Last reviewed on November 25, 2015
My cat has me well trained. Every evening she arrives in the kitchen for her treats. If I don’t conjure them up quickly enough, she is not shy in expressing her irritation — vocally at first and then as the situation becomes more urgent (from her point of view) by placing all of her six pounds directly underfoot. I invariably acquiesce at this point to save one or both of us from injury.
Since treats are a daily indulgence for many cats, it’s important to put some thought into what makes a good cat treat.
- Treats should be treats
In my mind, a treat should be special… something that a cat looks forward to and relishes eating. I’ve heard nutritionists and veterinarians say that a under certain circumstances, it’s best if a cat’s regular food be used as a treat. While medically-speaking this may be true, I don’t think the cat truly looks at this extra meal as a treat. Treats should be delicious (from the cat’s point of view) and do not have to provide optimal nutrition.
- Moderation is key
The nutritional value of treats is not all that important because they should only be a tiny part of a cat’s diet. I recommend somewhere in the range of 5-10% of total calories. Calorie counts for commercially prepared treats are not always printed on the label but should be available on the manufacturer’s website or by calling them directly. The USDA’s food-a-pedia is an excellent resource for this type of information for human foods.
- Human food and commercially prepared treats are both fine
For something to be considered a treat, it should differ significantly from what is ordinarily eaten. I love my daily (small) dose of chocolate because almost nothing else I regularly eat is so high in sugar and fat. Use your cat’s treats as an opportunity to offer a little variety. If he eats primarily kibble, try offering a few flakes of canned tuna or shreds of cooked chicken. If she eats a moist diet, she might relish the chance to crunch on some “tartar-control” treats.
Human foods that make good cat treats include turkey, chicken, egg, clams, beef, lamb, tuna, sardines, salmon, cheese, or a small amount of milk. All raw meat, fish, or poultry should be cooked prior to feeding to reduce the chances that people or pets in the home will become sick with a food-borne pathogen. Always monitor how a cat responds to anything new in the diet. Dietary intolerances (e.g., lactose intolerance) or allergies are always a possibility.
- Avoid anything potentially dangerous
While many foods are safe for cats when used as treats, some can lead to illness and should always be avoided. Steer clear of anything containing onions, garlic, leeks, chives, grapes, raisins, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea, and jerky-style treats made with ingredients sourced from China.
- Treats don’t replace attention
When life gets busy, it’s tempting to toss your cat a few treats and call it good, but food can’t replace time and love. Don’t forget to incorporate play, snuggle time, or whatever it is that the two of you enjoy doing together into your daily routine.
Dr. Jennifer Coates