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The Treat Trap: The Reason Some Diets Fail

Treats, for many dog owners, are the language of love. A little scoop of ice cream says, “I adore you.” A spoonful of peanut butter murmurs, “You’re my baby.”

Dogs, for their part, beg us to give them what they want, even if – especially if, it seems — what they want isn’t good for them. They tap dance on the kitchen floor when you eat a bit of bacon. They refuse to come inside unless you offer that wedge of cheese. And they lay their jaw on your leg, with a string of drool for good measure, until you share your hamburger.

But the truth is, spoiling a dog with treats has a way of spoiling their diet, too. And if lean dogs live an average of two years longer than chubbier ones, isn’t trimming calories — and possibly helping your dog live longer — the most loving thing you can do?

The trouble with treats

OK, OK, we’re not saying you can’t give a dog any treats. But treats shouldn’t account for more than 10 percent of your dog’s total calories each day. Not sure how many calories your dog should eat? Ask your veterinarian. They can calculate the number for you.

If those daily treat calories rise above the 10 percent range, the numbers on the veterinarian’s scale will probably inch up, too.

Too many treats can make your dog’s diet nutritionally unbalanced. It can also teach dogs to become shameless beggars. You may think it’s cute, but your dinner guests might not.

Treats that are given too freely can lose their power as training tools. And if your dog is on a limited-ingredient diet for food sensitivities, treats can thwart the whole point of the special diet. Even if your dog doesn’t have a food sensitivity, too many treats can result in vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, pancreatitis.

Stick to what’s for them

It is really best if you do not feed your pet table scraps. Some individuals choose to add human foods to their pet’s diet for variety, freshness and flavor. This is not necessary, but is not necessarily harmful as long as you choose wisely and your pet still eats adequate amounts of a complete and balanced.

Do yourself and your pet a favor and feed a healthy, balanced diet that is designed for pets and stick with it. If you want to give a treat, try a spoon of canned food, a treat or biscuit, or even a dental treat to help keep the teeth clean.

Treat your dog to more time with you

You know what else your dog craves? Spending time with you. So instead of a treat, why not reward your dog with a walk or a game of tug-of-war?

Dogs love to learn new tricks and commands, too. And they’re usually as content to receive praise or a belly rub as a treat.

Or look into agility or flyball, two sports that can help your dog drop some pounds. Just check with your veterinarian first to make sure your dog doesn’t have any underlying health issues or isn’t carrying too much weight for these activities.

Who knows — a little exercise with your dog might do you a world of good, too.


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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