be doing our pet’s health a disservice by feeding them the wrong kind? It’s a complicated topic, but fortunately, there’s help on hand. The experts themselves (by which we mean vets) have weighed in on the debate, and the advice they have to offer is, for any conscientious pet owner, invaluable.
Watch Out for Calorie Content
Before you buy your next pack of dog treats, check the label for the calorie content. As JoAnn Morrison, DVM and director of veterinary science at Banfield Animal Hospital, tells NBC News, treats can add a significant number of calories to your dog’s daily intake, particularly if they’re of the human variety. “Many pets don’t require a lot of calories,” Morrison says. “Some human foods, even in treat-sized amounts, can quickly add up to extra pounds.” Next time you’re throwing your dog a treat from your plate, consider just how many extra calories you’re adding to their daily requirement. A simple hot dog, for instance, has 147 calories – an insignificant amount to us maybe, but considering an average, moderately active 30lb dog only needs 479 calories in total per day, it’s hardly an unsubstantial amount to them. To play it safe, limit calories from treats to just 10% of your pet’s daily intake. Anything more will either pack on the pounds or mean you’ll need to cut back on their main meals… something that’s never a good idea, especially when you consider that most treats are intended as exactly that, and lack the balanced nutritional profile of regular food.
Avoid Table Snacks and Toxic Ingredients
Throwing your dog a small cube of chicken or a cubed carrot won’t do them any harm. But not everything that you put on your own plate has a place on theirs. Certain human foods aren’t just a threat to your dog’s waistline, they’re a danger to their overall health. Some can even be lethal. As Top Dog Tips advises, if any of these have gone into the making of your own dinner, don’t let your dog hoover up the remains:
- Macadamia nuts
- Yeast dough
- Raw, undercooked meat, bones and eggs
Regardless of whether your pooch is throwing you cow-eyes or not, resist the urge to indulge them in table scraps. The risks just aren’t worth it. Similarly, always check the label of any commercial dog treat you buy. If anything suspicious has gone into its making, steer well clear.
Look for Healthy Snacks to Share
While allowing your pooch free-reign over table scraps is a no-no, certain human foods aren’t off the table completely. If you want to buy some snacks both you and your pet can enjoy together, Top Dog Tips recommend the following:
- Oat-based, sugar-free cereal
- Sugar snap peas
- Green beans
- Peanut butter (although be careful to make sure it hasn’t been sweetened with Xylitol)
- Dehydrated sweet potato
- Baked chicken or turkey (remove the skin if they’re watching their weight)
Look Out For Treats With Added Value
Treats are usually exactly that – nice little tit-bits that taste nice but don’t exactly do much beyond fill a snack-sized hole in the tummy region. But they can be so much more. A surprisingly high percentage of dogs over the age of three have oral health issues. Whether it’s bad breath, cavities, gum recession, or full-blown periodontal disease, it’s no laughing matter. Worse still, untreated dental problems can lead to a whole host of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes. Unfortunately, most dogs would rather do just about anything other than sit around while they have their teeth brushed, which can make keeping plaque at bay a troublesome issue. And that’s were treats come into the equation.
Having cottoned onto the gap in the market for treats that not only taste good, but that do the body good at the same time, pet food manufactures are now pumping out a huge selection of treats that promise to freshen breath and reduce plaque and tartar build-up. While you should be careful not to use them to liberally (a calorie is still a calorie after all) a dental treat a day could be all that’s needed to keep the dentist away.
Dogs come in all different sizes, but thankfully, so do treats. Always check the size of the treat before ringing it through the till. A puppy or small pooch will struggle with large bones or chunky pieces of hide, while a tiny treat might pose a choking hazard to a large dog. If it’s the first time you’re trying a new treat on your dog, stick around as they eat it to make sure there are no potential issues you should be aware of.
Don’t Put All Your Faith in Grain-Free
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge shift away from traditional grain-heavy dog foods and a move towards more “biologically appropriate” options. As it turns out, the move might not have necessarily been a wise one. As Pet MD reports, scientific studies are increasingly showing a correlation between a grain-free diet in dogs and canine dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition that can be fatal. “Grain-free is a fad from human nutrition,” Kristen Nelson, DVM, explains to NBC News. “When the grain is removed, ingredients like high glycemic carbohydrates or fat, may be added — and those can lead to other issues.” What does this mean in practice? If your dog is already eating grains as part of their normal diet, probably not a lot. If they aren’t, don’t think that by eschewing the grain-heavy treats you’re doing them any favors.