Let’s explore how small differences in calorie counts can make a big difference in a pet’s weight. Let’s start with the number of calories a small dog needs to consume per day to maintain body weight. A 15 pound dog requires around 300 calories per day to keep his weight stable. If we add in just 25 calories of treats or extra food per day, that dog will gain 2 pounds quickly. (While that may not seem like much, it’s a 13% increase, which is similar to a 150 pound woman gaining 20 pounds.)
Our trouble comes in the fact that it takes so little (25 measly calories) to cause significant weight gain. I checked some common treats, and found it’s ridiculously easy to feed 25 extra calories. For example, a Petite size Greenie is 54 calories! One Snausage in a Blanket is 26. A small Milkbone is 20.
For another example, let’s take a 70 pound dog. She would need about 940 calories per day to maintain her body weight. Common treats for bigger dogs might be a Large size Greenie (145 calories) or a chip-style rawhide chew (65-85 calories). If we add 100 calories per day to this girl’s intake, she will soon weigh 80 pounds!
It can be very difficult to say no to our dogs. Those big brown eyes just melt our convictions. However, keeping our dogs lean is the absolute best thing we can do for their long term health! Here are some suggestions for keeping calories under control:
1. Use smaller treats. For example, the mini size Milkbones are only 5 calories each. Most dogs chew them so fast they won’t notice the size difference. Another great small treat is Charlee Bears—they are only 3 calories each.
2. Substitute healthier items. Many dogs like the crunch of baby carrots or raw green beans. You can keep a container in the fridge for easy access.
3. Track the calories of treats you do give, and check carefully. For example, Greenies Lite sound like a great idea, but when you check the calories, they are only about 10 calories less. That’s not much.
4. Substitute kibble for treats. For many dogs, the specialness of a treat is that it comes at non-meal times, from a special jar or location and with a verbal reward from us. If you keep all those factors the same, but use 2-3 pieces of kibble, many dogs are just as happy.
5. Use toys that dispense treats or kibble slowly to keep dogs busy and mentally stimulated. Good ones are a Buster Cube or the Kong Wobbler. We also have a few ‘puzzle toys’ here at the clinic that make dogs think hard!
Please contact me if you have questions about nutrition, calorie intake for your pet, or other questions about treats.