Your dog sits near the table and with rapt attention watches every bite you eat. Or perhaps your cat repeatedly head-butts your legs, demanding snacks. So you give your pooch your leftover toast or your uneaten chicken skin. You let your kitty slurp up the remaining milk in your cereal bowl.
We love our pets and love to spoil them, so we’re probably all occasionally guilty of that behavior. Besides, it’s only a little tidbit; what harm can it do?
Treats add unnecessary calories, which lead to unwanted pounds. And those lead to lethargy, inactivity, wear and tear to joints, diseases such as diabetes, and a host of other problems. Another issue is nutrient balance. If your pet’s food is AAFCO approved, that means it’s complete and balanced. When you add extra nutrients in the form of snacks, you can throw that carefully concocted nutrient profile out of whack.
Giving snacks is important to many pet owners. I don’t object to my clients feeding up to 10% of their pets’ calories in the form of treats. Once you figure out how many calories you’re feeding your pet, you’ll be able to figure out how many calories that 10% is. But good luck finding the calorie information on the bag of food! You’ll need to do a little research. Go to the company’s website, or call the 800 number on the bag.
It turns out that the 10% in question translates to a paltry amount of extra morsels. Until I was enlightened by the “doughnut conversion scale,” I had no idea how quickly the calories add up.
What exactly is the doughnut conversion scale? It’s a chart put together by Royal Canin showing the conversion of dog and cat treats to the comparable number of doughnuts for humans.
You gave Fido that slice of toast? Two doughnuts. If he eats a dried pig ear, it’s proportional to your eating three doughnuts. The biggest shock for me was a large knotted rawhide bone: 10 doughnuts!
Cats don’t fare any better. Ten tiny commercial treats equal one doughnut. How much weight would you gain if you ate eight doughnuts a day? Feed your cat one ounce of cheese daily and see what happens to his waistline; that’s the feline equivalent of eight doughnuts!
Pick treats that are nutritious, such as good-quality commercial treats, homemade biscuits, apple slices, string beans, carrots, squash, broccoli or other veggies. Figure out how many of those treats equal 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake (again, you might need to go to the Internet for calorie information), and set them aside in a bowl every day. That’s it; he can’t have any more, no matter how much those soulful eyes implore you.
If you feel yourself giving in, remember that the enjoyment your dog or cat receives from treats isn’t related to the quantity. The value of feeding tidbits is derived from his interaction with you, and the predictability of the routine. Pets thrive on consistency, so having a set routine2 for giving snacks is a worthy goal.
Feeding and giving treats is an important aspect of the human-animal bond, so enjoy doing it; but pay attention to those doughnuts!
1 Check the small print on the pet food bag. It will say something like “X Brand is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) Dog/Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance”.
2 Don’t give your dog treats every time he comes in from being outdoors. In my experience, unless you offer very low-calorie snacks, like carrot coins, that is the fastest route to obesity.