Food is love, right? We embrace our pets with tasty morsels as a reward for going potty. Or a buttery biscuit slipped under the kitchen table. And a scoop of ice cream while watching TV. So is it any wonder that an estimated 54 percent of dogs and 58 percent of cats in America are overweight or obese?
But pets are often the real losers when we show this kind of love. Overweight dogs have been shown to live an average of two years less than their lean counterparts. And extra weight puts pets at risk for all kinds of health problems, from diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure to heart and lung disease, cranial cruciate ligament injury and numerous types of cancer.
So if you really want to show your pet how much you love him or her, consider switching to healthy, low-calorie treats. And remember, if you don’t want your pet’s diet to become unbalanced, treats should never account for more than 10 percent of the total calorie allotment for the day. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian how many calories your pet should be eating daily, and if there’s a treat available from your favorite pet food manufacturer, don’t hesitate to ask about it as well.
For dogs, think fruits and veggies
Most dogs are more than happy to crunch on a raw carrot. Same goes for green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, celery, cucumber, zucchini and even cubes of baked sweet potato. You can slice ’em, dice ’em and even cook vegetables, too. And there’s no need for butter, salt or candied sauce — most dogs like veggies just the way they are.
Popular fruits for dogs include bananas, pears and apples (just make sure to remove the apple seeds, which can contain small amounts of cyanide). Strawberries, raspberries, oranges and blueberries are OK too. You can even puree fruits and vegetables and freeze them inside a Kong. Just don’t go overboard because too many fruits and vegetables could lead to gastrointestinal upset.
A handful of air-popped popcorn, without added salt, is another low-calorie alternative.
There are, however, some fruits and vegetables you definitely don’t want to give dogs because of potential toxicity. These include grapes, raisins, currants, onions, garlic, chives and leeks. It’s also best to avoid fruits with large pits, which could pose a choking hazard or result in a digestive tract obstruction.
What about cat treats?
Cats, being carnivores, are all about lean meats and fish. A few bites of salmon, tuna or lean chicken will most likely elicit a purr. Raw vegetables, including carrots, green beans and broccoli are fine as long as they are cut into tiny pieces. To avoid a choking hazard, cooking the vegetables may be a better option. A spoonful of canned pumpkin (without added spices) can provide your kitty with added moisture and fiber, too.
Surprisingly, many cats are fond of fruits such as cantaloupe and watermelon. But it’s not the sugary flavor they’re after, since cats can’t taste sweetness.
Garlic, onions, chives and leeks are also on the no-no list for cats because of potential toxicity.
With so many healthy options for your pets, you can treat them with love and still help them keep their svelte shape.