The hidden danger in today's pet treats: Sugar


Pet obesity is a growing epidemic, and many pet treats contain ingredients that contribute to the problem.

People love to give their pets treats as a reward for a job well-done, whether for sitting on command, pottying outside, or just looking cute. But a new trend in pet manufacturing has Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Ernie Ward concerned: Sugar is becoming a more prominent ingredient in today’s pet treats.

“One of the key reasons I became involved with fighting pet obesity was that I began seeing sugar added to pet treats,” says Dr. Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) and the author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter—A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives. “Sugar is incredibly attractive to dogs. If a dog gobbles a treat quickly, an owner is more likely to give another—and another.”

This pattern leads to increasing sales in the pet food industry—nearly $2 billion in the United States in 2010. But it may also be leading to an increase in pet obesity. APOP estimates that 45 percent of the nation’s dogs and 58 percent of cats are overweight. “In the race for pet treat profits, our pets’ health is being bankrupted,” Dr. Ward says.

In addition to the health consequences, sugary treats can also affect pets’ behavior, Dr. Ward says. “Numerous studies demonstrate that overfeeding sugar can create symptoms similar to drug addiction,” he says. “A dog’s daily sweet treat may be contributing to overeating and other undesirable behaviors. This is why I call today’s high-sugar treats ‘kibble crack.’”

So how can veterinarians help fight the “kibble crack” addiction? Educate your clients, Dr. Ward says. Encourage them to look at ingredient lists—and skip the treats that list sugar or corn syrup as one of the first few ingredients. “Pet owners definitely have a feeding disorder when it comes to their pets,” Dr. Ward says. “Ultimately, it’s up to owners to control how much they feed their pets. What I want to bring attention to is what ingredients are in pet treats—and why. Pet owners must begin to question why there is sugar in a treat that claims to help teeth.”

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