What is it about pet treats that can make even the most unruly pet obey us in exchange for a tiny piece of something that tastes so good they can barely contain themselves? It’s an ingredient that is found in some of the most popular cat and dog treats. It’s addictive, causes weight gain and could ultimately shorten the lifespan of your pet and it’s commonly known as sugar.
Just like humans, dogs and cats can develop a sweet tooth and crave sugary snacks, which are essentially junk food for pets. The sugar in some pet treats can create almost addictive-like cravings that have earned them the name, ‘kibble crack’. Read the ingredients label on your pet’s favorite treats. If any of the following are listed as one of the first five ingredients on the label, your pet’s treats are doing them more far more harm than good:
- Corn syrup
Sugar-laden treats are one of the primary culprits behind the pet obesity epidemic and over time can lead to excessive weight gain. An overweight pet can suffer from arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure, any of which can shorten their life and impact your wallet due to more frequent visits to the vet.
Calories Count Too
Besides high sugar content, another concern with pet treats is the calorie count per serving. Often not disclosed on the packaging, most of us are unaware of how many calories we’re adding to our pets diet by giving them treats. According to Marion Nestle, author of Feed your Pet Right, if the treat package does not list calories, you should assume 3-4 calories per gram, (i.e. a treat that is 3 grams/serving would be 9-12 calories per serving). Treats should account for no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie requirements to maintain their ideal weight. Some rawhide chews and larger Greenies Dental Chews can contain 100 calories or more, which may far exceed the recommended 10% rule, depending on your dog’s size and calorie requirements.
A New Marketing Gimmick
Treats are big business for the pet industry and the newest marketing gimmick is treats that promote healthy benefits, such as healthier hips and joints. There is no government oversight or scientific basis for these claims. When Consumer Lab tested joint health supplements for dogs and cats they found that a popular treat, Dogswell Happy Hips Chicken Breast with Glucosamine and Chondroitin, contained only 6% of its claimed glucosamine and only 15.9% of its claimed chondroitin; amounts too insignificant to provide any claimed benefit.
With 88% of dog owners and 68% of cat owners giving their pets treats according to the American Pet Products Association, we’re not suggesting pet parents cut out this much-loved ritual. We do suggest the following eight tips to ensure your act of love promotes a healthy pet:
- Read the Ingredients Label: Pet treats with sugar, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose or dextrose in the first five ingredients should be avoided. A very common filler in pet foods, maltodextrin, is another name to look for on the label. It has a high glucose level, so it should be avoided if it is a primary ingredient.
- Opt for Natural Sweeteners: Choose treats with applesauce, molasses or honey as a sweetening ingredient if you wish to indulge your pet in a sweet treat.
- Try Vegetable Dog Chews: Opt for all-natural vegetable-based dog chews made from sweet potatoes over animal-based rawhide chews. Some rawhide is high in calories and may be treated with chemicals and bleach.
- Consider Home-cooked or Naturally Moistened Cat Treats: Try giving your cat a small piece of cut up chicken or fish as a treat. If you prefer to buy packaged treats look for those moistened with vegetable glycerin rather than a chemical humectant such as propylene glycol.
- Try Fresh Fruit and Veggie Dog Treats: Opt for low-calorie vegetables or fruit as a treat for your dog instead of packaged treats. Baby carrots, cut-up apples and green beans are good choices.
- Don’t Rely on Treats with Health Claims: Discuss supplement options with your veterinarian for your pet’s ailments rather than relying on treats that claim to provide adequate nutrients to maintain a healthy heart or joints.
- Use VOHC-Approved Dental Chews: Establish a routine of practicing good dental hygiene on your pet and use treats approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, (VOHC), to clean your pet’s teeth.
- Learn How to Read and Understand Pet Food Labels: Marion Nestle’s book, Feed Your Pet Right , published in 2010, is a great resource for pet owners who want to better understand pet food ingredients and nutrition while also learning how to distinguish healthy pet foods with nutritious ingredients from unhealthy pet foods.
There are many good options available for pet treats and we’ve listed some of our favorites below. They are low in sugar or calories, all natural and generally easy to find in grocery and big box stores if you don’t have a neighborhood pet boutique or pet supply store nearby.
Recommended Dog Treats:
- Carnivore Crunch or Carnivore Kisses by Stella & Chewy’s
- Charlie Bear Dog Treats by Charlie Bear Dog Products
- Jerky Naturals and other treats for dogs by Zukes
- Liv-a-Littles Protein Treats for dogs by Halopets
- Newman’s Own Premium Dog Treats by Newman’s Own Organics
- Original Buddy Biscuits or Muttos by Cloud Star
- Sam’s Yams Veggie Rawhide Sweet Potato Dog Chews by Front Porch Pets
Recommended Cat Treats:
- Natural Purrz by Zukes
- Liv-a-Littles Protein Treats for cats by Halopets
- Wellness Pure Delights for cats by WellPet LLC
The Pet Obesity Prevention Association’s Top Treats to Avoid Sugary Dog Treats:
- Beneful Snackin’ Slice: Sugar fourth ingredient
- Canine CarryOuts Chew-lotta: Dextrose first ingredient
- Canine Carryouts Dog Treats: Corn syrup second ingredient
- Cesar Softies Dog Treats: Sugar third ingredient
- Exclusively Dog Vanilla Flavor Sandwich Creme Dog Cookies: Sugars first two ingredients
- Milk-Bone Chewy Chicken Drumsticks: Sugar third ingredient
- Milk Bone Essentials Plus Oral Care: Sugar third ingredient
- Pedigree Jumbone: Sugar third ingredient
- Pedigree Jumbone Mini Snack Food for Small Dogs: Sugars 2 of 3 first ingredients
- Pedigree Marrobone: Sugar third ingredient
- Pup-Peroni Lean Beef Recipe: Sugar third ingredient
- Purina Busy Chewnola: Maltodextrin second ingredient
- Science Diet Simple Essentials Treats Training Adult Treats with Real Beef: Sugar third ingredient
- Snausages SnawSomes! Beef and Chicken Flavor: Sugars 3 of first 4 ingredients
- Three Dog Bakery Lick ‘n Crunch: Dextrose third ingredient
Sugary Cat Treats:
- Petrodex Dental Treats for Cats: Dextrose second ingredient
- Meow Mix Moist Cat Treats: Corn syrup fourth ingredient
- Pit’r Pat Fresh Breath Mint Flavored Cat Treats: Maltodextrin first ingredient