08 Apr Healthy Snacks for Dogs on a Diet
You’re at your dog’s annual wellness appointment when your veterinarian breaks the news: your sweet, food-and-treat-worshipping pup is tipping the scales a by few too many pounds! You leave the veterinary clinic with a bag of reduced-calorie food in hand, specific instructions on how much to feed your dog, a daily exercise plan, and some appointment dates down the road for weigh-ins to track weight loss progress. No doubt that calorie restriction extends into the “treat zone” too – but how do you explain to your buddy that the treats he has grown accustomed to receiving daily might have to be trimmed from his diet? Can dogs on diets still have treats?
Understanding caloric intake and canine metabolism ultimately dictate the rate at which a dog will, or will not, lose weight. Putting your dog on a diet should be guided by your veterinarian for the healthiest approach and most sustainable outcome possible. Dogs are often overfed for both regular meals and treats, and on average, 50% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese! As a pet parent, you are not alone in helping your dog fight the battle of the bulge.
Weight gain in dogs is a serious and very common problem and can be avoided with balancing the proper caloric intake with output. The average 15 lb pet dog only needs about 415 calories per day, and a 60 lb pet dog about 1170 calories per day. This includes treats! Treats should make up less than 10% of your dog’s diet, meaning that a 15 lb dog only needs 415 total calories per day: 40 calories max from treats and 375 calories should be from a well-balanced commercial dog food. Spoiler alert: that is not very much! Especially when you take into account the average caloric content in some common treats that we like to give our pups:
– Greenies Original, Regular Size Dental Dog Treat – 90 calories
– Original Milk Bone, 1 Medium Size Bone – 40 calories
– Beggin Strips Originals, Per Piece – 36 calories
– Pup-Peroni Original Beef Flavor, Per Stick – 28 calories
– 1 oz of cheddar cheese – 114 calories
So, if your pup is plump around the midsection, is he banned from treats forever? Luckily, the answer is no! Does he need an overhaul of his treat repertoire? Probably, yes.
Treating Your Pup
Luckily, many dogs are not selective when it comes to receiving treats! Sometimes it is as easy as breaking a treat into many small pieces and delivering those pieces throughout the day. For a dog, it is not the size of the treat that matters… just the fact that they are getting positive attention from you and a tasty morsel for their tummy! Some dogs are easy too; if they love their kibbles like treats, section out a small portion of their daily measured kibbles into a designated “treat baggie” to distribute those to them throughout the day. This alone can satisfy the treat habit of many dogs (as well as the temptation to serve treats by their loving humans!). This method also makes it easy to track your dog’s daily calorie intake! Some of the prescription food brands also manufacture low-calorie treats and your vet can recommend those if they fit into your dog’s diet plan.
Most dogs do appreciate a small variety in their treats though, so here is a selection of healthy fruits, veggies, and snacks that you can try on your pup and see how they respond to these human foods. Always remember, especially if your dog has food allergies, a sensitive stomach, or is on a strict diet for other medical reasons, to consult your vet prior to trying any human foods or new treats.
Here is a list of healthy treats to give dogs that each measure at about 5-10 calories per piece, depending on how they are served:
- Apple chunks or thinly sliced pieces (no seeds, stem, or core)
- Green beans (fresh or frozen–many dogs love the “crunch” of frozen green beans straight from the freezer)
- Baby carrots, carrot sticks, cooked carrots (no butter or seasoning)
- Cucumber slices
- Squash (no rind or seeds, serve raw or cooked) – butternut, yellow squash, pumpkin, zucchini
- Green peas (fresh or frozen)
- Small pieces of baked sweet potato
- Banana slices (peeled, room temperature or frozen)
- Cantaloupe (no rind)
- Watermelon (no rind)
- Popcorn (no salt or butter)
- Low salt pretzel sticks, or tiny twists
- Rice cakes (broken into small pieces)
AskVet Tip: monitor your dog closely for a few days as you start to offer new food items. For instance, choking on small pieces can happen if you toss your pup certain types of treats (carrot chunks, peas, etc), and vomiting or diarrhea is always a concern in the days following the consumption of new foods. Start slow and once they seem to be tolerating the new treats well, just rotate between a select few types to keep things stable.
As always, stay away from toxic foods that can make your dog sick, like garlic, onions, raisins, grapes, chocolate, yeast dough, sugar-free candies and foods (due to the possibility of being sweetened with xylitol, an artificial sweetener ingredient) and other toxic foods. When in doubt, check with your vet before feeding anything new to be sure they are a good choice for your dog.
What if My Dog is on a Special Diet?
What to do with those pups who are on strict prescription diets for other medical conditions? If you search the Hill’s, Purina Pro Plan, and Royal Canin Prescription Diet websites, there are some tips on how to turn slices of the canned food into treats and blend up pieces of the kibble to be formed and baked into cookies. Just by varying the texture, you can make their normal food a bit more fun and exciting!
Our dogs tend to love food so much that it can be easy to forget that food isn’t everything! There are some very satisfying healthy alternatives to treats. Some dogs are equally gratified when they are being brushed, offered a nice play session, are taken on a relaxing walk outdoors, or just given extra attention at home. These activities can be a great way to bond with and reward your dog too, with no calories added! Food puzzles and food games for dogs found online are also great ways for our pups to earn their healthy snack, burn some calories, and get their brains working too.
Stick to The Program for Weight Loss Success
Hopefully, your pup will adapt to these lower-calorie healthy treat alternatives without too much fuss! Keeping track of how much they are consuming daily, and deliberately sticking to a set diet over time is the hardest part – or maybe it’s resisting those big hungry puppy dog eyes? Always keep in mind that your dog will live a longer and more comfortable life if he is maintained at a healthy weight and it is worth keeping their food intake in check using some of these tips!
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Alexa Waltz, DVM
Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!