Doctors say it. Nutritionists and dieticians say it. Books have been written about it. You may even have said it yourself.
It holds true for ourselves and our pets alike.
You are what you eat (even your treats)
We put lots of thought into what goes into our pet’s bowls, but how much time is spent on choosing treats?
It’s not unusual to expect that a battle with weight can be won with a change of food. Quite often a simple adjustment in treats can achieve the desired result.
The nutritional needs of your pet are met with the daily calories consumed. It doesn’t matter whether those calories originate in the carefully measured meals provided or the treats offered throughout the day.
Everything ingested adds to that daily calorie count, and we often overlook how much of an effect treats can have on the number.
Let’s start with some guidelines
It stands to reason that if the daily caloric and nutritional needs of your pet are met with food, anything added to that may pile on some weight. So how do we get around this?
A common guideline is that a typical dog needs about 30 calories per pound to maintain its weight. Since there’s no such thing as a “typical” dog, this number can vary by up to 20%. Age, activity level and medical conditions all come into play. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s accept that 30 calorie/ pound number.
Now let’s say our “typical” adult dog food provides 375 calories per cup. And our 50 pound dog is chowing down 2 cups at each meal, for a total of 4 cups per day. Four cups at 300 calories per cup equals 1500 calories per day in food.
So how does this stack up in the grand scheme of things? Using that average guideline of 30 calories per pound, our 50 pound example dog would require 1500 calories per day. And those 4 cups of example food provide 1500 calories. Wonderful, our calories are balanced! Balanced in theory, that is.
Now let’s add a treat or three
The calories in treats can range from negligible to dangerous. Training treats typically are very low in calories, since it’s expected that they’ll be used repeatedly.
Some training treats are marketed with boasts of “under 5 calories per treat.” You can be generous with these low calorie treats without too much concern of them upsetting your dog’s calorie balance.
But the typical biscuit or chew contains far more calories than training treats. Some treat packages will indicate how many calories are contained in a treat or serving, but many do not. Often the only guideline we have to use is the Fat content noted on the package. In these cases, it’s easy to understand that higher Fat equals higher calories.
Often the only guideline we have to use is the Fat content noted on the package. In these cases, it’s easy to understand that higher Fat usually equals higher calories.
Let’s go back to our perfectly balanced “typical” 50 pound dog eating 4 cups of food per day
A friend offers an afternoon biscuit along with a friendly head scratch, unaware that you’d already offered the daily cookie ration (40 calories).
You hit the bank drive-thru on the way home and end up with a few bone-shaped treats (60 calories).
A little sleight of hand at the table adds a forkful of fat from your steak (50 calories).
And it’s the end of a hard day, and finally time for the evening treat (100 calories)
Calories from treats can easily throw off the balance from food
You’ll see from the example above that without much thought or effort an additional 250 calories has been added to the daily diet. That’s 13% of the daily caloric needs of our example dog. Without some adjustment, it won’t be long before our “typical” dog begins to tip the scales at much more than 50 pounds.
Adjustments can easily be made in a number of ways. The easiest is to become more aware of treats, and limit the type and volume to an amount appropriate to your pet’s needs.
Another is to adjust the amount of food being fed. But be careful if you choose this route. Decreasing the calories from food can compromise the nutritional balance your pet requires. Although the daily calorie content is now balanced with treats, the essential vitamins and minerals most likely will not be balanced with a reduction in food.
Another simple approach is changing the type of treats used. Look for lower calorie/ lower fat treats, or use raw fruits or veggies. When high fat/ calorie treats are preferred, consider using them in rotation with other types of treats. A pig ear or beef chew can be given 1-2 times/ week rather than every day.
Any of these approaches will go a long way towards helping to maintain your pet’s ideal weight.
Think of your treats as a percentage of the daily diet
Large dogs have a bit more leeway than small breeds and cats. Remember that 30 calorie/ pound guideline? In the example above, a 13% change in calories means almost an additional 7 pounds over time for our 50 lb example dog.
But think of what a 13% increase in calorie content would do to a toy breed or cat. Weight changes in smaller pets can be much harder to manage and lead to problems far more quickly. An extra treat or three in these cases will pile on pounds far more quickly.
It’s not just weight gain that treats affect
In cases where your pet’s food has been carefully chosen, treats can once again throw off that delicate balance. If you’ve established that you don’t want to feed your dog a chicken-based food, why feed a treat made with chicken?
When you’ve chosen a high quality, grain-free kibble, perhaps a grain-free treat is the best choice. Your choice of treats can be influenced by whatever food you’ve chosen, whether you want to remain consistent or complementary.
We all love to treat our pets
Treats are a wonderful way to strengthen the bond with our pets. We don’t have to deprive ourselves, or our pets, of the joy that comes from feeding treats. Like most good things, moderation is key.
An occasional pig ear, meaty chew or large cookie is no more damaging than our occasional ice cream, cake, Big Mac or Mocha Frappucino. It’s a treat!
Put a bit of thought into how you treat and what is used. Both you and your pet will be much happier and healthier as a result!
Looking for some low-calorie treats? Ask us about options for tasty tidbits weighing in at 2-8 calories per goodie!