If you own a cat, you probably love giving it treats. Feeding a fish- or chicken-flavored nugget of goodness to your furry companion can be a fun and rewarding experience for both of you.
Unfortunately, there are also some downsides to consider; if you give your cat too many treats or give them treats in an inappropriate way, it could compromise the health and wellbeing of your animal.
So how often, exactly, should you be giving your cat treats?
Different Types of Treats
First, we need to explain that not all treats are created equal. The nutritional value and health value of a treat is dependent on how it was formulated, the ingredients it contains, the size of the treat, and more.
Dental treats, for example, are specifically designed to clear away plaque that accumulates on your cat’s teeth. As part of an overall dental health strategy, it can be a valuable tool to combat tooth decay and improve your cat’s oral health.
Similarly, small treats with minimal calories and those that are made from high-quality ingredients are much more substantive than treats that are mostly filler – or those that are too high in calories.
How to Use Treats
There are good ways and bad ways to use treats. For example, it’s a bad idea to use treats as a sole source of nutrition for your cat; this would be the human equivalent of eating ice cream for every meal. Instead, it’s better to use treats as a delicious “extra,” given sparingly between meals or after meals.
These are some of the best ways to use treats for cats:
- Training. Giving cats treats as a reward for demonstrating a specific behavior can encourage that behavior in the future.
- Rewarding. Similarly, you may want to reward your cat for positive behavior you want to reinforce, such as scratching a scratch post instead of the furniture.
- Bonding. Most people use treats as a way to bond with their cat; feeding treats at regular intervals can make your cat friendlier toward you and help connect you.
- Building a routine. You may also feed treats at specific times of day as a way to establish a routine – such as feeding treats when you get home from work.
Additionally, you should avoid giving your cats treats as a coping tool, or to soothe their anxiety. If you do, you could end up making it harder for your cat to deal with stress – and falsely associate treats with negative experiences.
How Many Treats to Give a Cat
For the most part, a few treats a day shouldn’t be a problem for an otherwise healthy cat. However, recommendations vary significantly based on the type of treat you’re feeding and the health of your cat. Make sure to follow the recommendations printed on the label of your treats – and follow your vet’s advice as well.
Cat Behavioral Differences
You should also understand that different cats have different personalities, preferences, and behaviors. Some cats will eat a reasonable amount of food even if they always have access to their food bowl. Others with gorge themselves as much as possible, ultimately leading to obesity. Keep this in mind when feeding treats – and don’t continue to overfeed a cat that’s already eating too much.
Cat obesity is the biggest health concern related to overindulging in treats. Obese cats have poorer health outcomes; they’re much more susceptible to a variety of health conditions and tend to suffer from a shortened lifespan.
If you notice your cat gaining weight, there are several important steps to take:
- Reduce treat intake. Consider giving your cat fewer treats, especially if treat feeding is a frequent occurrence in your house. Excessive caloric intake is the leading cause of obesity.
- Make food harder to get. Some cats eat endlessly because the food is plentiful and available. You can force them to eat a more reasonable amount by making the food more difficult to get, such as hiding it in a puzzle.
- Feed smaller portions. Similarly, you can feed your cat smaller portions with each meal. Don’t feed your cat too much in a day or too much all at once; follow your vet’s recommendations here.
- Upgrade your food. Food with higher quality ingredients and food specially formulated to combat obesity may be more appropriate choices for your cat.
- Encourage exercise. Use toys, catnip, and other items to encourage your cat to physically exercise more frequently.
So what’s the bottom line here? As long as you’re giving your cat treats no more than a few times a day, and assuming you’re using high-quality treats or treats that support your cat’s health, you can keep your cat in near-perfect shape (and support your bond in the process).