Features April 1998 Issue

How Many Treats Dogs Should Receive

Looking for a good dog snack? We found three we like, more we don’t.

Opinions vary about how, when, and how many treats dogs should receive, but we’ll leave that to the dog trainers. If getting treats is a regular part of your dog’s routine, whether he gets one or two a day or a whole box each week, your first consideration should be the healthfulness of the treat. Any food that your dog eats regularly – even if it’s in small amounts – should be able to pass the same criteria as his food. We’ve covered that in detail (“Are Premium foods Worth It?”, also this issue), but here’s the short version: you’re looking for quality ingredients and rejecting anything with artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives.

Not long ago, we passed through the automatic double doors of our local pet superstore in search of a healthy treat for rewarding the resident dog for his ample good behavior. It seemed a simple task in a place so grand, with four full aisles of chewy choices.

But when you vow to consider only the treats that contain whole, real foods, and absolutely no chemical junk, the formerly full assortment suddenly looks slim. The pickings get even slimmer when you look at the labels, searching for a treat with as few ingredients as possible – a hallmark of foods with quality ingredients. When manufacturers add flavors, vitamins, and minerals, it’s usually because their main ingredients (the first few items on the contents list) are not of sufficient quality to provide those things on their own.

A sweet exception
As long as a person offers their dog just a few small snacks a day, there is one exception we feel we can make regarding the ingredients of treats versus those of healthful dog food: sugar. It may be anthropomorphic to insist that because we can’t imagine a candy bar without sugar in it, we think our dogs’ “candy” should have sugar in it, too. Psychology aside, dogs do show a marked preference for foods with sweeteners added. Look for “real” sweet flavors, however: sugar, molasses, honey, corn syrup, or sucrose, as opposed to artificial sweeteners like ammoniated glycyrrhizin.

But do consider these sweet snacks as you would a candy bar for kids and adults. Too much sugar, consumed regularly, can stress your dog’s pancreas and adrenal glands, resulting (as with humans) in diabetes. Sugar can also overstimulate the production of insulin and acidic digestive juices, interfering with a dog’s ability to absorb the protein, calcium, and minerals.

Worse than sugar but often served up to accompany sugar in a treat, is propylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze. The substance helps keep treats moist and chewy, which appeals to most dog owners; dogs don’t seem to care. Since this substance can cause illness and even death in large amounts, we’re opposed to its inclusion in dog food, even in minute quantities.

Keep in mind that treats do add calories to your dog’s overall diet, and can contribute significantly to a weight problem. Some people, desperate to cut a chubby dog’s weight without seeming mean, cut back the dog’s food intake to compensate for the snacks. This would constitute mis-treatment, since the snacks are generally not formulated to contain all the nutrients a dog needs.

If you’re using treats for training purposes, WDJ recommends that you find one with the highest meat content available. Grain products coated in oils can be attractive to dogs, but to provide an irresistible incentive to perform whatever feats of canine agility or obedience you desire, the dog’s gotta know: “Where’s the beef?”

Click here to view "Pure and Simple Selection Criteria," on the WDJ's preferred treats.


Also With This Article
Click here to view "Complicating the Picture."
Click here to view "Not recommended."

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