Pet Talk: All About Treats

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Giving your pet treats can be a great way to help build a relationship with them. However, giving your pet unhealthy treats or too many treats can negatively impact their health. Dr. Christine Rutter, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, offered some advice on how to prevent your pet from biting off more than they can chew.

Treats are an important part of the human-animal bond, Rutter said. Rewarding your pet for desired behavior, distracting them from stressful situations, and using food to entertain high-energy pets are all good ways to use treats. In many ways, treats can be used to enhance the relationship between you and your pet. But, how much is too much?

“Just like our own snacks, treats should probably comprise no more than 10-15 percent of your pet’s diet,” Rutter said. “If you are training and anticipate needing to give your pet a lot of treats, giving them bits of their own kibble diet can be just as effective.”

Additionally, Rutter said giving too many treats can lead to pet obesity. Obesity is a problem in pets, just like it is in the human population. Many pet treats can be packed with calories, so if you aren’t careful, you could be giving your pet the human equivalent of eating a piece of cake, Rutter said. She recommended talking with your veterinarian about your pet’s caloric needs and how to choose a healthy treat for them. Additionally, Rutter said some “people foods” are okay to share with your pet.

“My dogs love carrots, so baby carrots are my go-to dog treat,” she said. “Carrots, green beans, seedless watermelon, cantaloupe, asparagus, banana, boiled or baked poultry, and baked whitefish are safe to share with your dog in moderation.”

However, Rutter said foods such as sauces, rotisserie chicken, gravies, grapes, raisins, onions, peppers, garlic, avocado, macadamia nuts, fatty meats, and oily fishes can be rich and cause upset stomach, including the risk of diarrhea and pancreatitis. Some dogs and cats may even like low-fat yogurt, but don’t offer these items if your pet has GI upset after enjoying them.

If you are worried about your pet’s treat intake, substituting a mouth-watering treat for a healthier option or some kibble from their normal diet is a great solution. “Your pet will almost never reject a previously accepted treat in lieu of a ‘better’ one,” Rutter said. “While cats may be a bit more finicky, even they remain excited at the concept of treating because it is one of the ways that we express our approval of them.”

Furthermore, shopping for healthier commercial treats from the get-go could help decrease the guilt of giving your pets too many treats and the possible negative side effects. Rutter said to look for high-quality, low-fat treats made in the United States. Just like our own treats, anything that is fatty, salty, or smells delicious probably isn’t that healthy in large quantities.

“Don’t hesitate to read the nutrition labels, though they may not be easy to interpret on pet foods and treats,” Rutter said. “Your veterinarian can help you pick out a treat that is safe for your pet and their particular needs.”

Whether you are rewarding your pet for good behavior or showing them some love, treats can help support your relationship with your pet. However, be sure to be mindful of your pet’s treat intake to avoid health concerns.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

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