Any dog will tell, dog treats are an effective way to reward, motivate and indulge, but there’s one downside – an overindulgence can lead to weight gain and even obesity. Get tips for choosing dog treats and learn what percentage of your dog’s daily diet should be made up of treats.

Dog treats, biscuits, cookies – whatever you call them, if your dog is like most pups – treats are high up on her list of favorite things. Not only does she know when during the day she’ll get them and where you stash them, but she’ll work for treats too, and is probably skilled at weaseling a few extras from you on occasion (or maybe all of the time).

And while treats are an effective way to reward, motivate and spoil your dog (but certainly not the only means), there’s one downside – an overindulgence can lead to weight gain and even worse, obesity, which has a huge effect on your dog’s overall health. An estimated 56% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese and at risk for serious health conditions as a result.

Keep the following in mind when ‘treating’ your dog with treats: Overindulging your dog with treats can lead to obesity.

“If I could only point to one factor causing the modern-day pet obesity epidemic, it would have to be treats,” says veterinarian Ernie Ward, founder and President of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). And it’s understandable, it’s easy to give your dog many treats throughout the day if you’re not careful, and those calories add up, especially if the treats are high in calories to begin with.

Treats should generally make up only 10% of your dog’s daily diet.

In general, treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories, but how many calories does your dog need, and how many calories are in his treats? First, determine the number of calories in your dog’s food. If the information is not listed on the packaging, call or email the manufacturer or check their website, and remember you may feed your dog less than the manufacturer’s recommended amount. Next up, take 10% of the number and that’s your dog’s daily treat allowance. To find the number of calories in your dog’s treats, also check the packaging or contact the manufacturer.

Estimated daily caloric needs for dogs from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) website are as follows: a 10-pound dog requires 200-275 calories, a 20-pound dog requires 325-400 calories and a 50-pound dog requires 700-900 calories. See your dog’s estimated caloric daily needs here. Since caloric needs vary based on a dog’s size, activity level and other factors, also speak with your vet about your dog’s daily caloric requirements.

More resources for learning how much to feed your dog: caloric content of popular dry dog food and calorie counts for popular pet treats. While a small Milk-Bone dog biscuit has just 20 calories, a large biscuit has 115 calories, and a large Purina BusyBone dental chew, a whopping 600 calories! The list also includes calories counts for healthy alternatives like apples and green beans.

Choose treats carefully and reduce the number of treats you feed your dog as needed.

  • Pay attention to the ingredients listed in dog treats and choose treats that are nutritious and made with natural ingredients.
  • Look for treats that list meat as the first ingredient and those containing whole grains.
  • Choose treats that are low in fat, calories and sugar.
  • Replace some of your dog’s usual treats with fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins and fiber, and are low in calories. Most dogs love veggies such as baby carrots and green beans, and fruits such as apples and oranges (slice them into small pieces, and remember no grapes for dogs!)
  • Give your dog small treats – for instance, instead of feeding your dog an entire biscuit, break it in half or into pieces and give your pup a piece at a time.
  • Make sure everyone in your household is on board with your dog’s treat allowance so each person is not giving your dog a number of treats each day.

The Scoop:

Read more about preventing pet obesity in dogs and cats at the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention website.