I’m always looking for good treat tips. For me, one of the most fun things to do is to give my dogs a treat. They both sit down in anticipation of a tasty delight, eyes locked onto my every move. Enzo even starts executing every trick in his little head that he knows. So, I understand where the appeal comes from. I get that giving your pet a treat satisfies some primal need within us to make others happy. Not to mention that people often equate food with love. We celebrate major occasions, minor occasions and everything in between by eating. My main concern is giving them a treat that they don’t have to feel guilty about. After all, they like to watch their girlish figures too.
Largely, I like to stay away from commercial treats. The reason for this is simple. They may be delicious, they may look cute with their flashy colors and interesting shapes (marketed to people, mind you) but they are usually way, way, way too high in calories. When giving these treats, this can be hard to remember. They are often small, bite sized and they don’t last very long. It can be easy to give 5-6 treats over the course of a day, which can really cut into the overall minimum calorie content that a pet needs per day. Here is a great example:
Science Diet J/D (what I feed my dogs) is 365 kcal/cup. – so calories per cup.1
If I were to feed them Milk-Bone®Large Bones which is the size that is appropriate for them, one bone has 115 kcal/bone.2
This means that each bone is over 1/4 cup of food. That’s only if I give them 1 per day!
Now, I could go on and on with different examples of different types of treats. But you get the idea. These numbers can add up. Not only that, but these are empty calories. There aren’t getting any benefit from them. What a waste! Right?
The answer to this is to feed them something that most of us have laying around the house anyway. Veggies!
This is only one example of the types of vegetables that my dogs like. I was lucky and was able to start them out on the path of veggies since they were little. I give them all types: canned green beans (no salt added – they love the juice over their food), baby carrots, frozen broccoli, etc.
In comparison, a can of green beans without the juice is about 25 calories.2 And they are nutritious!
Seems simple, right? You whip out a carrot and they go to town? I wish it was that easy. Unfortunately, for those dogs that have been raised on the calorie equivalent of Snickers bars, switching to Veggies isn’t going to be easy. Be persistent! Veggies are cheaper and healthier. I would start with something that is usually a fan across the board. Baby carrots have a sweetness to them that appeals to people and pet alike. If they don’t like them fresh, try steamed (no salt, pepper or butter added, please). Mix some in with their regular dog food so that they can get a taste for them.
Always introduce one veggie at a time to make sure that they tolerate it well. Just like people, dogs can have aversions to food. If you try to feed a bunch of different vegetables at once and your pet vomits, you won’t know which one caused it. ALWAYS seek council of your veterinarian before introducing any type of new treats if your pet has some current health issue.
If you are going to be stubborn and feed commercial treats anyway, just be aware! Look at how many calories you are feeding in one serving of the treat. Break the treat into smaller pieces and give them throughout the day versus giving 5-6 whole treats during the course of the day.
I don’t love veggies as a training treat because they aren’t usually instantly palatable enough to give a good sense of positive reinforcement (for most dogs – mine are weird). The purpose of a training treat is to give them an instant taste of something good. Training treats are about quality, not quantity. A lot of trainers that I’ve met used boiled (unsalted or unseasoned) chicken. This only works if your dog doesn’t have an allergy to chicken. If they do, this is just about the only time I will use a commercial treat. Most of the intense training happens with puppies, so a few extra calories don’t usually cause much harm. As of now, I could train either of mine a new trick and use veggies, no problem.
Cats are more intolerable to commercial treats than dogs because they are just another source of Carbohydrates that they don’t need. It isn’t all about calories for them. Cats function best with a diet that has a high protein content. The very act of making a dry kibble-like treat puts an increased amount of Carbohydrates into it. If you are going to give a cat a treat, give them a little bit of canned chicken or tuna (no seasonings added, of course). Most cats won’t love veggies. Not only that but their systems really aren’t built to digest them in large quantities.
As pet owners, we need to be aware of what we are feeding our pets. For people, we are able to choose what we put in our mouths, good or bad. Pets can only rely on us. It is our responsibility as pet owners to give our pets nutritious treats because they don’t have the option to choose. Always remember that even with veggies, treats are only suppose to be a small portion of the diet. That’s the whole point of it being a ‘treat.’ You don’t want to replace the diet with a portion of veggies because if you are feeding a high quality diet, it has the appropriate amount of daily nutrients that your pet needs. Portion control is key! These larger carrots viewed in the pictures are great for Murcie and Enzo but would be too much for a Maltese.
2 – Since Milk Bones did not have their calorie content posted on their website and I didn’t get the chance to make a store run to look it up, I had to do a little internet search. I haven’t verified these numbers but from previous research, I know a lot of them are close. I like how they also listed common people junk food calorie content so you can get a comparison of human-equivalent.