Best treat for your dog? Courgette, expert says

·3-min read
Dog being fed courgette - Alamy
Dog being fed courgette - Alamy

Whether it is a bit of ham, chicken or Scooby-snacks, pet owners love giving their dog its favourite treat.

But experts now believe dogs do not really care about what treat they are getting, as they barely taste their food before wolfing it down.

Georgia Woods-Lee, a canine nutrition expert at the University of Liverpool, believes people should move away from calorific, fatty treats and instead give out vegetable snacks as the dog is unlikely to notice any difference.

“Food is fuel rather than anything else. Dogs don't spend a whole lot of time tasting their food. It's normally swallowed very, very quickly,” she said.

The act of giving and receiving the treat, she added, is “far more important than what the treat actually is”.

The preferred treat to give your dog, she believes, is not meat or cheese but courgette. The cucumber-like vegetable is low in calories, full of water, liked by dogs and poses no health issues.

“Treats are a big deal because they are used in bonding and training and we, as humans, show love with food,” she told an audience at BSAVA Congress 2023.

“There is a rule of thumb that treats should make up about 10 per cent of daily intake, but it is very individual.

“Courgettes are a favourite of mine because they are very, very high in water and very, very low in calories.

“They are accepted by most dogs and they can literally eat them until they come out of their ears. There are no detrimental effects to eating courgettes.”

Cauliflower and cucumber

Also on her list of the best treats are watermelon, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, ice cubes and Brussels sprouts.

“The sorts of things I have on my list include a lot of green, watery vegetables,” Ms Woods-Lee said.

“Carrots are not on my list; they are a root vegetable and have around four times the amount of calories as a courgette.

“A small piece of carrot is fine but owners want to give volume, they want to give their pets loads of snacks so I would be choosing the green veg.”

The animal nutrition expert added that setting up good habits also ensures owners do not get into a situation where the dog hopes their human will give them food when they go to the fridge, while cooking, or from their dinner plate as this can lead to begging.

“We need to be careful when giving treats because dogs get an expectation extremely quickly,” she warned.

She also urged people to ditch cups or handfuls as measures of dog food because they “are really inaccurate”. People should instead weigh out meals with scales to avoid under or overfeeding.

Enormous range in shops

More than a third of dogs were overweight, she said, and accidental feeding and too many treats were a major contributor.

“I can understand from an owner’s point of view why they get the diet plan wrong for their pet because there's an enormous range available in shops now and often not much guidance,” Ms Woods-Lee said.

“Of course we want the owner to buy the best quality food that they can afford and ideally not chop and change.

“For dogs, food is fuel rather than anything else. They don't spend a whole lot of time tasting their food. It's normally swallowed very, very quickly.

“So unless we get a very bad reaction to that food I encourage owners to stick with it. Don't start chopping and changing, it leads to bad habits later on. So start very much as you mean to go on.

“If owners want wet foods or dry foods then that’s absolutely fine, I have no particular preference. Dried foods, of course, are much more cost-effective so possibly a better recommendation in this day and age when money is such a concern.”

What is your dog's favourite treat? Join the conversation in the comments section below