Most pet food stores have quite a selection of tasty treats for your pets, from bone-shaped biscuits to freeze-dried liver and strips that look and smell like bacon! There are so many options, it can be hard to choose. Aside from commercial treats, things such as cheese, toast, leftover meat and many other "people" foods are given to pets. One study found 90 per cent of dog owners and 43 per cent of cat owners admitted adding human foods to their pet’s diet.
I don’t need to tell you that your furry friends love treats — and that most animals will learn what it takes to get them. Whether it means performing tricks, incessant whining or big Bambi eyes, most dogs know exactly how to turn on whatever it is that they need to, in order to get a few extra tasty morsels from their master.
Unfortunately, those extra snacks are really packing on the pounds for animals across the nation, and they play a big role in the development of serious weight issues in a large percentage of our pet population.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s most recent study, 54 per cent of pet owners have overweight pets. Weight issues can lead to quite a number of health issues, and those extra pounds can really come with a cost.
Does this mean you can’t give your pet treats? Absolutely not! But take a few minutes to consider a few things before offering that extra cookie:
Some treats are worse than others. Many of the treats out there on the market are loaded with fat, colouring and sugar. Most vegetables are healthy safe treats for pets — and a lot of dogs enjoy carrots as a snack. There are also commercial treats such as Zukes brand treats, which are a lower-calorie option. High value treats make the best rewards for difficult training issues. So, save the T-bone steak-shaped soft treats and bacon flavoured strips for those special situations.
How big are the biscuits? Consider breaking treats in half instead of giving two treats, or purchasing the "training treats" that are bite-sized morsels. Many dog treats are much bigger than they need to be, especially for small breed dogs. Three bacon strips are a pretty big part of a toy poodle’s diet. If you own a big dog and a smaller one, remember that treat size should be based on your pet’s size.
Factor treats into your pet’s diet. Treats should make up only 10 per cent of your pet’s diet, so factor that in when diet planning. It sounds simple, but many pets eat two meals a day, plus a third meal of treats when all is combined. Reduce your pet’s diet to compensate for the amount of treats you are giving in a day.
Use treats as rewards. Most dogs quickly learn what it takes to get those tasty rewards, and will repeat whatever they learn to get them. Use treats to your advantage for training, and don’t let your dog dictate when you treat him. Give treats as rewards for good behaviour that you want your pet to repeat — whether you ask him to sit, lay on a blanket, or potty outside. Treating a dog that whines, begs, grabs or acts out is a sure way to encourage them to keep doing it!
Dietary issues are becoming more common. Allergies and digestive issues are becoming more and more common in pets. Many pet owners don’t consider the little extras they add to their pet’s diet, and in a lot of cases those extras are not even mentioned to veterinarians when dogs are being examined for these types of issues. The variety in treats adds so many different variables to your pet’s diet, and this can lead to problems, too.
Some foods are toxic to dogs. While most treats on the market are safe, there are "people" foods that are toxic to dogs and cats. Things like chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, avocados, and macadamia nuts are just a few foods that are safe for people, but quite unsafe for pets.
Our dogs don’t cook their own meals and they don’t order in — they rely on us to provide them with their meals. Pet owners have to make choices about what their pets eat, and your pet’s diet is controlled by you.
There is no reason to not give your furry friend a little extra, but please consider what your are feeding, when you are feeding it, and why.
Dana Grove is an animal lover who works with several pet organizations in Brandon.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 2, 2012