How Many Treats Should My Dog Eat Per Day?

Actually, I’m glad you asked.  As pet owners, we need to be very conscious of this question … and the answer.  Many experts estimate that more than 50% of our dogs are overweight.

So, the answer is NONE.  No, I mean the answer is SIX.  Wait, TEN?  Wow – there seems to be more to this answer than just a number.  Here are three questions to help you choose the correct number of treats per day for your dog.

1. What is my dog’s weight?  (You must choose one of these.)

    • Thin, and he needs more calories?
    • Just right, and he needs more calories?
    • Overweight, and he needs more calories?

Oh, yes, treats are calories added to your dog’s daily food intake.  This means that bacon strips, milk bones, rawhides, hamburgers – everything you give him to eat has calories.  You must consider your dog’s weight to know how many treats to give.  You also must calculate how many calories are in each treat.

2. What ingredients are in the treat?

    • Can you read and understand what the package lists?  Are they healthy ingredients?  Have you ever heard of these ingredients?
    • Is the treat high in fat?  Many treats are high in fat because that makes them tastier. However, many dogs develop pancreas problems from eating high fat foods.
    • Are the treats actually made in the U.S. (not just sold or distributed by a U.S. company)?

3. Why am I giving my dog a treat?  Is it because

    • I’m eating a cookie so she should get one too?
    • I want her to love me more so I’ll give her treats?
    • If I give her a rawhide she’ll leave me alone for a while?
    • I’m training her and this is positive reinforcement?

Note:  You NEVER want to give your dog a treat when he is misbehaving.  For example: Your dog is jumping and barking as you come in the door and you want her to stop.  A treat at this time is rewarding her for unacceptable behavior and teaching her to do it again and again so that she will get a treat.

If you have answered these three questions and are ready to give the right treat for the right reason, and the treat won’t be harmful to your dog’s health, then, how much should you give him?  You’re correct if you are realizing that a number won’t answer this question.

So, to give you an example, I’d like to share this information from the American Kennel Club. They recommend that the treat(s) equal no more than 10% of a dog’s daily recommended calorie intake.  Here is the example they gave:

Consider a treat being one cube of cheese.

One cube (one cubic inch) of cheddar cheese contains about 69 calories. That is about 5 percent of an 80-pound German Shepherd’s daily intake. If fed sparingly, this is not necessarily a problem, but what about your 5-pound Yorkshire Terrier? What would a single cube of cheese do to him?

If your 5-pound Yorkie needs one-half cup of Hills Active Longevity a day, that is only a total of 182 calories. Ten percent of his diet is 18 calories. That one cube of cheese is nearly four times the amount of recommended calories –- about the same as eating a Big Mac for us.

Now we are back to calories.

The truth is, dogs don’t get hungry for emotional reasons like we do.  We teach them to beg for food, but they are not doing that because they are hungry (unless it’s their meal time).  They beg for treats because they saw that the treat made us happy with them.  That’s why we use treats in training.

So, if you give a dog a treat for no reason, he’ll gladly eat it, but he didn’t need it.  It just makes us happy.

You probably don’t feel like you’ve gotten an answer yet to how many treats your dog should eat per day.

The answer:

  • Quantity: Very, very few.
  • Quality: Clean food. As few chemicals in the treat as possible.  Whatever is LOW in calories is best.  Many dogs enjoy carrots, apples, green beans, broccoli, and more.  Boiled chicken breast can be cut into small cubes and used as treats.  Make sure that you Google “what foods NOT to give to your dog”.
  • Purpose: Give a treat only when a dog is calm and well behaved.  This doesn’t mean that you should wake him up from a nap to eat a treat.  Give when you calmly ask him to go to his bed or lie down and he responds appropriately.  Then give a treat.

Final thought.  Our dogs naturally live much shorter lives than we want.  Too many treats can cause obesity (diabetes, arthritis, heart problems) and shorten the quality and length of our dog’s life.

  • No treats are much better than too many treats.
  • No treats are much, much, much better than treats that are given at the wrong time or for the wrong reason.

Personally, I love chocolate.  Love it!  But if I can choose between a candy bar and a big hug from someone I love very much, I’ll take the hug every time!  I think my dog feels the same way.

Author’s Note:  It’s always a good idea to check with your veterinarian to determine what food or treat you should give your dog.  And, I’ll bet your vet will be very willing to discuss quantities of treats with you so that you can keep your dog in excellent health!

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