Cat Treats: The Pros and Cons
There's a dizzying array of options for the feline diet nowadays, and nowhere is that more evident than in the cat treat aisle.
But, with as many as 40 to 50 percent of cats suffering from obesity, cat treats should be rationed judiciously. No more than 10 percent of your cat's caloric intake should be derived from treats; the rest should come from healthy pet food.
Selecting a treat is no longer as simple as grabbing a bag from your grocer's shelf. You now have options for soft or crunchy, "natural," tartar control, hairball formulas, joint health, freeze-dried protein treats, and many more.
How Do You Choose?
The answer is complex, taking into account your cat's special health requirements, her weight and her age. Many cat treats do a good job of supplementing your cat's diet, providing additional nutrition and benefits that they can't get from their regular food.
Treats provide the opportunity for important one-on-one time with your cat and can go a long way toward strengthening your bond. Giving Fluffy treats before you leave for work and when you return at night can provide a predictable routine that many cats find comforting.
If you understand a treat's ingredients panel and what your cat's needs are, you can provide healthy cat treats for you cat that won't contribute to obesity, diabetes, FLUTDs, or other health problems.
Cat Treat Ingredients
The bad news is that many cat treats contain ingredients that aren't particularly healthy for your cat. Some contain filler ingredients with marginal nutritional value while others have a high fat content.
If your cat is on a dry food-only diet, she likely gets more than enough of these ingredients, and you should consider giving her low-fat, high-protein treats instead. These include fish flakes and freeze dried meat or fish treats. Look for animal protein sources at the top of the list of ingredients.
Here are the most common types of cat treats:
These are good for keeping plaque at bay between dental cleanings. If your cat is on a wet food diet, dental treats may provide a means of reducing gingivitis.
If you're looking for a treat that freshens breath, select one that contains chlorophyll. If your cat has persistent halitosis, a trip to the vet is in order. It could indicate rotten teeth, digestive problems, or an underlying condition that requires veterinary intervention. Remember, dental treats do not replace your regular dental cleaning regimen.
Bonita Tuna Flakes
Often referred to as "Kitty Crack," freeze-dried bonita tuna flakes may have the greatest mass appeal of any treat on this list. They are a high protein, low fat treat that cats find addictive.
However, the heavy metals found in tuna can be detrimental to feline health, and a diet heavy in fish can cause urinary tract problems. Generally, fish flakes aren't a threat because the volume you feed is so low, but cats with histories of urinary tract problems should probably steer clear of them to be safe.
Hairball Remedy Treats
Nothing is really as good as hairball formula cat food, regular doses of Petromalt and regular grooming sessions, but if your cat suffers from hairballs, these treats may offer a supplement to your hairball prevention routine.
Joint Health Treats
This type of treat provides your cat with chondroitin and glucosamine which help maintain healthy joints. They're a good choice for older cats that suffer from joint stiffness and arthritis.
Homemade Treats For Your Cat
With the 2007 pet food recalls still a recent memory, cat owners are seeking sources of healthy pet food and treats featuring natural ingredients. For some, that includes making their own healthy cat food and treats.
Homemade cat treats are easy to make and there's no shortage of cat treat recipes online and in cookbooks if you decide to try it. One popular choice is The Kitty Treats Cookbook, by Michele Bledsoe. It comes with a cookie cutter, and the recipes are simple enough that you can engage your children in the process of making treats for Fluffy.
Moderation Is Key
Most cat treats are not inherently good or bad for your cat. Just as you might sneak an occasional Twinkie, most any cat treat is fine when given in moderation. Treats can be used effectively to reward cats after pills are given, or help in behavior modification. You can even train your cat to perform tricks using treats as a lure.
If you inspect the ingredients panel carefully and dispense the treats judiciously, you should find yourself with a happy, healthy cat.
Related Advice from Other Cat Owners
Food for a Cat with a Sensitive System
If your kitty has special dietary needs for a food that won't upset her system, you may want to ask your vet what to feed her since they know why she has that sensitivity. It could be a gastric problem, IBS, or even allergies to certain foods. Without knowing why your kitty has a sensitive digestive system, it's difficult to suggest a food. Vets don't always suggest you feed the food they stock, but that is usually food for animals with special needs. It's costly, but effective in most cases.
~Joy W., owner of Maine Coon mix
Tips for a Cat That Rejects Food
My cat often rejects her second feeding. I think that's because she's full. Cats only eat when they're hungry. The first can filled her up, so the second isn't as good looking. Do you feed your cat the same flavor? I try to mix it up and that helps a lot!
Also, here are some tips for preserving the cat food: 1. give her half a can at night; 2. give her a whole can, then put a napkin over the bowl to help it from drying out; 3. mix water in with the dried-out cat food. All these things work, and I do the same for my cat!
~Rebecca M., owner of American Shorthair
The Right Amount of Dry Food
My cats have their dry food out all day. It's said that cats will stop eating when they're full, and mine do. Some vets recommend against free feeding because they claim the cats will gorge themselves, but mine don't and they are not overweight. If your cat is finicky about the dry food, I guarantee you she won't starve and when she gets hungry enough, she'll eat it. Give her the wet food as a "treat" once or twice a day.
~Joy W., owner of Maine Coon mix
Wet vs. Dry Cat Food
I was always told that the wet food is better for cats - and to give the dry in moderation. My cat has a history of bladder stones so extra moisture is key for him. He is a big boy too at 18 lbs, so free feeding can have its challenges when you have a hungry kitty!
I give my pet a half of a small can of Fancy Feast in the morning and at night - and he gets a 1/8 cup of dry in the morning and at night). Try different things and see how your kitty does - you don't want the weight to come off too quickly and you want to make sure your cat gets enough moisture in his diet.
~Kellyann C., owner of Burmese mix
The Right Amount of Calories per Day
Take the weight of your cat and multiply by 13.6 then add 70. This is how many calories your cat should have in a day.
~Tina B., owner of Domestic Long Hair
A Cheap but Nutritious Wet Food Option
I'm not sure where you live but if you are on the West Coast and you are near a Trader Joe's, their own brand of canned cat food is good quality. It does have some rice in it but it is good and the main ingredients are meat or fish and not byproducts. My cats all like it and it is only 59 cents for a 5.5 oz can. So, it is very good value. It's a complete food so is good for both cats and kittens.
~Lisa D., owner of Domestic Shorthair
Treats for Sensitive Cat Tummies
If your cat has a sensitive stomach, I would go for a holistic, all-natural type of treat. Blue Buffalo has a Spa Selects treat which is a dry crunchy treat, and comes in chicken and salmon flavors. Also, some Feline Greenies might help! I haven't seen a kitty get sick over those. My cat loves treats and has a very sensitive tummy.