8 steps to healthy dog treats

What better way to love your dog than by giving him treats? The trick is choosing something that won’t pack on the pounds.

Do you give too many treats to your dog? If so, you’re introducing extra calories into his diet and putting him at risk for pooch pudginess. Although many people don’t see overweight or obese dogs as a problem, the health risks are very real. Obesity contributes to a wide range of health issues, from arthritis to diabetes. It has been well documented that obese dogs live shorter lives.

This doesn’t mean you have to deprive your dog of snacks. The following eight tips will help you select great treats that will optimize his health while letting him know how much you love him!

1. Read ingredient labels

Most commercially available treats are low in nutrition and filled with carbohydrates, sugars (e.g. corn syrup, molasses, fructose, etc), artificial colorings or flavorings. Although these “empty” ingredients make them desirable to your dog, they don’t satisfy hunger and will contribute to an ever-expanding waistline.

2. Go natural

Choose natural treats that are meat-based and contain no artificial ingredients or sugars. Fruits and vegetables are other natural alternatives to commercial treats. Dogs often love apples, carrots, green beans and other fresh produce. Just remember that some fruits and veggies can be toxic to dogs – for example, onions, grapes and raisins.

3. Count calories

Treats are usually not complete and balanced and should not be used as the primary source of calories – in fact, treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your dog should eat each day. For example, an average 20-pound adult dog will require approximately 500 calories a day – therefore, no more than 50 calories should be provided as  snacks. After you have done this calculation, read product labels and determine how many treats your dog can have each day. Some commercial treats contain over 100 calories each! It is easy to see how giving just a few treats (in addition to regular meals) can be the cause of excess calorie intake and obesity.

4. Avoid certain table scraps

Leftover table scraps sometimes include hunks of fat or sweet morsels you know your dog will love. These scraps are usually high in calories and low in other nutrients. In addition, these rich tidbits will often cause digestive problems such as bad breath, gas, loose stools and occasional vomiting. If your dog develops a taste for these scraps, he may become finicky and even stop eating his own food. If you want to use human food as a treat, select lean meats and unseasoned vegetables To avoid creating a disruptive diner, never give your dog snacks from the table.

5. Do not give snacks around meal time

Like your mother used to say, “If you eat that now, you will spoil your dinner!” If your dog fills up on snacks before his scheduled mealtime, he is likely to skip his meal. Good quality dog food is a source of proper balanced nutrition, so it is important to plan your treating accordingly. Missing meals can lead to dietary deficiencies and imbalances causing degeneration and disease.

6. Do not give treats for begging

It’s common for people to create a vicious cycle of begging and bad behavior through the inappropriate use of treats. Treats should only be given to positively reinforce good behavior or motivate a dog during training. “Sad puppy dog eyes” should be ignored. If you give your dog a treat when he begs, this behavior will be reinforced and you will forever have a moocher!

7. Use treats as rewards

A great time to offer treats is during or after activity or play sessions. This reinforces the positive aspects of exercise and helps your dog look forward to his daily activity. Exercise boosts the metabolism, so this is a great time to give him a nutritious protein snack!

8. Choose snacks with health benefits

Some quality treats can actually improve your dog’s health. These “functional” treats may have very specific recommendations for maximum daily consumption. Examples of functional snacks are those that support dental, gastrointestinal or immune system health, or target arthritis or other inflammatory conditions. The ideal snack is low in calories and fat, high in protein, and offers additional health benefits. You achieve a winning combination when this type of treat supplements a high quality natural dog food to provide necessary daily nutrition. When healthy treats are given correctly, you will have a happy dog enjoying excellent nutrition, which forms the basis of excellent health.