Dr. Mark Kinghorn – SNAP Bloor West/High Park, February 2011
So here we are at the final article in our series on pet health and nutrition. We've looked at everything from types of diets to interpreting pet food labels. I thought to wrap up our series we could talk about every dog and cat's favourite subject – treats! There are many treats out there on the market for both cats and dogs, so let's look at a few.
On the canine side of things, I see many treats that are much too hard for dogs to chew on. My rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't want someone to hit you on the knuckles with a particular treat, then don't let your dog chew on it – it's too hard for them. As an example, many owners like to give their dogs beef bones that they get from the butcher. Uncooked these are very hard and can lead to fractured teeth. When cooked, the bones become much more brittle and can shatter or splinter. These sharp pieces, if swallowed can damage the stomach and intestinal tract. Another chew toy that I recommend dogs stay away from is tennis balls. Although you might imagine that their abrasive surface would help to scrape plaque and tartar off of teeth, the nature of the fibres on tennis balls can actually be damaging to the enamel structure over time.
I usually recommend rawhides which will soften when chewed but still provide some initial abrasion to help prevent tartar. Many of these are also treated with enzymes that help prevent tartar build-up on teeth. Kongs are also great chew-toys that won't damage your dog's teeth and can be filled with either peanut butter or other little goodies.
Now cats are an entirely different story (what else is new?). There are numerous bite-sized treats available, some healthier than others – the key is to find one that your feline friend won't turn their nose up at. Once you find one – stick with it!
Here are a couple of general guidelines for giving treats to your pets. Particularly with larger treats or chew toys given to dogs – it is important to monitor them while they are chewing it in case a piece should break off and become lodged in their throat. With any treat for both cats and dogs, MODERATION is the key. Treats are meant to be a reward for good behaviour (make sure not to give the treat after an unwanted behaviour), and should not make up a significant portion of their diet. And as always, if you have any questions about a particular treat talk to your veterinarian and they will be able to give more specific advice about what you have in mind.