Dog treats don’t make dogs fat – people do (by feeding them dog treats)

Giving Doritos to your Dachsund, Fritos for your French Bulldog, and Bon Bons to your Bichon is not too far from what many of us do when we give our dogs treats.

Given the fact that dog obesity is reaching epidemic proportions, we are clearly feeding our pets too much. Perhaps this is because we project our own diet related issues on our dogs. Food is a reward for many of us and, oftentimes to the detriment of our pets, we think they need high calorie, high sugar, sweets between meals.

There are three reasons why we derail our dog’s diets, and fuel the epidemic of dog obesity, by feeding dog snacks and treats:

  1. The calories per snack do not appear on the labels
  2. Treat labels do not consider the larger picture when making feeding recommendations.
  3. Many treats are cleverly packaged sugary sweets

Calories per snack do not appear on the labels

As you can see from the image on the left there is no listing on the label indicating how many calories there are in each treat.  Knowing that there is 5% crude protein may be interesting to some, what pet owners really need to know is how many calories are in each snack. Without that information, it is almost impossible to know if they are overfeeding their dogs when they give them snacks. For example, if a 20 lb Dachshund who only needs 300 calories per day, is fed just 50 calories in treats each day the pet owner overfed their dog by 16%. That is the equivalent of an average size person eating 2 full size chocolate bars in addition to their normal diet.

Snacking companies did not consult the food companies before making their feeding recommendations.

As you can see from the image on the right snacking labels make recommendations about how many snacks to feed a day. The problem with these recommendations is that they do not consider the fact that dog food manufacturers formulate their dog foods and feeding recommendations to account for ALL of your dogs daily nutrition needs. Stated another way, if you are feeding your dog according to the label on the bag of dog food and you give your dog ANYTHING extra (including snacks and treats) you will be overfeeding your dog despite what it says on the box of dog treats.

Think of treats like candy.

Dr. Ernie Ward, of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, recently looked at a wide variety of dog treats (which he calls kibble crack) and found that pet treats are often just processed sugary snacks. According to Dr. Ward1, ““When you have popular treats…that list sugars as three of the first four ingredients, you know there’s a problem.” We agree. Pet owners should pick dog treats wisely and be wary of feeding sugar to our pets that are trying to lose weight. Our recommendation is that if you are going to buy dog treats, look for treats without significant amounts of sugar (such as Nutro Natural Choice Chops or Iams Active Health Biscuits). In many cases these treats are more expensive than their sugar-laden brethren. It is worth the price if weight loss is your goal.

Another option to feeding your dog sugary snacks is to find an alternative that your pet likes such as carrot sticks, frozen peas, or ice cubes. If you are excited when you offer the treat your dog will be excited to receive the treat and you will find that you can give your dog pretty much any vegetable (even Brussels sprouts) as a treat.

The bottom line with all of this treats and snacks business is that:

  1. Feeding too many dog treats can torpedo any canine weight loss plan. Give treats sparingly and remember that pets do not necessarily need treats. In many cases, we may be projecting our own snacking habits on our pets when we give them treats.
  2. Treats can hide loads of sugar which is no better for our pets than it is for ourselves
  3. Be cautious about following the feeding recommendations on boxes of treats as they do not consider your pet’s broader diet.
  4. Choose high quality treats or get creative. Many dogs think vegetables and ice cubes are pretty neat treats.
  5. If you want to feed your dog a treat here and there go for it but do it in moderation and be sure that you  pick your treats wisely and fit them into your dog’s overall daily diet


Dr. Ward is also an Ironman triathlete. As we have observed previously, fit people have fit pets. The best way to get your pet in shape is to get yourself in shape. Set a goal of personal fitness for you and your pet and stick with it. Many of our friends help achieving that goal by signing up for a fun run with their pet such as the PETCO 5k9. Support your health, your dog, and the Petco Foundation.