Cat treat addiction is a real thing that afflicts thousands of households. Characterized by whining, meowing, and pawing the spot they know their favorite treats are stored, this behavior can be challenging to cope with.
Some well-intentioned pet owners will try to pacify their pet with added treats, which might make the house quieter for a few minutes, but will only serve to support their neediness for a food item that shouldn’t make up a substantial part of their diet.
Cat treats can be handy for reinforcing positive behaviors and for simply doling out when you want to spoil your cat a little. However, it is possible for cats to become a little overly fond of their treats. The incessant demand for their favorite treat can be obnoxious at best and, at worst, contribute to a weight problem cycle that can become difficult to get back on track.
So, how much is too much?
Cat treats should consist of no more than ten percent of your cat’s overall diet. Less, if your cat has existing weight problems or other health issues.
Treats are in no way meant to replace a nutrient-rich cat food, but if you gave your cat the choice, you know exactly which they’d pick.
So how can you lovingly curb this high demand for treats? What can happen if your cat consumes too many treats? What is considered “too many” in the first place?
This guide is going to dive right into the subject to answer all of these questions and more. We'll also discuss types of treats and bring you a few recommendations by our community members.
How Frequently Should a Cat Get Treats?
If you are training your cat to perform certain behaviors, treats are more than likely going to become part of the process. But that doesn’t mean that your cat should be rewarded with a treat whenever they do something good.
Most cat treat brands will have a recommended serving size printed alongside the nutritional information, but you should take a different approach from this one-size-fits-all kind of labeling. After all, certain high-energy cats might be able to have more treats than a chubby cat who lives in your lap. Overall, use the recommendations on the bag as the maximum and reduce the quantity if your cat is older, unhealthy or heavier than average.
And remember: Cats do not need treats to be healthy and happy, so there is no such thing as “too few” treats.
Some good times to feed your cat treats include:
- When they’ve taken medicine
- When they perform a behavior that you’ve been training them to do
- When you're introducing them to another cat
What Behaviors Indicate an Addiction to Treats?
Most cats love treats. Some cats love them so much that they will completely ignore their full food dishes in pursuit of treats once they hear the bag shake. A simple love of treats is common and nothing to be concerned about. Over time, however, your cat might develop an addiction which could lead to some changes in their behavior.
One of the trademark indicators of cat treat addiction is incessant meowing that may gradually increase in volume – as if you can’t already hear them making their demands.
Rarely, a cat may also get physically aggressive by hissing, biting or scratching when treats are denied – especially if they can see the treats but not get to them.
What are the Consequences of Overconsumption?
We humans have to watch what we eat in order to ensure adequate nutrition and caloric intake, but that doesn’t mean that a bag of chips is going to cause your health to plummet – if enjoyed sparingly.
The same line of thinking can be applied to cats and their treats. While cat treats aren’t necessarily good or bad for your cat, they are not designed to be a replacement for healthy, high-quality cat food. Both humans and our feline companions should have well-balanced diets with our chosen treats thrown in on occasion to ensure optimal health.
Obesity is a real health problem for indoor cats. This is, of course, not solely because of treats or treat addiction.
Over-feeding can be a problem as well due to well-intentioned owners not knowing how to portion their pet’s food. Inactivity, which can be caused by a number of factors, plays a substantial role as well. But cat treats are sometimes a major contributing cause.
We get it, it’s easy to give your cherished cat companion too many treats when you’re compelled by those big saucer-like eyes and cute begging antics. It might also be challenging to consistently say “no” when they won’t stop insisting. No cat owner is trying to make their cat obese, but far too many of us wake up one morning and wonder, “When the heck did my cat get so… hefty?”
Obesity in cats carries with it many of the same dangers that obesity does in humans, including:
This isn’t meant to scare you, but to simply inform you as a loving cat owner what is really at stake when you let your already-chubby fluffy overindulge in treats that have little to no nutritional value.
