It makes perfect sense to want to give your cat treats. She's such a good girl! But should you be giving her treats? What kind? And how often? Let's talk cat treats.
Sure, Give Your Cat Treats
In general, treats are totally fine for cats to have. It's a good idea to dole them out when your cat is doing a behavior you find particularly positive, like snuggling up next to you or waiting patiently for her food before you wake up. And yes, before you ask, it is possible to train your cat to do tricks with treats.
...But Not Too Many Treats
Here's the problem with treats: They can make your cat overweight. Treats are treats and shouldn't constitute a large part of your cat's daily caloric intake. In fact, our vets say treats should never make up more than 10% of your cat's daily calories, and fewer is better. Treats are particularly tasty because they're usually quite high in fat, salt, or other yummy tasting - but not all that nutritious - stuff. Like cupcakes for us, treats are fine every once in a while, but probably shouldn't be an everyday indulgence for your cat.
How Often Should You Give Treats?
Again, it's all about balance. A few treats every couple of days isn't likely to make your cat obese. It's better to spread your treat-giving out over the course of a week than to give them all at once; too many treats can give your cat gastrointestinal troubles. To keep your cat interested, try to give out treats only when she's behaving in a way you like, or to apologize for doing something she isn't too keen on, like trimming her nails.
What Kind of Treats Should You Give?
There's the rub. Unfortunately, cat treat labels can often leave a lot to the imagination. They rarely offer calorie information and can be opaque about what's actually inside the treats themselves. Remember that treats labeled "low-calorie" or "fat-free" probably aren't formulated all that differently from regular treats. Avoid treats that are essentially pure protein as these can upset your cat's stomach and make her less hungry at mealtimes.
Cat Treat Options to Consider
You should limit your cat's treat intake to no more than about 20-30 calories from treats a day; depending on the size of the treat, that usually equates to just a few pieces. So how can you incorporate treats without breaking your cat's caloric budget? Think outside the bag. Catnip and cat grass are very low calorie and they accomplish much the same purpose as traditional treats. You could also consider making your own treats. Remember that anything new and different is going to feel like a treat for your cat! A small bite of boiled egg, a steamed green bean...just about any nutritious vet-approved food can be a "treat" for your cat if you serve it at the right time. Remember to take calories into account if you're actually making recipe-based cat treats and to store them in the fridge or freeze since they'll be free of preservatives. Finally, remember that treating your cat doesn't necessarily mean feeding her. Play time or a good rub session might be all your cat needs to feel the love.
You should always, always consult your veterinarian before adding anything to your cat's diet. Because cats are so small, just a few extra pounds can make a huge difference in their overall health, so it's important to be aware of whether or not your cat's weight is normal. Regular veterinarian visits are the best way to ensure your feline companion doesn't accidentally end up overweight.