The Trouble With Giving Treats to Pets

We all know dog and cat treats are calorific, but do you know just how fattening they are?

By: elvissa
Extra food should be a reward or an occasional treat — not something handed out multiple times daily. By: elvissa

I have a fat cat.

There, I’ve said it. I’ve been in denial for months (OK, years), but the final straw was when I caught my husband wondering whether Widget’s “cushion” (fat pad) had its own heart and circulatory system. Sigh.

Now, Widget had a hard start in life but is very special, and I do spoil her — with love. But on reflection, I remember that she does like Dreamies cat treats, pizza crust, potato chips, pies, lasagna, curry and… Well, you get the picture.


And none of these are good for the waistline, as I would waste no time in telling my clients — clearly a case of “Physician, heal thyself.”

Hidden Calories

Obviously, the insurance company Direct Line has been spying on our household, because recently it issued a report about the hidden calories in treats. The results make for shocking reading.

They compared popular pet treats with fast food on a gram-per-gram basis.

  • Dreamies contain more fat than a glazed Dunkin’ Donut.
  • For dogs, Purina Bonio biscuits gram-for-gram contain 57 percent more calories than a Big Mac.

Oh dear.

If you’re in the mood for shock tactics, it turns out that a 1 ounce cube of cheddar cheese fed as a treat to a 20 pound dog is like giving him a cheeseburger.

It gets worse! For a cat, that same 1 ounce of cheese comes in at 2.5 cheeseburgers.

Don’t Miss: 5 Consequences of Dog Obesity


Daily Calories for Dogs

If you’re suddenly motivated to count calories, let’s take a look at the ideal.

A recommended calorie intake is 30 calories for every 1 pound (ideal) body weight. Thus, a small Labrador Retriever needs around 980 calories a day, while that same Lab on a diet needs just 650 calories a day.

So, how many treats can she eat before tipping the scales?

Using popular dog biscuits where I live (in the United Kingdom) for analysis, we see that:

  • A single Winalot Shapes biscuit is 16 calories
  • A Bonio biscuit is 78 calories
  • And a Misfits Wonky Chomps is 255 calories!

So give the Labrador on a diet 10 Bonios, and she has already exceeded her entire caloric allowance for the day.

Eating too many treats can make your pet overweight. By: cjewell
Eating too many treats in addition to food can make your pet overweight very quickly. By: cjewell

Daily Calories for Cats

What about cats?

An indoor cat needs 20 calories per 1 pound of body weight, and an outdoor cat almost twice as much, at 35 calories.

Each piece of kibble contains around 2 to 3 calories. Put 60 kibble bits in a pile, and it doesn’t look much. I don’t know how I’m going to break the bad news to Widget.

Don’t Miss: 5 Consequences of Cat Obesity

What’s the Answer?

Be treat-aware. Be wary of the hidden calories in treats and know how easy it is to load a pet with love — and calories.

Why not measure out your pet’s daily allowance, then save some in a container? Then you have the pleasure of giving a reward but without piling on the pounds.

Or — even better — as Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, has said here before: “Turn your back on the advertising. Turn your back on the impulse buy to bring home a treat for [your pet]. There are healthier alternatives. Open the refrigerator. Make your own!… The majority of the treats are unhealthy, overpriced, cause obesity and have no value.”

So give healthy treats such as fresh vegetables: carrots, beans or broccoli. This works better for dogs than cats — which is my story and I’m sticking to it!

Although come to think of it, once upon a time Widget did have a thing for beans…


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.


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