Healthy Ways to Treat Your Cat

By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 4, 2013

By Amanda Baltazar

Many of us are guilty of providing our cats with more treats than they can chew. But too much snacking, while seemingly pleasant for our cats, may not be the best thing for their health. In fact, an overly fed pet can quickly develop heart disease, arthritis, obesity, stroke, or even cancer.

Here’s how to best treat your cat without spoiling his health:

1. Treat Your Cat Without Food

There are many ways to do this, says Dr. Kendra Pope, DVM, CVA, CVCH, CVFT, CVTP, a veterinarian with St. Francis Veterinary Center in Woolwich Township, N.J. Cats respond very well to praise, which is given in a high-pitched voice that’s happy and excited. So use your verbal skills along with lots of love, she says. Cats don't typically like to be hugged, but they do like to be brushed and stroked and scratched behind the ears, as well as playing with catnip toys and interactive toys (e.g., feather toys).

Animals are very different from humans in what they consider a treat, Dr. Pope points out, and they understand these other forms of praise. Food for us is much more emotional than it is for cats.

2. Make Your Own Cat Treats

Meat and most fish are great treat foods* for cats, says Dr. TJ Dunn, DVM, veterinarian at All Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Minocqua, WI. You can even bake your own cookies/biscuits with your existing wet cat food formula. Cut the food into slices and bake at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the pieces are crunchy.

Dr. Pope does, however, advise against treating with raw meat or raw organ meat because it can lead to food poisoning, such as Salmonella or E. coli, which also poses a risk for humans. The cat may tolerate the poisoning, she points out, “but they could pass it on to us when we are cleaning up their feces.”

3. Buy From the Big, U.S. Based Brands

Try to buy commercial pet treats from reputable brands, because “big name brands either have more money to spend on safer foods or can safeguard against it,” Dr. Pope points out. “And, big pet food companies are more quickly able to do a recall.”

4. Understand the Cat Treat Ingredients

The more words you don’t understand in a commercially prepared treat’s ingredient list, the worse the food likely is for your pet. Look for ingredients that are recognizable, Dr. Pope says, and avoid preservatives and dyes as well as unnecessary fillers. Cat treats that are high in fat, sodium, or calories should also be avoided.

5. Limit the Cat Treats

Treats should not make up more than 10% of your cat’s daily diet because they are not balanced, says Dr. Dunn. Too many treats may mean your cat gets too much of something (typically calories) and too little of the essential vitamins and minerals he needs.

6. Consult Your Veterinarian

Remember that your veterinarian is one of your best resources for information on which treats to give to your cat. “But owners need to be aware that we have only so much training in food and we’re taught to feed the commercial cat food, so if owners want to make their own, they should seek out someone else,” Dr. Pope says. A veterinary nutritionist is the best place to start.

*Check with your veterinarian before giving your pet any "human foods," as some may be toxic to cats.

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