Adding calorie counts to European pet treat labels could help dog and cat owners avoid pet obesity, said Giada Morelli, DVM, PhD, small animal clinical nutrition researcher the University of Padova, Italy, lead researcher of a recent study on dog owners’ usage and perception of treats.
In her study, survey results suggest that dog owners seek health and nutrition-related information of pet treat packages.
However, dog treat labels may not provide all the information an owner needs to make informed decisions about their dog’s diet. Pet owners easily underestimate the energy provided by treats, she said.
“European manufacturers are currently not required to state the energy content on pet food labels, but its addition should be encouraged,” she said. “Obesity in pets is an emerging issue that affects canine and feline health and well-being, therefore it is of paramount importance that owners become aware of the energy content of all foods administered.”
“The survey revealed that not all owners read the labels of the treats they purchase because of the inability to interpret them,” said Morelli.
Her survey included more than 2,000 dog owners in Europe. The survey asked about usage and purchasing habits of pet treats. The survey also explored dog owners’ attitudes towards treats and labeling.
The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science published the study, “A Survey of Dog Owners’ Attitudes toward Treats.”
“Fun” versus nutrition in dog treat labeling
Some survey participants reported being attracted to the “fun” aspects of pet treats presented on the labels. This could lead owners to disregard the dietary effects of dog treats, Morelli said.
“It is important to remark that treats represent a real food source and they should be managed as such,” she said. “Along with obesity development, overfeeding treats may result in unbalanced daily meals. Consulting veterinarians for proper information and board-certified nutritionists for the reasonable inclusion of treats in the pet’s diet should be promoted in the labels.”
What’s more, those labels may present feeding guidelines that could lead to over use of dog treats, she said.
Dog treats feeding guidelines may exceed healthy amounts
Previous research led by Morelli found that dog treats labels' feeding guidelines in Europe may exceed the recommended amount of calories dogs receive from treats each day. Her team examined the labeling of 32 varieties of dog treats on the international market and published their results in the journal Vet Record.
“Pet treat producers should reconsider the feeding instructions provided on labels as we demonstrated that usually they exceed the 10 percent maintenance energy requirements (MER) suggested by the literature,” Morelli told Petfood Industry in 2017. “For the MER calculation of an average dog we considered a formula which took into account sterilization and sedentary life, which are the major factors contributing to pet obesity that is a growing problem for pets.”