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain, including arthritis
- Increased occurrence of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Respiratory problems, like difficulty breathing
- A shortened lifespan
In fact, many cat owners will be recommended by their veterinarians to avoid giving their cats cat treats from here on in, as a means of helping to control their portions and reduce their weight.
How Can Owners Wean Their Cats from Treat Addiction?
The worst thing that you can do if your cat has become treat-addicted is to give them the treat whenever they demand it. It might simply feel easier to give in when they get annoyed about it, especially if they turn aggressive at being denied their savory morsels of choice. But it’s like teaching children proper behavior: You don’t give them what they want when they do something bad.
The same principle applies to cats. No matter what they do, even if they scratch or bite at you, do not give them treats when they are displaying bad behavior.
Cats quickly learn how much sway they have in our households. This becomes evident when they are demanding food – and especially treats. Fortunately, there are ways to get around their bossy behaviors and take control of the situation.
Automatic FeedersOne commonly implemented solution for cat owners to curb their cat’s bothering humans for treats is an automated animal feeder. Certain models can be programmed to dole out treats at a specified time, thus taking the human out of the equation and (hopefully) prompting them to stop bugging their humans about it so much.
Read more: Best Automatic Feeders For Cats (including 17 Detailed Reviews)
Help Kitty burn off the excess calories by making her work for treats. An easy way to do that is use a toy that only dispenses a treat after the cat has put in some effort.
A simple option is a treat dispensing ball like this one by Petsafe.
For even more mental stimulation, you could try a treat maze like this one.
Changing the Treats
You may also want to consider changing what types of treats you’re providing. Swap out the usual treats that your cat knows and loves for an unfamiliar brand – perhaps they’ll feel a bit less enthusiastic about snack time.
Another alternative is to offer them cooked whole, high-protein foods such as fish and chicken in treat-sized portions instead of store-bought cat treats. The higher protein and healthy fats nourish the body and keep them feeling satisfied longer while still giving them the feeling that they are being pampered.
For some cats, a different type of cat food may be considered a treat. Many cats who are fed wet food exclusively view kibble as a treat. This means you can offer a nutritionally balanced treat simply by choosing high-quality dry cat food and dispensing a few kibbles occasionally.
Add stimuli in the form of playtime and exercise
Our cats - just like us - hate to be bored. Eating something "interesting" like a treat can be a way for Kitty to avoid boredom. This is where you can help by offering healthier alternatives.
Does your cat have a favorite toy that they just can’t get enough of? Do they jump with predatory joy at the sight of the red dot of a laser pointer? Use their love of playtime to distract them from their treat-based demands!
This is a great way to combat treat-dependent behavior and weight control issues all at once, as they’ll be burning calories instead of taking in the added, unnecessary calories from having too many treats.
Read this for more ideas: Bored Cat? What Cat Owners Need To Know (including 10 Actionable Tips)
Use Clicker training
Working with a clicker can help limit the use of treats as a prize for wanted behavior. Take the time to learn how to clicker train a cat and you'll be armed with one additional technique that can help you curb Kitty's treat addiction.
Finally, another option is to simply stop providing cat treats, either at certain times or entirely. If you’ve been guilty of giving your cat treats whenever he or she has asked for them, you should stop doing this.
Instead, you should switch things up so that you are only giving the cat a treat as a reward for wanted behavior. Sometimes, however, cat owners have to remove cat treats from the house completely. This is ideal for households wherein the feline resident has a weight-related problem, as excessive treats can be a contributing factor in obesity.
Types of Cat Treats – Which are Best?
Now that we've talked about treat addiction and how to break it, let's take a look at the type of treats you can give your cat. Cat treats are not all made the same, and some may be healthier than others.
There are many, many different types of cat treats on the market today – but they aren’t all made with the same commitment to quality and overall feline health. You need to take your cat’s particular health situation into account when choosing the treats that you will give them (if you choose to give them any treats at all).
Below are only some of the most popular and healthiest types of treats available today. There are other options on the market for you to choose from, so we encourage you to make careful considerations when choosing the right treat for your pet.
