Dogs aren’t all that different from humans, you know. They love food, and they certainly love treats. And just like people, they can also get fat if they eat a few too many treats, containing a few too many calories. Worse still, they get addicted to sugary and salty foods, and then it’s hard to wean them off.
Tami Pierce, clinical veterinarian at the University of California, is an expert on the subject. She understands that careless owners can actually add a substantial number of calories to a dog’s otherwise healthy diet in no time at all. People can give their dogs up to four treats at a time and “not really think about it until they’re asked about the dog’s diet”, says Pierce.
It’s very easy to give your dogs a lot of treats in a 24-hour period, especially if you’re rewarding them for good behaviour or using them during training. But these treats can really stack up.
One in Ten Rule
Ideally, dog treats and snacks should make up a maximum of 10% of a dog’s daily food intake. To get a rough idea of how many treats that works out as, you can ask your vet, who will give you a bespoke recommendation based on your dog’s weights, how active he or she is, and the sort of treats it likes.
The difficulty is, of course, that dogs love treats, and we owners see them as a perfect way of showing our affection for our best friends. Bonding with your pet is a good thing, of course. So long as it’s done in moderation.
Fruit and Vegetables
Weird as it may sounds, you can actually avoid harmful, sugar-filled shop-bought dog treats and offer them healthy fruit and veg instead.
Pierce advocates giving your dog a carrot, green bean or some broccoli. They have “virtually no calories, and dogs don’t care if you’re not giving them something meaty and fatty.” At the end of the day, it’s giving them anything at all which they love. The actual food you supply doesn’t matter as much as you’d think.
You see, dogs are actually open to all foods. If you start on the right foot by providing them with healthy food, this is what they’ll want, and expect. So again, they’re much like human infants, really.
Fruits like slices of banana, berries and watermelon are all good choices too. Think about it: in the wild, a dog would eat a varied diet consisting of meat and these vegetarian snacks too. So long as you steer clear of chocolate and caffeine, which are toxic for dogs, they can eat nearly anything. Low sugar and low salt options like rice cakes broken into small pieces are ideal.
Avoid These Hard Treats
As a rule of thumb, ensure dog treats are easy on their teeth. Avoid things like bones and hooves, which are hard. It seems counterintuitive because we’ve been brainwashed to think that dogs should have bones, but it’s really not necessary. If you can push your thumbnail into a treat and leave a mark, then it’s a safe thing to feed your dog. Otherwise, steer clear.
Pierce underlines this fact, arguing that “many of the new treats on the market are fracturing dogs’ teeth.”
Rawhide is one of the few exception to this rule, because when a dog chews on it, it softens. Just be sure to watch that your dog doesn’t choke on small pieces that break off and can get stuck in their throat. Once it starts to break up, the safest option is to take it away.
Rethink Your Dog Treats
So, overall, taking a whole new look at dog treats seems to be the answer. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, at Ohio State University, says, “Treats don’t have to be food.”
It’s a simple yet profound comment on dog dieting. When you think about it, taking your dog for a walk or just spending quality time with him or her is worth a million chunks of any kind of food. Like a human baby, a dog craves attention and time far more than they want food.
The more you treat your dog like one of us, the healthier it will be.