I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure life would be worth living without the occasional treat. I do pretty well when it comes to eating my fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but I have to be honest and say that I also use that as permission to occasionally indulge. I think the same mindset should apply to the way we feed our dogs.
A dog’s meal should provide balanced nutrition made from high-quality ingredients that help keep him or her healthy. Your dog should eat an amount that, in accordance with his exercise level, maintains a slim body condition. If you do this for your dog on a daily basis, every once in a while you can let your dog indulge in treats without jeopardizing his health.
When treating your pet, a good rule of thumb is that 90 percent of a dog’s calories should be derived from a healthy, well-balanced food, allowing the remaining 10 percent for treats. The average maintenance requirement for a typical, neutered, 50 lb adult dog is around 1,200 calories per day, which leaves about 120 calories (or kcal as they are sometimes called) for treats. This really isn’t very much.
The easiest option for an owner who wants to give a dog a little something special is a commercially prepared treat. While they may not provide the complete and balanced nutrition that an AAFCO approved dog food does, they do still undergo testing and monitoring and have ingredient lists that owners can evaluate for appropriateness and caloric density.
Foods from the kitchen should also be considered a treat. Of course, there are some items that need to be avoided all-together, including fat trimmings, chocolate, anything containing Xylitol, garlic, and grapes. If you want to give your dog a small piece of lean meat or an apple slice as part of his 10 percent treat allowance, go ahead. But monitor your dog after giving him a new type of treat. If you notice an increase in gas production, vomiting, diarrhea, or malaise, discontinue that treat immediately and call your veterinarian if the problem persists.
Routinely giving dogs treats or human food under predictable circumstances can lead to begging. Dogs are masters at putting two and two together. Just a couple of instances of being slipped something under the dining room table can produce an unbearable moocher at meal time. I recommend that pet owners never give their dogs treats while they are preparing food in the kitchen (who wants a dog underfoot when you’re working with sharp knives and hot pans?) or while they are eating a meal. However, feeding your dog his regular dog food in his bowl so that he can eat while you are eating is appropriate.
If you start to notice unacceptable begging behavior, institute these two rules:
- All food, including treats, should always be placed in your dog’s own food bowl and offered at a single, designated location within your home. A dog should sit while you prepare the bowl and only move toward it when you tell him to.
- Never give a dog a treat while he is begging. Treats are always your idea (not his) and should only be given when a dog’s attention is not on food.
This may take some training and patience, but having a dog with impeccable table manners is well worth the effort.
Dr. Jennifer Coates