As the nation’s people go, so go our dogs. By some estimates, at least 40 percent of the pet dogs in the U.S. are overweight, which puts an extra burden on their joints and backs and predisposes them to hormone-related diseases like diabetes. It’s not all about transferring our own sedentary, non calorie-burning lifestyles to our dogs. Some of it is that dog food simply tastes much better than it used to. In the 1980s, if you put too much food into your dog’s bowl, he was reasonably likely to eat until he was no longer hungry and then stop. Today, it’s too hard to stop. Dog food tastes really good to dogs.
Bearing that in mind and juxtaposing it against the effort to keep your dog trim and healthy, you might ask yourself if you should be giving your canine pal any treats whatsoever. After all, some treats can pack quite a caloric wallop.
The answer: most definitely. It’s true that some commercial dog treats have hundreds of calories each. It’s also true that a dog doesn’t have to have treats. But what kind of life would that be? Think of yourself without ever having a treat — no between-meal snacks, no ice cream, cake, cookies, candy. Ever.
But treats do more than just make a dog’s life a lot more fun. They strengthen the bond between owner and pet. Treats, after all, are what help motivate a dog to learn the tricks you teach him — to come when you call, sit, stay, whatever. They’re not only for getting a dog to do what you want, however. Sometimes, a treat is just for love. It doesn’t always have to be a reward.
So how can you make treats a part of your dog’s life without allowing them to contribute to a weight problem?
The solution is to follow the 10 percent rule. That is, treats, including table scraps, should make up less than 10 percent of a dog’s calories. Not only do more treats mean more calories. They also make the diet less balanced, less nutritionally wholesome. Canned and dry dog foods have to provide “complete and balanced nutrition” according to standards put into place by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO. But treats — they can be high in sodium, low in essential nutrients, unbalanced in their vitamins and minerals. That is, they can have nutrient profiles that are not consistent with insuring your dog’s best health from a nutritional point of view.
One way to keep treats to less than 10 percent of calories is to use vegetables. It’s the nonstarchy vegetables — carrots, green beans, green peppers, cucumber — that make great treats for dogs. And dogs tend to love them! (Fruits do not make the best treats, especially if your dog gains weight easily. They are higher in calories than vegetables, although a couple of frozen blueberries or other small berries can work.)
You can also turn some of a dog’s food into treats. Give him three-quarters of his food at mealtime and save the rest for training or just good, relaxed times throughout the day.
Finally, you can take commercially prepared treats available in stores and break them up into small pieces. To a dog, how much he gets is less important than that he’s getting. It’s more exciting for him to receive half a treat broken up into five different pieces and given at five different times than to be given the whole treat all at once. The fun’s over that way in just a few seconds.
The thing is, if you give commercially manufactured treats, which are going to have many more calories than a few carrot medallions, how can you tell how many calories they have and whether that comes to less than 10 percent of a dog’s total calories? You can’t, at least, not from the label. As of this year, all complete and balanced pet foods will have to list their calorie counts on their labels. But since treats don’t fall into the category of “complete and balanced,” their makers will be off the hook for listing calories.
That’s why we compiled the following list, which contains calorie counts for many of the more popular dog treats out there.