Are you counting calories for your pets yet? If she’s overweight, you probably should. Once you do, you’ll come to realize that nowhere are those calories more insidiously hidden than in your pet’s commercial treats. 

According to most veterinary nutritionists, pet treats should make up less than a tenth of your pet’s diet. Now, that’s not meant to grant you license to start feeding treats if you’ve never done so. (Hell, no!) But the stat should strike fear in the heart of most current treat-addicted humans.

Yep, I said treat addicted humans. We’re the ones responsible for the kind of behavior that leads to “treat-itis,” a condition for which a cure is easily achieved once you get past the layers of whatever human psychological trait allows people to feed a multitude of treats and not believe their pets will actually gain weight from them.

This condition is exacerbated for those who feed commercial treats. That’s partly because pet treats are meant to taste good (you wouldn’t expect your pet to prefer them over their regular diet if they didn’t. And good taste usually means more calories. 

The problem is not so simple to diagnose, though. That’s because calories are not required on pet treats unless they make specific claims such as “low calorie,” “lite” or “low fat”––despite the protests of consumer and veterinary groups who advocate calorie information on all pet foods, including treats. 

Here’s some soft evidence (according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s website):

  • Milk Bones: 20 for the tiny ones to 225 calories for the biggest ones
  • BusyBones (by Purina): 309 for the small ones to 618 for the big ones
  • DentaBones (by Pedigree): 105 for the small, 188 for the medium and 300 for the large ones
  • Pig ears are about 130 calories for the small ones
  • Rawhides? 100 to about 600 calories for the ones I sourced

Problem is, this website also says PupPeronis contain only 24 calories when their “lite” version says it has 50 calories. This discrepancy alone should be enough to help explain the confusion that arises when proper labels are not readily available. 

Nonetheless, if you compare these treat stats to the average calorie count of most pet foods (300 to 500 per cup) and the caloric requirements for most dogs (1/2 cup to 4 cups a day) you’ll get the idea: Treats tend to account for far more than 10% of most pets’ diets. Add this assumption to the common veterinary experience suggesting owners don’t “get” that their treat habit leads to weight gain and you have a recipe for pet obesity. It's no wonder that 50% of our pets are  overweight or obese.

So here’s my simple solution to the dilemma: Stick to foods for which calorie counts are low and determined by the natural order of things:

  • Frozen (or fresh) Green Beans (23 calories per half cup)
  • Frozen (or fresh) Broccoli (20 calories per half cup)
  • Baby Carrots (4 calories each)
  • Apple Slices (32 calories per one half apple)
  • Cantaloupe Slices (30 calories per one half cup)
  • Canned Pumpkin (40 calories per half cup)
  • Air Popped Popcorn (15 calories per half cup)

Not only are these kinds of treats generally “tolerated” by pets and provide an excellent outlet for the apparently very human psychological drive that leads us to overfeed them, they also fail to contain the undeniably nasty pet treat ingredients I’m sure you’d rather I not detail. 

‘Nuff said.