Counting All Your Pet's Calories

Treating can be defeating.

Your cat is so adorable when she’s curled on the windowsill, smothered in a sunbeam. And your dog is such a good boy when he gallops in from the backyard when you call. How can you resist showing your love by sneaking them a little treat?

Here’s another way to look at it: Preserving your pet’s health by monitoring their diet and limiting treats to help keep them fit and trim may be the best way to show how much you care.

With pet obesity well past epidemic proportions, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re watching what your dog or cat is eating. That means watching all of it — even the treats, which have been called “the silent saboteur of slimming down.”

If you treat your pets, you’re not alone. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported in 2012 that 93 percent of pet owners give treats, and more than one in four give three or more treats a day. Your dog or cat has a specific caloric need per day, and if you plan to use treats, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can help you with a recommendation for how many per day, ensuring they add up to no more than 10% of their daily caloric needs. Learn more about calorie counts in common pet treats.

Why is rigorous calorie counting so important? The latest 2014 research from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) says nearly 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs are either overweight or obese. Those numbers are higher than they were in the APOP’s 2008 survey.

Research also shows that most people with overweight dogs and cats actually think their pet is in the right weight range. Fortunately, there are some great tools to help you determine your pet’s healthy weight and Body Condition Score (BCS)

Even if you’re careful about not feeding your dog or cat, it’s best to avoid slipping. Sneaking some table scraps a time or two can throw your pet’s digestive health into overdrive, perhaps causing a tummy ache or other gastrointestinal distress, not to mention the calorie load.

Begging behavior is a common precursor to treating. Tableside begging often begins innocently enough, but before you know it you’ve got a beggar at every meal. It’s important to remember that every time you slip, you’re reinforcing begging behavior.

So if you’ve resolved to give up the cleverly marketed pet snacks from the local grocery store, what are your alternatives? Holding back 10-12 kibbles from your dog or cat’s daily ration for treating may be something to consider. It’s already figured in to your pet’s daily calorie count, so you won’t be blowing the diet, and there are no worries about upsetting their digestive system by introducing something new and/or intermittent.

Consider substituting non-food alternatives you both will enjoy. More time with you in one form or another: Grooming your puppy or brushing your cat, belly rubs, playtime, a romp in the yard or an extra walk.

Show them you love them in other ways by showering them with the right portion of healthy, nutrient dense foods and regular periods of your undivided attention.

Tips to Take Away
  • The calories in snacks add up faster than you think.
  • Your pet should get less than 10 percent of its calories from treats.
  • Consider non-food alternatives like quality time with you as an alternative to treats.

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