Treats for Pets
October 13, 2011
Halloween is around the corner, and while we are enjoying the
season with treats, we would like our pets to share the joy too.
Pet treats are a great option when you want to treat your
well-behaved little kitty or doggy with a sweet surprise.
However, with a plethora of options for pet treats, the
decision-making can be scary for pet owners. There are several
questions to be answered: Do all vegetables and fruits make good
pet treats? Should children be allowed to share their candies and
chocolates with their pets? What would be safe and healthy pet
And the fundamental question: Are pet treats a good
Don't worry. "Giving your pet treats is a great way of training
them and it can also strengthen the human-animal bond between you
and your pet," says Dr. M. A. Crist, clinical assistant professor
at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine &
Biomedical Sciences (CVM).
Her first recommendation is to opt for commercially available
pet treats rather than human treats. But are pet treats
manufactured for all kinds of pets?
"In the pet food industry, one can find a commercial pet treat
for just about any companion pet that they may own," Crist
The advantage of commercially manufactured pet foods is that
they are designed to complement the pet's regular diet.
"(They) may even contain nutritional benefits such as improved
digestive health or dental health," Crist says.
If you prefer homemade pet treats, Crist recommends trying the
now popular pet food bakeries which make safe and pet-friendly
"The treats come in a variety of fun flavors, shapes and sizes
and are usually associated with the holiday seasons or special
occasions such as a birthday!" she says.
More than what to give as treats for pets, a big worry is what
not to give. Crist lists food that should never be given to
Onions are a big no since they can harm the red blood cells and
may cause serious illnesses, even death. Raisins and grapes
can also cause severe health issues in pets and should be avoided.
Some pets experience gastrointestinal upsets with milk and
"Bread dough is another food that most dog owners do not realize
is harmful to dogs," Crist says. "The yeast inside bread dough will
expand in the dog's stomach leading to a very serious veterinary
Macadamia nuts can be harmful to dogs. Hypothermia,
vomiting, tremors, loss of coordination, dizziness, and
hyperthermia are some of the symptoms seen in the affected
"Luckily, these symptoms usually disappear, and most dogs return
to normal within a couple of days," Crist reassures.
Avocados - not just the fruit but also the leaves, fruit, seeds
and bark - can be harmful to dogs by inducing diarrhea and
vomiting. Some birds and rodents can be sensitive to avocados
too, Crist says.
"… (they) can develop congestion, difficulty breathing and fluid
accumulation around the heart which can be fatal," she states.
Salt in large quantities can be harmful to pets by causing
excess thirst and urination. Some pets can even experience
"Some clinical signs of excessive salt intake can be vomiting,
diarrhea, tremors, and seizures. So keep those salty chips away
from your pets," Crist recommends.
What about the flavors of the season, candy and chocolate?
One main substance to avoid giving pets is Xylitol - a common
sweetener in many everyday products such as toothpaste, candy, gum
and baked goods.
"Toxic ingestion (of Xylitol) can cause insulin release which
can lead to liver failure," Crist states. "The initial signs of
Xylitol poisoning are lethargy, loss of coordination, and vomiting.
Later, seizures can occur followed by an elevation in liver enzymes
and subsequent liver failure in a few days."
Chocolate is a universal favorite for humans and animals alike.
But it comes with warnings too. Caffeine and theobromine are two
ingredients in chocolate that may be harmful to animals. A
combination of these ingredients can cause a variety of problems.
The potentially fatal side effects include heart arrhythmias,
cardiac, and respiratory arrests. Minor ones include vomiting
How do we know how much of these chemicals are in
"It is difficult to quantify how much theobromine and caffeine
is in different kinds of chocolate," Crist says. "A good rule of
thumb is that the darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is to
the pet. Baker's chocolate and cocoa powder are
considered the most dangerous, with dark chocolate and semi-sweet
chocolate somewhere in the middle, and milk chocolate and
white chocolate have the least amount of theobromine."
So what are the general rules for feeding treats to pets?
Crist's first rule when trying a new treat: "Introduce the new
treat slowly and in small amounts," she says. Just like in
humans, treats should not make up for the regular meals which
contain all the nutritional requirements of the pet.
High calorie treats for pets may lead to obesity.
"It is advisable to always reduce the pet's main meal by an
equivalent caloric amount according to the feeding guides," says
Crist. "An ideal treat would be great-tasting, nutritious, and with
Another tip: feed according to age requirements recommended on
Consult your veterinarian for any doubts about the size and the
timing of pet treats, Crist advises. Her take-home message:
Feeding too many treats or the wrong type of treats to your pet can
cause an imbalance in the pet's diet and lead to weight problems.
Do not over do it!
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