The Effect of Treats on Pet Nutrition
Treats simply are an extension of our and our pet’s diet. A treat should be a positive addition to a pet’s overall nutrition. It should not dilute the quality of their regular food with poor ingredients especially high starch containing treats that add to the sins of an already dry diet high in starch as most of them are.
They should offer a variety of proteins to help improve the protein profile of your pet’s diet. Virtually all of the grocery brands and some pet specialty brands are poor enough as it is (all the same ingredients with different labels) without making the diet worse with poor treats that are high in starch, calories and poor and/or low in protein. Some treats like sweet potato, squash and pumpkin are low in protein, low in calories and have qualities that other treats don’t have. These are fine and should be encouraged. Raw or lightly cooked vegetables can be used as well.
The old concept of treats was created by the marketing of Milkbone, Sport Mix, etc. Marketers sucked us into the abyss of misinformation because they knew human nature. The gift of a treat is born from a pet owner’s innate sense of kindness. And marketing preys on this kindness. The common biscuit has virtually no quality protein or fat, nor supplementation of any value to the pet. Just starch and more starch. Treats that do have a lot of quality protein and substantive supplementation are more expensive. These better treats are not a waste of money. You cannot define your pets well being by using cost as a criteria for feeding treats. All meat treats are more expensive; therefore, feed smaller pieces. Your pet will be better off and appreciate the treat even more than a big Milkbone biscuit that tastes like bacon-flavored cardboard.
If the owner is using poor quality food in addition to poor quality treats, a lot of bad nutrition can come from this combination. Pet owners love it when their dogs devour a biscuit. It seems so natural to treat them with things they like, especially since they are pretty cheap. The palatants added to the biscuit makes them very desirable, but this is because our pets endure a measure of boredom by eating the same food every single day and look for something to break the routine of their regular diets. A new, tasty added extract is very tempting no matter how poor the nutritional value.
There is another myth I’d like to debunk (and do so at every opportunity). Changing foods and treats often “when a dog or cat is used to eating variety” does not upset the digestive system. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you feed the same food, a sudden change in diet may cause some digestive trouble. Make the transition to variety gradually. Ideally, feed variety from the very beginning of your dog’s life. Treats need to be a part of that variety. But if you have not been feeding variety, the sooner you make the transition to multiple food sources, the better off your pet will be. It is also useful to use probiotics during stress and transition times for your pet.
DO BISCUITS CLEAN TEETH? A SIDE NOTE
When I hear the fable that biscuits clean teeth, I ask the customer, “Have you ever eaten a cookie?” Of course. “Can you imagine a cookie cleaning the facings of your teeth?” The analogy quickly hits home. There are a number of things the owner can do to help keep a pets teeth clean. The best way of keeping of teeth and gums in good order is brushing and chewing on large rawhide and bones, especially raw bone, as well as other more modern chews like Paragon, Greenies and NBone to name a few. Often dogs do not tolerate brushing so the use of these chews is essential to obtain better dental health. You can also use Dental Fresh or products like it in their water to help ward off plaque. Now back to the nutrition of treats.
OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT TREATS AND NUTRITION
Diet is the sum total of everything we or our pets eat. This means that treats are part of the total nutrition provided by the diet. Logic tells us that if the treat is poor, it affects the whole diet and therefore can have deleterious effects on the long term or even short term health of our pets. Will deficiencies in nutrition manifest itself in a day, a week, a month? Probably not. The tearing down of our pets’ health can be insidious and slow and reduce their quality of life. By the time symptoms manifest the owner thinks it’s just old age or bad genetics. There is more to it than that.
People have this idea in their head that treats don’t count in nutrition. That is like saying we can indiscriminately eat ice cream with little or no affect on our health because it’s just a treat. This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been told that the poor quality of nutrition afforded by many treats doesn’t matter because it is just, well, a treat. Frankly most treats are just product extensions to get people to buy into a line of food. Pet food manufacturing reps try to tell me that the calories accrued from treats do not matter. They do matter. Everything that goes into our bodies or our pets’ bodies matters. Long term health depends on the quality of the overall diet and quite frankly many pet foods are already detrimental to an animal’s ability to ward off disease by creating long-term nutritional deficiencies. When you consider that most foods are already inadequate by themselves (no one food ingredient can be everything to everyone), can you really justify supplementing a substandard diet with substandard treats?
EVALUATING LONG TERM NUTRITION
Regarding overall nutrition there are two areas of major concern: quality of protein and the type of calories afforded by the food. I am assuming that the calorie needs have been met, which is a much smaller need than most people think. The type of calories count! Starch for pets can have insidious, almost undetectable, consequences on our pets’ health.
Grain-free diets are the result of a public perception created by the great recall of 2007 when wheat gluten was identified as the source of the toxin. As a result all grain became evil in the public mind. Manufacturers wanted the consumer to question the use of grains because they could then sell a new variety of “premium” food. I believe the jury is still out on the long-term effect of grains on our pets. Starch is starch whether it is in the form of grain or potato. The movement toward grain-free diets may be more suitable for some pets, but the fact remains that a grain-free diet still contains too much starch. It’s the amount of starch our pets receive in their diets that I believe is part of dangerous nutrition. There are a few dry diets with high protein and high-quality fat that reduce the starch content, and only one food (Wysong’s Epigen) contains no starch whatsoever. Biscuits are usually very high in poor carbohydrate (see footnote) and low in quality protein. On numerous occasions I have talked to people that have unwittingly fed 50% of their pet’s caloric need with biscuits. People treat their dogs with our bulk biscuits, buy them in multiple pounds and hand them out like candy at a Fourth of July parade. Before professional independent pet stores, we have had more than one generation brainwashed into thinking Milkbone (and like treats) were good for our pets. In short, people have been misled by marketing. These habits and culturally ingrained notions die hard.
WHAT SHOULD BE IN A TREAT (IN A NUTSHELL)
- Quality meat protein ingredients at 25% or more protein level
- Quality fats like canola and flaxseed (not just animal fat) at 10% give or take a few percent.
- Supplemental additions to their diet such as chondroiten, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and MSM. Possibly extra biotin and taurine.
- Make small nuggets and use as real treats with quality that contain fewer calories.
TREATS ON THE MARKET I LIKE
- Innova Prime (40% protein)
- Epigen (60% protein and low fat) comes in fish, chicken and venison
- Plato (high protein and low fat)
- American chicken, duck, beef, venison jerky
- I really like using some of the frozen raw foods that come in medallions like Answers, Primal, and Bravo. I also like raw chicken necks.
- Meat rolls by Red Barn and Natural Balance cut up into small pieces.
- Wysong (Archetype, patties, Uncanny, and Dream Treats (see photo above), Vita Essentials especially freeze dried tripe balls, and Bravo freeze dried raw treats. My favorite freeze dried treat is the freeze dried tripe balls by Vita Essentials.
- Raw bones. Dogs love raw bones.
- I’m still waiting for a treat stick of meat-based food that uses natural preservatives. Something like Pupperoni with better ingredients and less preservative. Right now the best products in this category are the meat rolls mentioned above. Highly palatable and very good for your pet.
My dogs have been fed all of these. Jerky of all sorts, Archetype by Wysong daily, freeze dried tripe balls, raw frozen, etc. Variety is the spice of life. You’ll never hear us to tell you to feed one thing. There is no one food that is better for your pet than variety.
There are other treats but this list offers a good start. I hope this discussion helps. If you have any questions please call me at my office: 412-367-0962.