The Biggest Mistake in Giving Treats

It’s failing to count their calories — giving a slice of cheese, for example, is equivalent to your eating seven slices.

Treats provide welcome rewards for good behavior, but their overly generous use can contribute to obesity. One reason is that owners don’t count treats as calories. “But the bigger problem is a multiple-person household in which every time someone walks by, they give the cat a treat,” says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Then they think, ‘Wow, we went through treats pretty quick. Let’s get another bag.’ The solution is to put a certain number of treats in a container every day, and then don’t refill it until the next morning.”

Dr. Wakshlag gives the skinny on cat treats and more in this Q & A.

Q: Do all treats always need to be nutritionally sound or can cats have junk food once in a while?

A: A little bit of junk food is good for the soul, but treats should account for no more than 10 percent of daily calories. There are plenty of treats out there, and some are nutritionally sound.

Q: How can an owner figure out what 10 percent of their cat’s daily caloric intake is?

A: Usually manufacturers have calories listed on the side of the bag.

Q: Are organic treats preferable?

A: Because they tend to be smaller, organic treats are a bit more nutrient dense, but there is no proof that organic does anything for you except cost more. Organic is more about exposure to pesticides than nutrition.

Q: What fat percentage is acceptable for cat treats?

A: Stick with the calorie percentage rather than the fat. The higher the fat, the higher the calories.

Q: Are there any ingredients to avoid?

A: Yes. Raisins, grapes, avocado, onions and garlic should be avoided. It’s the table foods people don’t think about. Let’s say you give your cat a slice of cheese with a pill. For him, that slice of cheese is equal to your eating seven of them. When you have to give medicine to a cat, veterinarians look for something that can be given once or twice a day at most because cats can be difficult to pill. I have not checked the calories in Greenie’s Pill Pockets, but it’s the same principle and they are better for your cat than a slice of cheese.

Q: What, if any, cat treats should be avoided?

A: Bones can cause dental problems, as they can fracture teeth. Some fish should be avoided, in particular the long-lived fish, such as tuna, ahi, shark, mahi mahi and king mackerel. The long-lived fish are more likely to have more mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Short-lived fish like salmon, cod, halibut and jack mackerel have less PCBs and mercury. Catfish are OK. Farm-raised fish are OK, as they don’t tend to have all those [additives].

Q: Is it OK to give cats vegetables if they will eat them?

A: Cats will eat them sometimes. You can give them 2 ounces, or 60 grams, and they get 20 calories. Cut it the size of kibble and put it in the bowl. For whatever reason, some cats like zucchini.

Q: Should vegetables be steamed because of cats’ shorter gastrointestinal tracts or is raw OK?

A: We should cook vegetables to some degree to liberate the nutritional density. Raw vegetables don’t have any advantage except that they aren’t quite as calorie dense. Canned or frozen is a great option for weight loss because of the convenience.

Q: What treats do you give your cat?

A: My cat is battling the bulge so I don’t give him any treats. He’s a pest and anything food is a treat. I have faked him into eating zucchini.

Q: Should fiber content be a consideration for every cat or only those with constipation issues?

A: The feed industry is going in the right direction by adding fiber, but it’s really a small step.

Q: Is there any nutritional benefit to premium treats compared to those you would buy at the grocery store?

A: My opinion is if you’re looking for health benefits, give vegetables and a little bit of apple.

Q: Is it better to make homemade treats?

A: I don’t think so, other than feeling good about doing something nice for your cat.

Q: Are dental treats a good idea?

A: One of the major benefits of treats is that you can use them for dental purposes. It’s really to help teeth. You feel great that your cat loves it and it helps them.

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