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A Warning to Dog Owners: Are Your Treats Safe?


Dogs are smart — they’ll quickly learn where you stash the treats, and will perfect the art of politely sitting and looking cute until you reach into the jar or cabinet and share a treat or two.

Treats are fun and can be an important factor in training and reinforcing good behavior. But before you head to the jar to fetch a biscuit for your smiling pup, it’s important to know that pet obesity is on the rise for the seventh year in a row, as reported earlier this year by pet health insurance carrier Nationwide. And the quality and quantity of dog treats could be part of the problem.

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A Warning About Dog Treats

Manufacturers offer a recommended number of treats to give your dog each day, but most veterinarians have been in agreement that those recommendations are too high. Researchers at Italy’s University of Padua took a closer look and tried to verify if the label’s recommendations were in accordance with World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s (WSAVA) guidelines, which suggest that daily treat intake should not exceed 10% of a dog’s energy needs, known as maintenance energy requirement.

Led by Giada Morelli, the team studied 32 popular dog treats — five biscuits, ten tender treats, three meat-based strips, five rawhides, twelve chewable sticks and six dental care sticks. They determined that when treats were distributed according to the manufacturer’s suggestions, most exceeded WSAVA guidelines, as follows:

  • Biscuits accounted for 16% over a dog’s MER for dogs of any size.
  • Rawhides exceeded 25% MER for small-sized dogs and 18% for medium-sized dogs.
  • Chewable sticks surpassed 10% MER for all size dogs, reaching 16.9% MER in small-sized dogs.
  • Dental sticks were the only treat that remained below 10% MER for every dog size.

In addition, the team reported that more precise ingredient information is needed on packages. Biscuits and dental sticks listed “cereals” as the first ingredient, while tenders, meat strips, rawhides and chewable sticks listed “meat and animal derivatives” first. Almost half of products mentioned “sugars” and all contained varying amounts of minerals. All of these descriptions are vague, leaving an owner in the dark as to specifically what is in the treat.

Caloric density was also examined, with biscuits being the most calorically dense with dental sticks being the least.

Healthy Veterinarian-Recommended Dog “Treats”

If your dog is sedentary, older or on the plump side, a good step to take is to reexamine his daily treats. Even if your dog is active and within a healthy weight, it’s important to assess his treats to avoid future problems.

Check the label and switch to healthier treat options like giving your pup his daily supplements as “treats” instead. Probiotics, joint remedies, dental chews or daily essential vitamins are often available in a treat-like supplement form, which helps to ensure that your dog gets his daily nutrition, and enjoys taking it as well.

With the majority of pets being overweight or obese, I also recommend that owners whip up natural DIY dog treats right at home, which enables you to control the ingredients you use and the size of the treat — and it’s easier than you’d think! You can make homemade chicken jerky, or even prepare some frozen quarter cut carrots or frozen green beans for your pet. Alternatively, you can buy “single ingredient treats” like freeze dried beef liver or chicken breast, or measure out your pet’s food and give small amounts of the food between meals so you’re staying within the recommended caloric requirement for the day.

Just like with humans, keeping your pet at a healthy weight will help prevent diseases and keep him comfortable as he ages. So next time your furry best friend is stationed by the treat jar giving you that adorable “puppy face” we know all too well, pull out a healthier, naturally delicious option instead.


MZX_6893-Edit (2) Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan.  She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio.  Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.

A lover of all animals, Dr. Katy carves out time for many charitable organizations in the DC area and beyond.  She is also the co-executive producer on “Tell Them I Am Kind,” a documentary set to air on the PBS Broadcasting network in 2015.  The documentary tells the story of the family of Catherine Violet Hubbard, one of the 20 children killed in December of 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and their mission to build an animal sanctuary in her honor.

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