Welcome to 2021! And along with the struggles we’ve experienced throughout the pandemic, and the other challenges throughout 2020 we ALL certainly deserve a treat. Particularly those who stand and purr by our side, carrying the torch of companionship and the presence-of-mind to help put it all into perspective.
… Let’s be sure, however, that when we’re treating, that we’re doing it in a responsible manner.
Not to overthink it too much (as treating is often a simple ‘I love you’ from you to your pet), below are some ‘best practices’ when it comes to treating.
THINK ABOUT THE NUMBER OF TREATS
Experts tell us that treats shouldn’t exceed 10 to 15% of our pet’s daily caloric intake, as anything more tends to deliver too many calories (depending on treat type and brand) and leads us down the slippery slope toward pet obesity.
A disproportionate level of treating vs everyday kibble, wet food or complete-and-balanced home-made food will lead to not only an energy imbalance but will also lead to a nutrient imbalance. What this means is that treats are made for occasional consumption; they don’t typically contain all the nutrients your pet needs to survive every day of their healthy lives. If we feed more of the treats and less of the well-formulated, specifically considered and expertly crafted balanced foods, their requirements won’t be fulfilled, and nutrient deficiencies (or excesses) will result.
THINK ABOUT TYPE OF TREAT
You’ll likely know that treats come in many sizes, shapes, smells, tastes, preparations and with many types of ingredients. They might be ‘jerky’, ‘tenders’, rawhide, sticks or ‘salami’-types, ‘bites’ or pocket-sized semi-moist morsels, kibble-like, or even recognisable parts of an animal’s anatomy: ears, hooves, tracheas, antlers or simply bones. Unlike complete-and-balanced diets, the sky is the limit when it comes to the creative process, as there is only one major feature that makes a treat great: DELICIOUSNESS!
Our pets must find them irresistible. The reason for treating is to share a happy moment with your pet.
So the advice is to be aware of the choices out there, available to you and your pet. Know that there are many options, and that finding the perfect treat (or combination of treats for use in different scenarios) is often a trial-and-error process. This leads to more of our ‘best practices’…
WATCH THEM EAT
Supervision when treating is a good idea:
- When they’re puppies… or if ill, or aged.
- When fed a new treat for the first few times.
- If they’re in a new environment (on holidays, staying with friends, fed alongside other pets, etc).
Sometimes we’ll see them gobble up a treat quickly, consuming many in a very short period, if allowed access to them, chewing with great enthusiasm. Dogs often enjoy exercising their strong jaws. We need to be sure they’re not eating too many, not injuring themselves (if it’s a hard treat and they have young, soft and growing mouths and teeth), nor wolfing down large fragments of treats which may cause digestive issues for your pet.
You’re looking for quick-and-easy consumption if it’s a small treat or training reward, or prolonged and predictable eating and chewing if it’s a larger, tougher one, like a dental chew.
Remember that the first time they eat one, or if they’re eating a treat in a new environment, that it’s a learning experience for your pet… allow them that time to learn and supervise the lesson as you would teaching a trick or walking on a lead.
THINK WHY YOU’RE TREATING
It may be your very first consideration when it comes to selecting the appropriate type of treat but stopping and thinking ‘WHY’ is always useful. These valuable titbits aren’t empty calories but shared moments and a big relationship builder for many pet owners.
Some reasons for treating:
- Rewarding: Simply saying ‘thanks’ or ‘I love you’. Treats that reward are generally small, delicious and often ‘semi-moist’ pieces. Low-calorie options are a good idea here.
- Training: Positive reinforcement is where we give a reward not just once, but consistently and in recognition of and as thanks for desired behaviour. Your pet will learn that ‘good things come from me doing this’ and as the lesson becomes ingrained, training treats can be reduced and replaced with praise. Easily breakable, divisible treats are great for training sessions.
- Occupying / Entertaining: While leaving our pets for long periods of time isn’t ideal, sometimes we want a treat to last longer. Whether they be dental chews which exercise the teeth and gums, rawhide or generally the more dehydrated, tendinous or keratin-based treats like hooves or antlers, they can do a great job at enriching their day, and even relieving anxiety. These are the treats that we need to be particularly mindful of when supervising, to ensure they’re consumed in a safe way. Take advice from your vet if you have concerns.
Let’s keep these reasons in mind when deciding to buy a treat. There’s no value in giving a jerky treat which takes minutes to chew while you’re training-on-the-go, nor expecting a soft treat to keep them entertained while you’re cleaning the house.
SHOULD SOMETHING GO WRONG
If you or your pet has any issues with your treats or even positive feedback you’d like to share, be absolutely sure to reach out to the manufacturer and start speaking with their Customer Care teams. Good treat-makers across Australia will be able to support you with product information and more ‘best practice’ tips and tricks.
It’s critical that if you or your pet has a negative experience while using a treat product, that your voice is heard. Both positive and negative feedback is how companies improve on their products, and the brand responsible for selling the product should be the first to offer you assistance.
Sharing a small valuable bit of tastiness is what we do every day with each other, as well as our pets. It’s important that we celebrate, reward and bond over a shared treat, and as responsible pet owners, employ these tips and tricks to ensure we’re treating in the very best way.