Giving your pets treats helps reinforce positive behavior and establish a human-animal bond. They love it (cue that cute waggy-tailed dance they do when they know a treat’s coming). But just as humans gain weight from mindless snacking, so can your pet, says Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, staff doctor at New York City’s Animal Medical Center. Ahead, tips to keep your animals happy and healthy.
Be careful with rewards
Training your puppy to sit? Want to teach your cat to come when called (it can be done!)? That’s all fine, but be mindful of how often you reward them with something tasty. “If your pets require several treats to reinforce positive behavior, then you may need to cut their food back to account for the extra calories from treats,” says Jonathan Block, DVM, a veterinarian at the Worth Street Veterinary Center in New York City. Another option: Reward them with nonfood items—like a game of fetch or a nice rubdown.
Follow the 10% rule
Veterinary nutritionists recommend that no more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily calories come from treats, says Dr. Hohenhaus. For reference, a 10-pound dog should eat around 400 calories a day, so she should only be given 40 calories of treats. To help stay within range, cut treats in half or put the daily portion in a little baggie. “This way, you won’t exceed what’s allowed and everyone in the family will have a chance to give treats based on what’s left in the bag,” says Dr. Hohenhaus.
Make healthy choices
Ideally, opt for treats that are made of unprocessed ingredients and preferably free of wheat, soy, and artificial flavoring. That said, they don’t have to come from a bag labeled “treats” to function that way. “You can present an option like carrots or apples as treats, too,” says Dr. Block.