To treat or not to treat?

Everybody loves treats! When selecting a treat for your pet, it can be both very exciting and overwhelming. It’s easy to be tempted to buy whatever sounds delicious and enticing to you, however, there are a few things to consider when shopping for an ideal treat for your pet. Not all treats are made equal, and are a frequent cause of digestive upset we see in clinic.

When first considering purchasing treats for your pet, calculate how many they are allowed to have on a daily basis as this will also help you determine the type and amount of treats you’ll use. The treat ration should make up less than 10% of their daily energy requirements, which if you know your pet’s DER in kilocalories, you can easily work out how many calories can be allocated as treats per day. The Pet Nutrition Alliance has a fantastic calorie calculator that will also calculate calories allocated to treats! You can access it here.

Choosing a treat

First of all, what are you using the treats for? The type of treat you will be looking for will be determined by its purpose. A treat used for training will need to be lower in calories but very high reward for the pet, whereas a treat for casual snacking or enrichment may be higher in calories and in a different format to a training treat. If you would like the added benefit of dental health, I’d check out the VOHC website for their list of treats that are scientifically proven to provide a dental benefit (either prevents or removes tartar or plaque).

Secondly, you want something that is healthy and safe! Some treats are higher risk than others; bully sticks (bull pizzle/penis) are frequently contaminated with bacteria and also contain more kilocalories than people might think as seen by a recent study conducted by Veterinary Nutritionist, Dr Lisa Freeman. They are also a choking hazard. Other treats to avoid are those that contain potentially harmful ingredients such as garlic or onion powders, BHA, or milk products. I would also recommend steering clear of providing raw meat or cooked (cold) meats as treats, as not only do they not keep well if you intend on taking them out on a walk or to a training class, but they can harbor pathogenic bacteria that can make your pet (and yourself) very sick.

Treats to avoid:

  • Bull penis (aka bully sticks) – choking hazard and bacterial contamination
  • Rawhide treats – chemically treated and contain no nutritional value
  • Bones – especially cooked can break teeth
  • Table scraps – can cause weight gain or pancreatitis in sensitive pets
  • Raw (or cooked) meat such as mince meat, meatballs, cooked roast chicken, shredded ham – potential for bacterial contamination
  • Milk based treats – common cause of GI upset in dogs due to intolerance
  • Deer antlers – as with bones, can damage teeth
  • Highly processed, cheap, highly coloured and flavoured treats
  • Treats containing BHA, onion or garlic powders, grapes or raisins – potentially harmful to pets

Treats to try instead:

  • VOHC approved dental sticks, chews or dental kibble
  • Single ingredient treats such as dried beef liver
  • Regular kibble
  • Veterinary formulated treats – products only available from your vet, or recommended by your vet
  • Vegetables and fruits safe for pets – crunchy carrots, apple, zucchini and blueberries are tasty and low calorie!
  • Dehydrated treats – you can make these yourself if you have a dehydrator, or purchase single ingredient dried treats
  • Bake your own! You can bake your own treats with veterinarian approved recipes which can be especially helpful for pets on a special diet – note: these do not need to be complete & balanced if being provided as a treat, just need to be free from toxic ingredients.

Treats should be evaluated much the same as you would choose a pet food so keep this in mind when considering what will suit your pet. The only thing you don’t need to worry about, is in this case the treat does not need to state it’s complete and balanced – treats may be labelled “for supplemental or intermittent feeding only” to indicate this. When making your own treats, be sure to follow a vet or nutritionist approved recipe to ensure it doesn’t contain anything that could be harmful or toxic to your pet.

What sort of treats do you use with your pets? Have you ever tried to make your own? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “To treat or not to treat?

  1. You can make your own single ingredient treats without a dehydrator by putting meats in the oven on a very low temperature (I use 100C) for several hours. Chicken breast chunks dry out really nicely! I often recommend this to my clients who struggle to find suitable treats for pets with particular dietary requirements.

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