Easter Eating

Easter is just around the corner and, whatever your religious persuasion may be, there’s one thing it means for all of us … eating! There’s no avoiding the supermarket shelves stacked with chocolate eggs (you’d have to have been blindfolded since February to miss them!) and that’s before we even start on the hot cross buns, roast lamb, Simnel cakes and all the other goodies … there are so many seasonal treats to choose from. But hey, I’m not here to judge. I’m as likely as the next person to overindulge over the Easter period and, do you know what, I’m not even ashamed of it! That’s because I know a bit of excess Easter eating will be both enjoyable and short-lived. I know enough about diet and exercise to understand that, after a short period enjoying every gastronomic delight the season can throw at me, I’ll get back to a more sensible and maintainable diet.

However (yes, I know, there’s always a ‘but’) … I’m not quite so lenient when it comes to your pet’s diet. We humans like a treat every now and again, and that’s fair enough, but there’s a growing trend in thinking that when we have a seasonal treat, our pets should to. Well, that’s not really necessary! Cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, lizards, birds … whatever your pet may be, they have no awareness of our seasonal celebrations and they certainly won’t feel ‘left out’ if you’re having a chocolate egg and they’re not. Treats for pets can be really useful for training or rewards but, trust me, they’re really, really not going to be upset if you don’t buy them an Easter gift! It’s a commercial trend, and one that I – along with most other vets – am certainly not in favour of.

If you really want to spoil your pet this Easter, they will thrive on your time and attention – so take Fido for an extra special walk over Easter weekend or spend some more time playing with Kitty. Let Hammy the hamster out of his cage for a run around in a ball or take advantage of the spring weather to give Bugs bunny a run around in the garden (supervised and safely fenced in!).

Of course, I’m not saying never give your pets treats but please, please, do so sparingly and be aware of their overall food consumption. If the occasional treat turns into a regular habit, they can soon be consuming well over their daily calorie requirement and this can lead to weight gain … an issue that we’re seeing more and more of in much-loved pets, because owners mistakenly feel that ‘treating’ their pets is a sign of their love and devotion. I’m not unsympathetic to this, I’m really not. I can see the logic, albeit slightly flawed. But, while you and I are in control of our own diets and can over-indulge and then rein in our dietary excesses, our pets rely solely on us to control their food intake so, if we’re consistently overfeeding and/or under exercising them, it can begin to affect their health. And that’s not something any caring owner would want to do.

Easter Food Dangers

The seasonal Easter foods that we enjoy can be dangerous for our pets, so whatever you do – and no matter how ‘doe eyed’ they’re looking – don’t be tempted to share your Easter treats with your pets.

Chocolate is dangerous for both cats and dogs and, depending on the cocoa content, even a small amount can be toxic and cause kidney failure, heart problems or seizures.

The raisins and sultanas in your hot cross buns or simnel cake are also very dangerous if consumed by cats or dogs, again potentially leading to kidney failure even if small quantities are ingested.

Another temptation for pets is that delectable smell of roast lamb … but please don’t give Fido the bone from your cooked leg of Easter lamb as cooked bones can splinter easily and cause either a choking hazard or internal mouth or digestive tract damage.

So, while you’re enjoying your Easter feast make sure none of your seasonal treats are within your pet’s reach, for their own safety! If your pet does happen to help themselves to some foods they shouldn’t have, it’s important to get them to the vets as soon as possible so that we can react and begin treatment ASAP, hopefully mitigating the risk of any lasting damage.

Choose your pet’s treats wisely

As well as avoiding ‘human’ foods which can be dangerous for pets, you should be aware of the ingredients in pet treats that you buy. Not all products that are labelled as ‘pet friendly’ are actually ‘friendly’! Some commercially available treats contain ingredients that should be avoided. When shopping, be wary of products containing the following:

– Synthetic preservatives which can be potentially carcinogenic or cause digestive issues, including ethoxyquin, propylene glycol, BHA/BHT, TBHQ, sodium metabisulphite, sodium hexametaphosphate, propyl gallate, carrageenan, nitrates, MSG. Some of these chemical ingredients are used in antifreeze, pesticides and anaesthesia!

