It’s almost a mantra in any discussion of pet obesity and healthy eating. We should limit treats to no more than 20 percent of our cats’ daily diet. Some nutritionists advise lowering the limit even more to 10 percent. But how do we determine the calories in our cat’s favorite treat? Perhaps the manufacturer doesn’t list calories on its packaging.
The result can be that, if we give our cat a handful of treats, he can quickly reach that 20 percent limit. Here’s how: A typical adult cat who weighs 8 to 10 pounds needs only 160 to 250 calories a day, says nutritionist Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and president-elect of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
At that lower limit, a cat could reach the 20 percent treat threshold by consuming 16 Temptations or 11 Pounce soft-moist treats.
“All those nice tendery, morselly things are what cats really like, so people tend to get a little overly rambunctious in offering them,” Dr. Wakshlag says. “If the cat likes it, they keep feeding it.”
Occasional human treats also can add up. According to the USDA, a single ounce of chunk light tuna packed in oil, intended for people, contains 56 calories when drained.
Calorie counts may be required on the labels of pet food soon as a result of a recommendation from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). While the organization has no regulatory powers, states usually follow and mandate its recommendations.
Treats were not included in the first round of recommendations, but Stan Cook, chair of the AAFCO Pet Food Committee, expects them to be added shortly.
What’s an owner to do?
“I think if you’re going to use a treat, why not use one that at least has some sort of health benefit,” Dr. Wakshlag says. “Take dental treats, for example. At least they’re going to clean their teeth.”
His black domestic shorthaired cat, Kermit, gets no pet treats because he is too plump and has been on a weight-loss regimen,
Dr. Wakshlag says. On rare occasions, Kermit’s pleas are answered.
Dr. Wakshlag explains, “We basically go and put more food in his bowl. Some weight loss is better than no weight loss.”
Many manufacturers state their recommendation for daily treats on their packaging. When the information on calories wasn’t included, we asked the companies, and customer service representatives had the information immediately available. In the case of manufacturers’ listing calories in kcals, the metric unit of measurement is essentially the same as calories and we used that.
The message in all the numbers and evocations of tasty treats: Less is more for many cats. Break the treats into smaller pieces or go ahead and make it into a game so they are burning a few calories to get those tasty morsels.
When manufacturers are exercising responsibility in their recommendations, we have to do the same and limit treats to our pets, despite their pleas. It’s not worth risking the health threats to our cats, from cancer to osteoarthritis and diabetes that can accompany obesity.
By Sarah ZumHofe