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Dog Treats – How Much is Too Much?

Nicole Cosgrove

Dog treats can help with training, act as a tool to get your dog to behave better, and can be used as a little tidbit to indulge your dog.

Commercial treats are available, which tend to be quite heavily processed, or you can make your own dog treats that contain healthier ingredients. But regardless of the type, it is important to remember that treats should be fed sparingly, with most experts agreeing that they should total no more than 10% of your dog’s daily diet.

Read on to find out exactly how many dog treats you should be feeding your dog, why you should avoid feeding more, and what you can do to prevent overfeeding.divider-dog

How Many Dog Treats Should You Be Feeding?

Most experts, including the American Kennel Club, state that treats should make up less than 10% of a dog’s daily diet. But, what exactly does this mean?

In real terms, this means that you should feed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake as treats, and no more than this. If your active Golden Retriever is eating a controlled 1,500 calories a day, then you can feed up to 150 calories of treats.

It is important to note that this should be included in the daily caloric calculations, so if you give 100 calories of treats a day to that same Retriever, they should only be given 1,400 calories a day at mealtimes.

Protein for Dogs
Image Credit: demanescale, Shutterstock

Caloric Intake

So, how do you know how many calories your dog is eating, or should be eating, per day?

You should be monitoring the amount of food you feed. Check the food bag to determine how many calories are in each cup or every 100 grams of food and work it out using that figure.

Better still, you should consult a vet. They will tell you how many calories your dog should consume per day. They will take into account the breed and age of the dog, as well as physical condition, daily exercise requirements, and any other factors. You may find that the 1,500 calories recommended by the dog food manufacturer is too low. Or way too high.

Once you have determined the number of calories you should feed, you can assign up to 10% a day as treats, and the remaining 90% as food, and calculate how much food you should feed.

In the same way that food bags should contain a calorie amount, so too should any commercial treats that you feed. If you’re making your own treats, it can be more difficult and you will have to research the ingredients, by weight, to determine how many calories they contain.divider-paw

Signs You’re Feeding Too Many Treats

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Image Credit By: Omerlavon, pixabay

If you don’t intentionally monitor the treats you give your dog and the calories they contain, it is very easy to feed too many.

1. Demanding Dog

Most dogs are creatures of habit, and they will recognize that you feed them treats at certain times or following or before certain activities. They may become increasingly demanding if they get used to being fed treats at certain times. They may also start to recognize other signs. For example, if you keep the treats in a particular drawer or cupboard, you may find that your dog becomes demanding when you open or even approach these areas.

2. Disobedient Dog

Treats are routinely used as a means of positive reinforcement training. When the dog does something that the owner wishes to encourage, they get a treat. The treat should be combined with praise, and the dog gradually weaned off being given treats for positive activities. However, your dog may start to disobey or may fail to perform the desired action without being given a treat.

This can be especially common if you give treats when your dog stops doing an undesirable action. For example, if you shush your dog when it barks and you give a treat when it stops barking, your dog may recognize that barking is the first step towards getting a treat.

3. Deceptive Dog

Some owners use treats for potty training. If you give your dog a treat whenever he goes outside, you may find that he demands to go out in the yard more often. He will do this under the guise that he needs a pee, but is really doing it because he wants the treat that comes after.

Dog Eating Outside
Image Credit: Phil Stev, Shutterstock

4. Aggression

Some dogs may become very protective over food, and especially over treats. You should not give any treats to a dog that becomes aggressive around them and it is a good sign that you need the help of an animal behaviorist to rectify the situation.

5. Weight Gain

If your once lean puppy has started to wobble as he trots or, worse still, no longer trots because he gets out of breath, this is a sure sign that you are feeding too much. Consult a vet to determine how many calories you should be giving daily and then ensure that you only feed the recommended maximum of 10% of your dog’s caloric intake, in treats.

Why It’s a Problem

As well as potential behavioral problems, feeding too many treats can also cause a nutritional imbalance.

Dog food contains the protein, vitamins, and minerals that a dog needs. By feeding 10% of their daily diet as treats, they can still get all the required nutrients from the 90% of their diet that is good quality kibble. If you feed more than this amount, they are getting less and less food with decent nutritional value. Your dog could end up with vitamin deficiencies and illnesses caused by these.divider-multipet

Healthy Dog Treat Examples

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Image Credit: ThamKC, Shutterstock

Just because you can feed 10% of your dog’s daily diet as treats, doesn’t mean that you can give him anything. Certain foods, like chocolate, should be avoided altogether, because they are potentially toxic, while human processed foods contain very high levels of salt as well as other toxic ingredients like garlic and onion. Take care of what treats you give your dog. On that note, the following are five healthy treats that you can give to your dog, and that they should find thoroughly enjoyable.

Five Healthy Dog Treats

1. Cooked Lean Meat

It is unlikely that you will find any treat that elicits the same desire from your dog as cooked meat. Ensure that the meat is lean and cook it in such a way as to retain the nutrients without adding to the caloric content. Boiled chicken breast, for example, smells great to your dog and is packed with nutrients like omega-6 fatty acids.

Boiled chicken breast contains 165 calories per 100 grams.

2. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a common treat for dogs. It is used in food cones because it is sticky enough to hold kibble and other foods. You do need to check the ingredients before feeding this sticky treat, though.

Ensure the peanut butter is unsalted and does not contain xylitol, which is also known as E967 or Birch Sugar. These artificial sweeteners can be highly toxic, but sweetener-free peanut butter is not only a good source of protein but packed full of vitamins and minerals.

100 grams of peanut butter contains nearly 600 calories, though, so feed it sparingly.

3. Apple

Apple is juicy and smells great. It also contains natural sugar which will appeal to your dog. At the same time, as well as being a good source of vitamins, an apple’s crunchiness can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and aid in good dental hygiene.

Cut the apple into slices, remove seeds, and get rid of the core which can contain trace amounts of cyanide.

A serving of 100 grams of apple only contains 50 calories, which is preferable to peanut butter.

4. Carrot

Like apples, carrots can help your dog maintain good dental hygiene. They also contain lots of vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and a host of other vitamins and minerals.

Carrots can be fed raw, or they can even be frozen and fed as an edible chew toy. Their natural sweetness makes them appealing to dogs.

They contain just 41 calories per 100 grams of carrot.

5. Pears

This sweet, natural food is often overlooked as a dog treat. But it is packed with fiber and contains lots of vitamin C and K.

You need to remove the core, but eating this fruit can help improve your dog’s immune system and digestive system.

A serving of 100 grams of pear contains approximately 60 calories, so it is not too high in calories either.

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How Many Dog Treats Is Too Many Dog Treats?

Dog treats can be a beneficial addition to a dog owner’s arsenal. They are useful in training and help encourage your dog to do what you want it to. However, this kind of power should be wielded responsibly, and you will need to be sparing in your application of the dog food treat.

A maximum of 10% of your dog’s daily diet can be given as treats, but you still need to ensure that the treats are reasonably healthy and will not cause damage to your dog.


Featured image credit: pakornkrit, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.