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:

Dental 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.

Photo: Peardg

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