Our dogs love treats, and we love our dogs. We use treats as rewards, as bribes, as relationship-builders and sometimes just for the heck of it. From people food like potato chips and French fries to expensive gourmet doggie snacks, care should be taken when giving our dogs treats. Over-treating a dog can result in digestive problems, obesity, or even bad behavioral issues.
Problems Associated with Dog Treats
Digestive and Dental Issues – Treats tend to be saltier, sweeter or higher in calories per ounce than quality dog food. Any of these can cause problems with a dog’s digestive system, resulting in bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea. In addition, some treats can cause tooth decay or an excessive build up of plaque. Obesity – An estimated 44 percent of dogs in America are obese, which can cause health problems such as heart disease and cancer. Giving a dog too many or inappropriate treats can increase the risk of obesity. Behavioral Issues – Dogs that get used to getting a treat as a reward for certain behaviors can learn not to perform that behavior unless a treat is given. Dogs that are often fed from the table can also learn begging behavior that is difficult to stop.
What Kinds of Treats Are OK?
Giving your dog treats is OK, as long as you don’t overdo it. Keep in mind the overall nutritional needs and caloric recommendations for your dog. Depending on the size and age of your dog, a single high-calorie treat could make up as much as 25 percent of your dog’s caloric needs for an entire day. Give treats sparingly, and choose those that are natural and low in fat and calories. Carrots, for example, are excellent treats, and dogs generally love them because of their sweetness and crunch.
Alternatives to Treats
Although dogs love treats, they respond well to other rewards as well. Try giving enthusiastic praise instead of a treat, and follow up with plenty of petting, scratches or belly rubs. Dogs also appreciate playtime, and throwing a toy for a game of fetch not only rewards your dog for the desired behavior, but gives him additional exercise as well.
How Many Treats Can I Give?
The first thing to keep in mind when giving your dog treats is that the calories contained in those treats need to then be taken away from his daily feeding allowance. For instance, a moderately active, 30 pound adult dog requires about 937 calories a day. Many popular soft dog treats contain between 25 and 35 calories each. If you give your dog four of these treats throughout a day, you would need to compensate by cutting back your dog’s food between 10 and 15 percent.
Another consideration is the nutritional value of the treats. Generally, treats will not be as nutritionally balanced as a high quality dog food, so simply switching out food calories for treat calories could leave your dog malnourished and hungry. The best practice is to give high quality, low calorie treats on a limited basis only.
Katherine Kam, “Healthy Dog Treats: Natural, Organic, and Other Treats to Help Keep Dogs Fit,” Pets.WebMed.com
“Metabolic Energy Requirements for Dogs,” MyCockerSpaniel.com