Some of the most popular titbits given to cats and dogs contain more calories than junk food and chocolate bars, according to new research.
In a stark overview of the nutritional value of pet snacks, a few products are shown to contain as many as 415 calories, more than a glazed doughnut.
The news has prompted calls for owners to turn to healthier treats and monitor more closely how much food they are giving their pets. Animal welfare experts said manufacturers should start letting people know the contents of the snacks so they can help maintain a balanced diet for their pets.
Unlike most food packaging, treats for cats and dogs contain very little nutritional information, but the analysis by a leading insurer revealed a host of well-known brand names are rich in calories.
Dreamies, one of the most popular snacks bought for cats, contain 21 calories per serving and 415 calories per 100g. Rival Whiskas Temptations fares little better, with 16 calories per serving and 415 per 100g.
Meanwhile, Bonio dog treats, at 323 calories per 100g, contain around 53 per cent more calories than a McDonald’s Big Mac burger. One Bonio dog biscuit has 78 calories, about 7 per cent of an adult Labrador’s daily allowance, if it is exercised normally. This is similar to a KitKat Chunky, which has 207 calories – 8 per cent of an adult man’s recommended daily calorie intake.
Marc Abraham, a vet and animal welfare campaigner, said: “Animal obesity is on the rise and as pet owners, it’s up to us to control how much and what type of food our pets eat.
“I would be delighted to see calorie information made available on all pet treats and believe it would have a positive impact in helping tackle the country’s growing pet obesity crisis. Obesity can lead to numerous life-threatening health problems, the most common of which are arthritis and heart conditions in dogs, and diabetes in cats.
“These are all serious illnesses but the risks can be dramatically reduced by ensuring your pet stays at a healthy weight.”
Direct Line Pet Insurance, which carried out the research, said only a small number of pet food makers list the calorie content on their packaging, making it difficult for owners to make informed choices.
Prit Powar, head of pet insurance at the firm, said: “We want clearer labelling on dog and cat treats in order to better inform owners about what they are feeding their pets, much like the nutritional information readily available for human foods. With the number of obese dogs and cats on the rise it is vital that the industry encourages responsible pet ownership.”
She added: “Treats play an important role in training our pets and encouraging positive behaviours but, as with human foods, they should be accounted for in an animal’s diet. If a dog or cat has enjoyed multiple treats, they should have lots of exercise to burn off the additional calories and be fed less of their daily intake of food.”
The research found that the nutritional value of pet treats varied widely. In some products, such as Whiskas Dentabites, there is a calorie count of just 14g per serving. Mr Abraham said the even if owners thought they were feeding their pets well, it was worth seeking advice. He said: “Factors like age, breed, level of activity, and whether the animal has been neutered all play a significant role in determining how much to feed your pet, so please seek professional advice if you’re unsure.
“If your pet is overweight and you still want to reward it for good behaviour, there are plenty of healthy alternatives. For example, dogs love carrot sticks, and both dogs and cats love plain cooked chicken; so why not give those a try instead, they’re low in calories and high in nutrients.”
Calorie content per 100g (calories per recommended serving size):
Dreamies Cat Treats 415 (21)
Whiskas Temptations 415 (16)
Felix Goody Bag Original Mix 401 (60)
Felix Crispies 386 (46)
Whiskas Dentabites 343 (14)
Calorie content per 100g (calories per treat):
Pedigree Gravy Bones 343 (14)
Bonio Dog Biscuits 323 (78)
Winalot Shapes 320 (16)
Misfits Wonky Chomps 304 (255)
Bakers Allsorts Whirlers 269 (23)