Learn what makes a “good” treat and how many is too many
We all know that the way to a dog’s heart is through their stomach. Peanut butter, cheese cubes, toast crusts, saucisson - there’s no end to the things our pups love to chow down on. Just as there is no end to the joy we get from seeing them happy.
But as gratifying as it is to spoil your puppy, there are boundaries. Going overboard in the treat department can have a big impact on your pup’s short- and long-term health. So in order to keep them hale and hearty, it’s a good idea to get your head around the treat-giving do’s and don’ts from the get-go, starting with the biggest question of all...
Of course you can! Treat-giving is a great way to bond with your pawed pal and it also makes for a highly effective training tool. Just make sure the treats you’re giving are puppy-appropriate and that you’re dishing them out in moderation.
In an ideal world, treats should make up no more than 5% of your puppy's daily calorie intake. For small dogs, this works out to around 5-8 blueberries or ⅛ of a biscuit bone, while for bigger dogs it equates to around 1-2 carrots or ¾ of a biscuit bone.
Also be sure to avoid any treats that are high in salt and fat like bacon, crisps, and crumbed chicken. Not only will your puppy have a tough time trying to digest these decadent tidbits, they can also have a negative impact on your pup’s health in the long term.
There’s no better feeling than treating your pup to a cheeky slice of mozzarella or the odd shaving of pork. Believe me, I know! But giving your pup more than their fair share does come with consequences. The big ones to be wary of include:
Puppies have very specific nutrition requirements and sadly, treats do not cut the mustard. Compared to regular puppy food, treats are extremely energy-dense so consistently filling your pup’s tank with too many can cause them to grow at a faster rate, which may lead to bone and joint problems later in life
Do not be deceived by those doe-eyes - your puppy is as tricksy as they come. All it takes is for you to share your dinner scraps with them one time (ONE TIME!) and they’ll be slinking back for more whenever they see you sitting down for supper
Like begging behaviour, fussy eating is another bad habit born of over-indulgence. Treating your puppy to every delicacy under the sun teaches them that there is a whole smorgasbord of better options out there which, if they just hold out, they will receive
When inundated with too much fat in one go, your puppy's pancreas can become inflamed, resulting in the *pawfully* painful condition that is pancreatitis. Because of how quickly pancreatitis can come on, it's important that you pay extra special attention to your pup's fat intake, especially on those notoriously high-cal days like Christmas, birthdays, and Easter
It goes without saying that fueling your dog with more calories than he or she needs will lead to weight gain and obesity. But for puppies and their young bodies, the stakes are even higher. Why? Yep, you guessed it. Like I said up top, too much food can cause your pup to grow too fast, potentially leading to bone and joint problems during adulthood
of dogs in the UK are now considered overweight
The number of years obesity can shave off a dog's life
Using human food to spice up your pup's menu is absolutely fine - just so long as you’re selective about what you give them and how often you give it.
For instance, there are loads of fruits and veggies that make great healthy treats for your puppy. But for the most part, human food comes packed with way more salt, fat, and calories than our puppies’ tiny bodies can handle. So if you’re going to go there, just be mindful of what the foods you’re giving your puppy equate to in human terms.
To help give you a sense of how some common foods rank, I've whipped up this chart.
Before you go spoiling your puppy with all sorts of gourmet goods, note that there are some human foods that sit squarely in the no-go camp. These include:
As puppies get older, they lose the ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose. So even though feeding your puppy cow’s milk may feel like the natural thing to do, it could set off a string of gastrointestinal turbulence (a.k.a. vomiting and diarrhoea). Your best bet when it comes to liquids: sticking with good ol’ fashioned H2O
Just because you love drowning your plate in gravy, it doesn’t mean that you should be lavishing your puppy’s bowl with the same treatment. Gravy packs a lot of salt which, over time, can cause your puppy’s blood pressure to spike and wreak havoc on his or her nervous system. While a bit of residual gravy in leftover food scraps is fine, those big generous pours should most definitely be avoided
“Wait, WHAT?” I hear you say. Don’t panic! Peanut butter is definitely still on the fair game puppy treat list. But do be careful with the quantities. Peanut butter is loaded with fat which, when consumed with abandon, can lead to pancreatitis and weight gain in your pup. Also be sure to steer clear of any sugar-free peanut butters as these often contain xylitol - an artificial sweetener that can be fatally toxic for dogs
Until your puppy has officially graduated to adulthood, it’s best to avoid all raw and cooked bones as these can be tough on young teeth. They also have the potential to splinter and get stuck in your pup’s throat and intestines
Try to only use treats as a reward. Before scraping your delicious cast-offs into your pup’s bowl, stop to consider what behaviour you're reinforcing by doing this. Has your puppy done something to earn this holy grail of treats? (And no, being supremely cute does not count.) Or are you just handing it away for free? If it's the latter, you may want to save those leftovers to dish out only when your pup’s done something to earn them, i.e. finally mastering the elusive stop-drop-roll command
Remember that there are loads of other ways to reward your pup that don’t involve upping their calorie intake. Showing praise and affection or whipping out a ball for a game of fetch will go down just as well
If you are going to treat your puppy to the odd serving of human food, try to opt for natural options that are light on the calories like carrot sticks, peas, and blueberries