Did you know that over 58% of dogs and cats in the United States are considered overweight? Like in humans, pet obesity is on the rise and is a significant health concern. There are many reasons why pets can become overweight. However, a common cause is due to overfeeding our pets. Let’s address this reason today by talking about some healthy treats that you can feed your “fluffy” pets.
Disclaimer: If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, you should always consult with a veterinarian before implementing a weight loss routine with your pet. Furthermore, if your pet is on a prescription veterinary diet or has any food allergies, please consult with your veterinarian before feeding them any treats.
As with any diet, any treats should be fed to your pet in moderation. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, treats should only make up 5-10% of your pets’ diet. Your pet’s carefully measured food portions mean nothing if they get 5-6 treats per day to go along with their diet. Fats and calories can add up quickly. Please consult your veterinarian on the number of treats your pet can be given in addition to their calculated meal portions.
Fruits and Vegetables
Feeding healthy fruits and vegetables can be great compliments to your pet’s diet. When feeding your pet fruits and vegetables, make sure they are served plain and do not contain any extra sauces or seasonings such as butter, sugars, or salt.
Some healthy, low-calorie vegetables to give as treats include carrots, celery, peas, green beans, canned pumpkin (NOT the pumpkin pie filling), and sweet potatoes. These veggies can be served raw and cut up into tiny chunks or steamed (with no butter or seasonings).
Healthy low-calorie fruits to give as treats include blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, and apples (cored, no seeds). Some other fruits that can be given as treats, but in general, most fruits are very sugary for your pet and should be avoided.
AVOID feeding the following fruits and vegetables to your pets as they can be very toxic: Grapes, onions, garlic, chives, avocados. For a more inclusive list of human foods that could be toxic to your pet, check out the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Website.
Consider Stuffing a Kong Toy
The Kong toy is an excellent toy for dogs and cats, and you can stuff the middle of the toy with some treats! This is a superb food puzzle idea as you can stuff the middle of the Kong with your pet’s food kibbles, canned food, canned pumpkin, small pieces of fruit or vegetables. You can then place the Kong in the freezer for a few hours and then give it to your pet. You can even fill the Kong with chicken, beef, or vegetable soup broth if the broth is the low sodium variety, and it contains NO ONIONS. Onions are toxic to pets, and most soup broths are made with onions or onion powder in them, so check the ingredient list.
Get a Food Puzzle for Your Pet
There are so many food dispensing puzzles and toys for pets out there! Put a small portion of your pet’s daily meal in a food puzzle or food dispensing toy and make your pet work for their meal! This can keep your pet entertained for hours. These puzzles force your pet to problem-solve their way to get the food inside of the toy.
My Husky’s favorite food toy is this Tug-A-Jug bottle. It is shaped like a bottle, and the end contains a rope which the dog must pull on to dispense their food kibble. My dog learned how to use this toy in 10 minutes, and absolutely loves it! An excellent cat food puzzle toy is this Cat Digger toy, where they must dig inside these little tubes on a tray to pull out some kibble or treats. Depending on your pet’s feeding schedule, you can take a portion of their meal and place it into the food puzzle toy, so they have something fun to work on throughout the day.
Use their own kibble or canned food as a treat- Great for pets on Veterinary or Prescription diets
If your pet is on a special prescription diet for a medical reason, you can always take a portion of their daily meal and feed it as treats. For dry kibble, take a few kibbles out of their daily amount and feed as treats throughout the day. For canned food, put a small portion aside to bake in the oven as a treat or to freeze in a toy for licking. With homemade treats, they should not exceed 10% of your pet’s daily diet because cooking or freezing the treats alters the nutritional characteristics of the food.
Other Healthy Treat Solutions
Here are some other healthy treat and weight loss solutions to try with your pet…
- Simply Reducing the number of treats you give your pet throughout the day. Remember, treats should only make up 5-10% of your pets’ daily diet. Substitute a little kibble (or canned food) from their daily meal intake to give as treats if you are not happy with the reduced number of treats provided. You can be creative with how you feed your pets throughout the day, they don’t have to have their entire meal at once. You can break their meal up throughout the day if they are used to getting a lot of treats.
- Substitute play instead of treats. Most pets that are begging for treats would love some affection or play instead. Grab their favorite toy and spend a few minutes playing with them.
- Make it a challenge for your pet to get their treats- teach them a new trick, have them solve a food puzzle, hide their food around the house for them to “hunt” and find. This will make their treats last longer!
- Slow feeder bowls are also great tools for pets that are fast eaters. Forcing them to slow down and savor their meal will help them appreciate it more and make it last longer!
Treating Is a Group Exercise if You Have Family…
Now that you have some great ideas for healthy treats, please remember to communicate with all members of the household. Some of the best diet plans fail because family members are feeding the pet too many treats. Make sure everyone knows about the pet’s treat and meal plan to ensure it is successful.
Have fun trying out these healthy treats with your pets!