How Many Treats Should You Feed Your Dog?

brown and white spaniel eating treat

Am I treating my dog too much?

You’ve worked out your dog’s daily food allowance, but what about their treat allowance? Do you count them? Well if not, it might be time to start doing your sums...

Treats, although essential for positive reinforcement, can mean your dog is getting more calories than they should, which can put them on the path to unwanted and unhealthy weight gain.

Should I count my dog’s calorie intake?

Similarly to when us humans go for it at the all-inclusive buffet, too many treats for your pet can lead to too many calories and detrimental weight gain!

If your pooch isn’t burning off these excess calories by exercising enough, they’ll be stored as fat, leaving your pup at risk of a whole plethora of illness and complications.

Overweight or obese dogs are predisposed to having serious medical implications. Did you know that 56% of dogs in the USA are classed in the overweight or obese categories… That’s around 50 million dogs!

This extra weight causes unnecessary strain on dog’s joints whilst also increasing their risk of developing heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and ultimately shortening their life span. 

The fat that builds up in overweight and obese dogs actually secretes inflammatory and pro-inflammatory hormones that contribute to the inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis too. So, the amount you treat really does matter!

dog catching treat in woods

How many calories should my dog have per day?

It’s pretty complicated when it comes to a dog’s calories allowance as every dog is different. Everything needs to be considered, such as:

Your dog’s age – Puppies need more calories than older dogs because they burn more.

Your dog’s activity level – The more your dog exercises, the more calories they will need.

Your dog’s breed – Some breeds need daily, vigorous exercise, especially those that were originally bred for physically demanding jobs, like herding or hunting. So, knowing what amount of exercise your dog needs is essential, otherwise, they are at risk of putting on weight and may vent their unused energy through unwanted behaviours such as barking, chewing on furniture, and digging. So, how much daily exercise does your dog need...?

Your dog’s weight – Adding or cutting calories is important if your dog is under or overweight.

Your dog’s body condition – The amount of muscle to fat also affects the number of calories your pooch will need.

Whether your dog is neutered – If your dog is spayed or neutered, this can slow their metabolic rate (how fast they burn calories) by around 5%.

Can dog treats be healthy?

Treats can be a healthy and beneficial part of your dog’s diet, especially as part of their training routine. The occasional unhealthy treat is okay but remember: only in moderation.

So, what can you treat your dog with healthily…?

Introduce healthy, and safe human food as treat alternatives

Many dogs lack fibre in their diet, so popping the odd carrot or cooked pumpkin in your treat hand can deliver a suitable amount, along with improving their bowel health, plus they like the taste!

You can also include apples (without the pips), blueberries, cucumbers, broccoli, and spinach as these are also fruit and veg types that can seriously benefit your pup’s diet, as well as work as replacement treats.

However, some human foods can be incredibly toxic for dogs. So, make sure the ones you decide to use as a treat are not included on the list below

Look for low calorie treats that are high in lean protein

Look for treats that are high in lean protein, meaning they’re lower in fat, and have a minimal amount of ingredients, meaning they shouldn't contain any hidden nasties either! Alternatively, you could try cooking up small pieces of lean, grilled chicken, pieces of cucumber and segments of apple (minus the pips!) as treat alternatives. This will help with their fibre levels too!

Use kibble from your dog’s daily allowance of food, so you’re not adding any extra calories

If you feed your dog kibble, take a couple from their measured meal allowance out and use it throughout the day as a treat substitute! This is a particularly great tip for doggos already on a diet!

dog eating bone

What about Dental Chews as treats?

Daily dental chews or sticks can be used as a big daily reward. Reputable pet brands usually design theirs specifically for your pet’s teeth and can help remove plaque and oral debris as they chew. As well as tasting great, and making an excellent, healthy reward, good dental chews can help to scrape away potentially harmful tartar and bacteria from the surface of the tooth itself – which in turn helps to maintain healthier teeth and gum tissue. Dental chews and sticks are also great at getting into the hard to reach places - with little effort on your part!

However, they should only be used alongside regular brushing but are an excellent addition to your dog’s daily dental routine. 

Read more on why your dog’s oral health is really important here.

How can I tell if my dog is overweight and needs to cut back on the treats?

There’s a really easy way to assess whether your dog’s carrying a little excess baggage around with them! Simply place your palms on either side of your pup’s chest and lightly press down to check if you can feel their ribs. This area is where they accumulate fat. You should be able to feel their ribs upon light palpitation using your hands.

See where your pet ranks on the Petlab Co.’s Body Condition Assessor 

Petlab Co. Pro Tip: If your dog is in the overweight category, simply reduce their food allowance by 10% until they reach their ideal body weight. They’ll barely notice the difference!

Our final thoughts on how much to treat your dog…

No matter what your furry friend’s preferences are when it comes to their treats, make sure their treat allowance is only 10% of their total food consumption per day to maintain a healthy weight. And what size should each treat be? A treat should never be bigger than the nail on your first finger!

If you're really worried about your dog's weight though, always consult with a vet.

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