Pet Nutrition - Treating Your Pet Right
Pet owners have always liked to show their animal family a little extra love with the occasional treat, but modern treats have gone way beyond slipping Rover a little turkey under the kitchen table. These days pet owners can visit pet bakeries, buy frozen dog desserts at the grocery store, or make homemade treats from a pet treat cookbook. With all these options, how do you know the right thing to feed your pet?
The good side of treats
There's nothing wrong with feeding your pet the occasional treat. Small amounts of tasty food can be great motivators if you're trying to train your pet, or rewards to positively reinforce good behavior. These kinds of rewards can increase the bond between pets and owners, and some treats can even help your pet stay healthy. Best of all, it can be a lot of fun watching your pet savor a treat she really loves.
Treats can cause a few problems, however, if they aren't given carefully.
Count those calories
One of the most dangerous problems overindulgence in treats can cause is obesity. It's a growing problem for pets - nearly half of all the pets in the United States are overweight. Obesity can contribute to a wide range of health problems, from arthritis to diabetes and heart disease. (For more information, see Fat Cats and Pudgy Pooches and Heavy Isn't Healthy for People or Pets.
Treats can be a hidden cause of weight gain, because you may not realize quite how many you give your pet throughout the day. And some treats, because of the extra fat and sugar that make them so desirable to your furry friend, can be jam-packed with calories. Large biscuits can contain well over 100 calories each, for example. It's hard to estimate how many calories pets use, because calorie use varies a lot based on animals' sizes and activity levels. For the sake of example, however, we can imagine that an average 20-pound dog burns about 700 calories per day. Just a few large treats and a leftover burger from the family barbecue could supply enough calories for that dog for a whole day, before she even gets to her regular food. So be aware that some snacks are packed with calories, and stick with low-cal treats or avoid treats altogether if your pet is overweight.
Stay away from scraps
Much as your cat or pup loves to lurk under the table during dinner, hoping for a few spilled crumbs, you should resist the urge to let her sample your table scraps. Leftover scraps from human food tend to be high in calories and fat but low in vitamins and other nutrients, and they can easily upset your pet's stomach. Not to mention that your pooch could get used to the tastier food form the human table, and become picky, refusing his usual diet. Also, a pet that gets all the table food she wants is a lot like a five-year-old that fills up on ice cream before dinner. All the empty calories of table snacks can sate her hunger before she gets to her own, nutritionally balanced food, and she can miss out on some of the nutrients she needs to stay healthy.
Besides, if you feed your pet from your plate even a few times, you'll most likely end up with a pet that begs constantly at the table, even when you have guests visiting. For the sake of your pet's health and your own sanity, make it a house policy to never share table scraps. It might be best to leave your pet in a different room while you eat, so that no one in the family will be tempted.
Tips for treats
So how do you choose the right thing when you want to treat your pet?
First off, buy treats made specifically for your kind of pet. Most pet stores now offer treats formulated for all kinds of animals from kittens to cockatiels to ferrets. These treats are designed to taste good to your pet without upsetting her stomach or throwing her diet out of whack.
If your pet eats at scheduled meal times, don't let her fill up on treats before meals.
Try giving your pet treats that benefit her health. Pet stores now offer dental treats that clean teeth; cat treats that prevent hairballs; treats with added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; and more.
If you're longing to let your dog sample a little human food but don't want to expand her waistline, you can try giving her a few fresh vegetables. Dogs often love veggies like carrots, broccoli, and green beans, which are low in calories and high in vitamins and healthy fiber. You'll have to use some care, however, some produce that people love can be harmful to dogs. Onions can cause anemia, for example, and grapes and raisins can be toxic. Don't feed your dog any new or unusual veggies without consulting with your veterinarian.
Fresh veggies can also make good snacks for pocket pets like gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs.
When you give your pet treats, add up the number of calories in the treats, then subtract that from the number of calories she gets from her regular food for that day.
In general, don't let treats make up more than 10 percent of your pet's diet.
As for the gourmet yummies that are now available, use your best judgment when deciding what to give your pet. Check what ingredients they're made from and how much fat they contain. If your pet is healthy and her overall diet is balanced, the occasional extravagant snack won't do her any harm.