We all love snacks, and that includes our furry friends. Technically, if your dog is eating a balanced and healthy diet that meets their nutritional and calorie requirements they shouldn't really need to snack at all (but the same can be said for humans too!). Nonetheless, we all find ourselves throwing them a treat from time to time, afterall, they went to all that trouble to develop those adorable, soleful eyes so it’s hardly our fault if we can’t resist the odd beg!
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to offer the odd snack:
- They’re a great training tool, especially when they’re something super special the dog views as high reward
- They help develop the bond between you and your pet, this is just as important for dogs you’ve had for years as it is for new additions to the house
- They help reinforce your position in the pack hierarchy. As pack alpha, it’s your job to hunt and provide food.
So, whatever the reason for their treat, it’s important for dog owners to know which snacks are healthy for dogs and which should be avoided. And in this article, we’ll cover just that.
The Risks Of Too Many Treats
Obesity is an issue in dogs of all ages, but particularly senior dogs. This is a problem in itself as it means the dog is unhealthy and possibly not eating well or getting enough exercise. But when a dog is overweight it can also lead to further conditions including osteoarthritis, cancer, and heart disease.
Since many commercial dog treats and snacks are packed with filler, sugars, fats, and other questionable ingredients that can contribute to weight gain and ill health it’s no surprise that 56% of dogs in the USA are considered overweight or obese.
However, any food when fed in excess can contribute to weight gain, which is why understanding the snacks and treats that will be healthier for your dog when fed in moderation is key.
Even if you’re convinced you can keep your dog at a healthy weight, too many treats can lead to problems like behavioral challenges. If you’re using treats for training, they could lose their effectiveness when offered too freely. If your dog gets too used to snacks on tap, they might learn to expect them and then take matters into their own paws when they don’t get their own way. This could be anything from poor manners like begging when humans are eating, becoming fixated on any children in the house who are likely to leave crumbs or counter surfing and bin raiding.
It can be much harder to correct behavioral issues than it can to exercise off some excess weight (especially in younger dogs). So remember to resist those puppy dog eyes, your dog has no concept of their future health so it’s up to you to think of it for them.
Portion Control For Dogs
Like humans, it’s important that dogs don’t regularly surpass their recommended amount of daily calories. Snacks should never make up more than 10% of your dog’s calories per day – known as the 90/10 rule. And since it’s not easy to measure exactly what 10% might be, it’s best to err on the side of caution and only feed treats sparingly.
To treat your dog with snacks throughout the day without going over their recommended calorie intake, you could save back 10% of their regular food to use as a snack. Dried food can be fed like other treats, while raw or fresh food can be frozen like ice cubes.
As a way of preventing weight gain and helping your dog to eat their meals and snacks more slowly, many owners use puzzle mats and toys, where food is hidden and slowly released for the dog to seek out. This also provides mental stimulation as they play to find their food.
Whatever you choose to feed your dog, whether it’s raw food, human food, or treats specially made for dogs, you should always check that it’s not high in salt, sugar, fat, or any foods that are toxic to dogs like alliums, xylitol, grapes and raisins, or chocolate.
What Treats Can I Feed My Dog?
Whether you’re feeding your dog snacks as a treat or for training purposes, these are some healthier options:
1. High-protein treats
Picking treats that are rich in nutrients that your dog needs to remain healthy, like protein, adds extra benefits to their snacks:
- Lean meat is packed with protein and can be a healthy addition to your dog’s regular diet when fed in moderation. Always avoid processed meats.
- Boiled chicken with no seasoning and all the bones removed is one of the healthier choices as it’s low in fat and rich in Omega-6 fatty acids which is good for their coat and skin.
- Peanut butter is another rich source of protein, but some human versions can be high in salt and sugar which should be avoided. Always check that your peanut butter does not contain xylitol (also known as birch sugar or E967) as this is toxic to dogs.
For a safe, low-fat treat made from pure animal protein, try Front of the Pack’s freeze-dried treats. They come in three deliciously meaty flavors and contain nothing but pure animal protein. Freeze drying locks in all the nutrients from the meat without sacrificing the taste, so your dog will love them, and you won’t have to worry about their health.
If you opt for store-bought dog treats, always ensure that they are approved by board-certified vets or veterinary nutritionists. They should be rich in fruit, vegetables, and animal proteins and contain no fillers or additives that can be detrimental to your dog’s health.
There are a number of fruits that you’re likely to have in the house that are healthy when fed to dogs in small quantities that don’t exceed the 90/10 rule:
- Apples are rich in fiber and Vitamins A and C, so they’re great for digestion, packed with antioxidants, and can even help keep teeth healthy. Just be sure the core and pips are removed as these contain trace amounts of cyanide which is toxic.
- Bananas should only be served in moderation as they’re high in sugar, but they’re also rich in fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and copper which all aid heart and digestion health and can boost energy.
- Blueberries are rich in Vitamins C and K, fiber, and phytochemicals. To make them more interesting to your dog, break them open to release the sweet scent. Like humans, dogs can suffer an upset stomach if they eat too many berries.
- Pears are high in fiber and Vitamins C and K making them great for the digestive and immune systems. Like apples, the core should be removed before feeding pears to your dog.
- Strawberries should only be fed in moderation due to their sugar content, but they’re high in Vitamin C, fiber, and malic acid that can contribute to whiter teeth. Remember that too many berries can lead to an upset stomach.
- Watermelon is made of 92% water so it’s great for hydration as well as being packed with Vitamins A, B6 and C, and potassium. Be sure to only feed the flesh and remove all seeds and rind before serving.
If you’ve got some veggies leftover from your food prep, don’t throw them out. These vegetables are safe for dogs to eat, as long as they’re unseasoned:
- Carrots are rich in fiber for digestion and beta-carotene that can slow and even prevent some diseases. The crunchy texture of carrots can also be good for your dog’s oral health.
- Celery is high in Vitamins A, B, and C which are all great for your dog’s immune system and general health.
- Cucumber is high in water content and very low in fat and oil so they’re great for hydration. They also contain Vitamins B1, C, and K, potassium, magnesium, copper, biotin, and phytonutrients known to fight bad breath.
- Green Beans contain Vitamins A, C and K, calcium, folic acid, potassium, iron, fiber, beta-carotene, and more. But only feed them fresh – if they’re canned, check they’ve not been sat in salt or brine.
- Red Pepper can be fed to dogs as long as it’s not spicy and the seeds are removed. It’s rich in antioxidants that are great for the immune system.
- Pumpkin and squash are packed with fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene which contribute to a healthy coat and all-round good health. If you’re feeding your dog canned pumpkin make sure it has no other ingredients and is unsweetened.
- Sweet Potatoes are full of Vitamin B6 and C, potassium, fiber, and beta-carotene which are good for the kidneys, nervous system, and muscle function. Make sure they’re boiled and unseasoned as raw sweet potato can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Dog Treats To Avoid
As you can see, there are a lot of human foods that are safe and healthy snacks for dogs too. But there are also plenty of human foods that can be dangerous when ingested by dogs despite being healthy for us.
They include (but are not limited to):
- Allums like onion, garlic, leeks, and shallots
- Blue cheese
- Currants, raisins, sultanas, and grapes
- Macadamia nuts
- Xylitol sweetener
If you’re ever unsure about what your dog can and can’t eat, never take the chance. Check online or ask your vet.
And remember, the snacks listed here are only recommended as small additions to a healthy and balanced diet that’s rich in protein. If your dog is overweight, speak to your vet about a weight and calorie management plan and avoid feeding them any snacks outside of meal times.