– Sweeteners like corn syrup, fructose and xylitol (which is toxic to dogs). There’s really no need whatsoever to have sweeteners in pet treats as they don’t have a sweet tooth (they don’t even taste sweetness). These ingredients are simply unnecessary additives which can increase your pet’s risk of diabetes.

– Filler ingredients that ‘bulk’ up the treat but offer no nutritional benefit and can cause digestive irritation, such as soybean hulls/meal, corn bran/gluten and modified corn starch, rice bran/hulls, cereal by-products, oat or peanut hulls, wheat gluten

– Excess sodium which, just like in humans, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and risk of stroke.

The more natural the ingredients in your pet treats, the better – so, if the list of ingredients on a packet of pet treats is several lines long and contains many complex chemical names that you can’t pronounce, they’re best left on the shelf! The safest way to stay in control of what’s in your pet’s treats is to make your own at home. It sounds like a hassle, but tasty treats can be made quickly with very few ingredients. Check out these simple recipes from the PDSA for inspiration and relax in the knowledge that you’re feeding your pet with the best, healthy treats (still to be given in moderation!).

If you’re treating a rabbit, hamster or guinea pig, a nibble on some fresh green vegetables will be more than enough to keep them happy … these are the types of foods they’d eat in the wild so they’re most suitable for their digestive system. There’s no need to over-complicate things!

Obesity Risks for Pets

So, you may be asking ‘Karl, why are you being so stingy? Why can’t we treat our pets from time to time?’ Well, I’m not saying don’t give them treats ever, but I can’t stress enough that this needs to be done in moderation and under careful monitoring. For example, if you’re a multi person household and everyone gives your pet a treat or two each day, well it could soon add up to the equivalent of a person eating a full chocolate cake each day! And we all know that wouldn’t be a good idea. The reason I keep harping on about this is that I sadly see the repercussions of an unhealthy or excessive diet every day in the surgery, and it’s so sad to see much-loved pets whose health is suffering as a result of their owners trying to express their love through giving treats.

Obesity brings so many health problems for animals and can reduce both the quality and length of their life. Overweight pets can suffer from breathing difficulties, heart problems, high blood pressure, exercise and heat intolerance, joint pain, fractures, ligament damage, risk of diabetes, and increased risk of cancers and other diseases. The worrying thing is that many owners with overweight or obese pets don’t realise that their pet is an unhealthy weight. It’s really important that you take your pet for regular check-ups with the vet and keep an eye on their weight to make sure they’re as happy and healthy as can be. If your pet is overweight, it can be rectified so don’t shy away from the problem. We’ll help your pet to shed those extra lbs and feel better!

Top Treat Tips

Follow these tips for a healthy and responsible way to give your pets treats:

– Give treats as a reward for good behaviour or during training. That way, pets will associate the treat with acceptable behaviour. Don’t use them as a bribe to try and make your pet behave! And don’t give them just because it’s Easter/Christmas/their birthday. Animals have no awareness of these celebrations!

– Don’t give your pets a treat when you have one. As much as they may look like they’re eyeing up your cake or chocolate, they don’t feel ‘left out’ or ‘jealous’ – they don’t feel the same emotions as we do. They’re simply being greedy and trying their luck!

– Never share your ‘human’ treats with animals. ‘Human’ food, can be poisonous or, at best, very unhealthy for pets. Be aware of the foods that are dangerous if consumed by your pet. Check out these lists from Battersea of unsafe foods for cats and dogs.

– Don’t give treats in place of balanced, nutritious food. Quality pet food has a well-rounded and complete nutritional profile that’s suitable for the breed, age and type of animal it has been created for. Treats will typically be higher in calories and lower in nutritional value.

 

So, all that remains for me to say is Happy Easter! Enjoy your treats in moderation … and, please, don’t share!