pet news

OCTOBER 19, 2011

Pet Talk – Treats for Pets

halloween cat in a treat bucketHalloween 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 treats?

And the fundamental question:  Are pet treats a good idea?  

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 says.

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 food.

“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 pets.  

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 milk-based products.

“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 emergency.”

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 dogs.

“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 sodium poisoning.

“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 and diarrhea.

How do we know how much of these chemicals are in chocolates?

“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 always advisable to 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 low fats.”

Another tip: feed according to age requirements recommended on the label.  

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!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.  Stories can be viewed on the Web at