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 ingredient lists: sugar.
Following the trend of sugar-laden children’s snacks, pet treat manufacturers are tapping into a dog’s sweet tooth to boost sales. “One of the key reasons I became involved with fighting pet obesity was 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.” says veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) and author of “Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter – A Vet’s Plan to Save Their Lives” (2010 HCI). “When you have popular treats such as Snausages SnawSomes that list sugars as three of the first four ingredients, you know there’s a problem.”
And the problem is huge. APOP estimates that 45% of US dogs and 58% 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.
Ward says the problem is linked to money – lots of it. With US 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.”
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 themselves. Ward agrees – to a point. “Pet owners definitely 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.”
Ultimately both the pet food industry and Ward have pet’s best interest at heart. “Today we 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.”