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Vet Exposes Sugary Secret of Pet Treats

By Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP)

Today’s pet treats aren’t the dog bones of your childhood. Over the past decade, a surprising ingredient has begun to appear on pet treat ingredients lists: sugar.

Dr. Ernie Ward with one of his four-legged pals.

Following the trend of sugar-laden children’s snacks, pet treat manufacturers are tapping into a dog’s sweet tooth to boost sales.

I became involved with fighting pet obesity when I began seeing sugar added to pet treats. I think if more pet owners were aware of this, they may choose their treats more carefully. When you have popular treats that list sugars as three of the first four ingredients, you know there’s a problem.

Sugar and Dollars
And the problem is huge. APOP estimates that 45 percent of U.S. dogs and 58 percent of cats are too heavy. That equals an estimated 89 million pets that are at high risk for developing conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and more. The problem is linked to money–lots of it.

With U.S. pet treat sales estimated to be nearly $2 billion in 2010, the treat bowl has turned golden. Sugar is incredibly attractive to dogs. If a dog gobbles a treat quickly, an owner is more likely to give another and another.  This adds up to more sales and profits. In the race for pet treat profits, our pets’ health is being bankrupted.

Kibble Crack
Ward also contends that added sugar has behavioral consequences. Numerous studies in rats demonstrate that overfeeding sugar can create symptoms similar to drug addiction. 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.”

Of course, pet treat manufacturers are quick to blame pet owners for the problem. After all, dogs and cats don’t buy or give these products to themselves.  However, pet owners have a feeding disorder when it comes to their pets. Ultimately it’s up to each owner 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.

Today we also have some of the best pet foods and treats we’ve ever had. For that, I am grateful. At the same time, we’re seeing some of the unhealthiest products masquerading as wholesome and nutritious. It’s time we reveal the sugary secret that is contributing to obesity in pets.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Ward, author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter: A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives (2010 HCI), wants you to read the ingredients on your pet’s treats, and to limit the number of treats you give your pets. I interviewed Dr. Ward about putting dogs and cats on diets; he believes that play and praise are great substitutes for treats. For a complete list of pet treats that contain a lot of sugar, visit Dr. Ward’s website.

14 comments to Vet Exposes Sugary Secret of Pet Treats

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    we got a dehydrator and make our own doggie treats,, chicken and beef jerkey.. ya, don’t like the dog/cat food market much anymore.. don’t trust them.. we cook for our dogs as well.. and use a good quality vitamin suppliment with NO additives or preservatives..
    Good article,, people should know of the hidden ‘stuff’ in pet food and treats.
    Thanks Dr. Ward for posting this article 🙂

  • Good grief! who got this great idea? There are so many excellent things that can be added to pet treats why would you ever put sugar in them? Thanks for the informative article!

  • I never give my dog treats. I expect him to do as he is told for no reward, but don’t worry he is a very, very spoilt, well cared for Dobermann – and he knows it!!

  • Hi Wendy,
    Lucky dog!

  • Thank you for raising awareness about this issue among pet owners, Dr. Ward! I would love to hear your views on dry pet food in general – more and more holistic veterinarians point to the high carbohydrate content of dry foods as a source of not only obesity, but many of the degenerative diseases we see in our pets.

    I recently wrote an article titled “The Truth About Dry Cat Food,” and I would love to get your views on the topic, for both cats and dogs. Here’s the link to the article: http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/05/the-truth-about-dry-cat-food/

  • Why does a story like this not surprise me. I saw the argument that said “it’s not our fault, it’s the pet owner’s fault for buying the sugary treats.” That’s like saying guns don’t kill people – people kill people. That’s a lot of comfort to the fat dog / dead person.

  • Isn’t it bad enough that corn is in dog food? Now sugar?

  • I agree that “today we have some of the best pet foods and treats we’ve ever had”, but they’ve actually been around a long, long time, in the form of raw meaty bones and offal.

    Go natural or go home!

  • We have been feeding 4 gsds a 100% raw diet for 7 years, two of them have never received a vaccination and they are all super healthy. When our first gsd was around 8 months old, he had an allergic reaction to flea bites, but no fleas on him. So I checked our two silky terriers who were being fed a human grade kibble and they had not been vaxed for 8 yrs; they were covered in fleas. Coincidence? The gsd had been raw fed since 9 wks old.

  • Hi Tina, You should check out http://www.doggybytes.ca. Jim McBean, who runs the site is an expert on raw meaty diets for dogs.

  • excellent writing about dog health, it is actually useful for me. keep writing and happy blogging.

  • I always wondered about sugar and treats for my dog. I am one of those “read the label and not the pretty front of the box” people. TY for this great info.

  • Oh this is great. We actually teach our clients to reward their dog with kibble, ie. their regular food, and in fact this prevents them from being finicky.