Commercial Dry Cat Treats
Many of these treats are high in carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain and poor dental health. Being dry, these treats are easy to keep unrefrigerated, so many cat owners choose to buy them. And many cats adore the crunch and apparently the flavor too.
Temptations is one of the best-known brands of dry cat treats. Often heatedly discussed in the cat nutrition forums, many members feel these are just too addictive for cats and do not offer enough quality.
A healthier and more popular choice is fish flake treats. Cat-Man-Do's Bonito Flakes treat is a single-ingredient natural fish treat that's a favorite of many members in our forums.
Commercial Wet or Canned Cat Treats
Moist treats are fantastic for cats that love wet food, as well as cats who are older or have dental issues that might make it challenging for them to eat harder kibble-style treats.
These treats come in the form of either pouches or cans and excel in high water content. This means they're less calorie-dense and better satiate the cat's appetite for treats.
Some canned cat treats look like regular cat food, but you'll notice they're missing the "complete and balanced" statement on the label. That's how you can tell they are in fact treats and should be dispensed as such - in small quantities.
The Fancy Feast Appetizers line offers quality cat treats that are a popular choice with our members.
Commercial Dental Cat Treats
Some people feel that this type of treat is a delicious, pain-free and very convenient way to help ensure your cat’s optimal dental health. Many of these so-called dental treats don’t do anything to combat plaque or tartar build-up and are instead simply packed full of carbohydrates that can actually leave a residue on your cat’s teeth.
We've covered the topic of how to tell what value cat food, including treats, can have when it comes to Kitty's dental health in this article:
Does Dry Food Actually Clean Your Cat's Teeth?
Homemade Cat Treats
Many cat owners choose to give human-grade food as an occasional treat. A spoonful of fresh yogurt, a small piece of cooked chicken breast or even canned tuna in water all work very well.
Some cat owners choose this route because of the frequency of recalls on certain types and brands of cat treats, while others simply want to give their pets the highest-quality treats possible.
Keep safety in mind and know which foods to avoid:
Common Foods That Are Harmful To Cats
Keep in mind that both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association advocate against feeding raw protein to pets. This position is supported by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Feeding raw meats to cats puts them and other pets and people around them at risk for pathogen exposure. Their warnings cover freeze-dried cat treats as well.
Catnip used as a treat
Does your cat go crazy over catnip? If he or she is one of the felines who do, catnip is a great way to spoil a cat without the added calories of ingested treats. Sprinkle a little bit onto their favorite pillow or fill their favorite catnip toy with a pinch of the fragrant herb and let them enjoy themselves. It’s not necessarily advisable to sprinkle catnip onto their food, as frequently doing so can lead to some digestive discomfort for your kitty.
How Does Catnip Affect Cats?
It can be a rough, long road to freeing your cat and yourself from the throes of treat addiction, but it is worth it in the end. Be firm and be consistent and your cat will learn to adjust to the new regime.
Cat treats can be a great addition to any household that is cat-friendly. However, it is worth being careful and double-checking labels, as well as online reviews, to ensure that you are providing your cat with a high-quality treat. However, cat treats can quickly become abused by your feline companion if you aren’t careful.
You need to avoid rewarding bad, treat-dependent behavior. You also need to be aware of your cat’s ideal weight and help them to avoid obesity-related issues that could become compounded with excessive treats.
Obesity is a reality that many cats face, especially now that they are widely domesticated and no longer have to hunt for their meals or for enjoyment. Providing treats on a whim could facilitate obesity, which may lead to diabetes and a slew of other health concerns down the line. While treats may not be the sole culprit behind your cat’s weight issues, excessive giving of treats is a very common factor with these concerns.
If your cat is obsessive over their treats, you may have some added aggression to deal with. It’s not uncommon for cats who are used to getting their treats on demand to become prone to scratching or biting when their demand for treats is denied. After all, any kind of addiction is challenging to break. Don’t become discouraged if weaning your cat off of their treat habit is more difficult than you’d have initially thought. It will be worth it in the end.