I have a sweet tooth. Ice cream, sour candies, baked goods, I love them all. I keep them to a minimum in my diet because I know they are bad for my teeth, figure, and even my ability to concentrate. But is the same true for our pets?
Lets look at treats from a safety, dental health, obesity, and behaviour perspective. But first, what is a treat? Let’s say a treat is anything with calories that is not enough alone to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requirements for complete and balanced nutrition. So anything from a potato chip to a milkbone to a piece of cat or dog food that does not meet these requirements.
The FDA has received reports of chicken jerky treats causing illness in 3600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007 and its investigation continues. It is advisable to avoid all chicken jerky treats until further studies show they are safe. Pet owners should always be alert for news of recalls and choose pet foods and treats with excellent reputations for quality and safety in their manufacturing process.
Other safety risks associated with pet treats include contamination with harmful bacteria. Dried pig ears are notorious for carrying salmonella which can cause illness in pets and the people handling these chewy treats. Raw diets and cooked food patties carry above average numbers of bacteria and are often not complete and balanced according to AAFCO requirements.
An additional safety hazard seen with treats is their digestibility. I have seen several pets very ill after eating large pieces of rawhide type chews whole and then being obstructed by the slowly dissolving treat. Look for chews that are proven to dissolve in the stomach in less than two hours, any longer and they could cause a dangerous obstruction.
Treats are a great motivator but save the really tasty ones for the hard to learn tricks and use kibble and healthier treats like celery and low cal low fat treats for the tricks they have already mastered. Our pets are great gamblers too, give a treat only occasionally and they will continue to perform, hoping to win the treat lottery each time.
Are treats good for dogs and cats teeth? Chewy bones and treats with the VOHC seal are proven to prevent plaque and tartar, but not assessed for risk of dental fractures. Follow the “kneecap rule” to keep your dog’s teeth safe from fractures: if that chew or treat hurts when you hit yourself on the knee, it is hard enough to damage teeth. Bones, rawhides, nylon bones, ice cubes, antlers, sticks and stones can all cause painful fractures to teeth. Fractured teeth expose the sensitive inner pulp of the tooth which contains nerves and blood vessels. Dogs with pulp exposure will experience chronic dental pain unless the tooth has a root canal performed or is extracted. Softer treats may not last as long but avoid the risk of dental injury.
How many treats can a 10 lb cat or dog safely eat? If they normally eat 200 calories of dog food in a day, treats should only make up 20 calories or 10% of their intake. That amounts to about two liver treats and 1/2 cup of a common dental diet every 24 hours which seems like hardly any food at all! Check out the Treat Translator which shows how one little cookie for me, is like one big hamburger for them! This is why obesity is such a problem in our pets, we forget that they require much smaller portions than we do. Dogs and cats of all sizes have perfected the art of begging for treats as they learn to repeat any behaviour that earns a food reward. Dogs and cats don’t understand that overeating increases their risk for diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Using kibble as treats, hiding treats in feeder toys, and using treats as training rewards are all great ways to make those limited calories go farther and prevent the dangers of obesity.