Cat Treats

By Krista Williams, BSc, DVM; Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

I want to give my cat treats when she's a good cat and just for fun, but I also want to make smart choices about her health. There are so many cat treat options - how do I choose a good one?

cat-treatsCat owners in the United States spend over $3 million per year on treats for their cats! No wonder making choices among treats can seem so overwhelming. There are some simple guidelines that can help you to make reasonable choices about treats - both quality and quantity - supporting good health and still allowing for some fun.

Treats should never provide more than 10% of a cat's energy/calorie intake, and a 5% target is better. Unlike commercially prepared cat foods, cat treats are NOT complete and balanced. Providing too many treats actually upsets the nutritional balance of the regular ration. Some of the popular cat treats contain 85% protein - far higher than the amount of protein found in an appropriate cat food formulation.

Too many treats will interfere with your cat's appetite for her regular food. This can contribute to a nutritional imbalance in the long term, and can turn her into a 'fussy eater,' making it particularly challenging to use special diets should the need arise later in life to manage a disease nutritionally.

Finally, too many treats make a significant contribution to cats becoming overweight and obese - both conditions now affect family cats at epidemic rates. While activity does play a small role in maintaining optimal body condition, nutritional science tells us that 'calories in' is by far the most important part of the equation. Do not be fooled by treats that are labeled 'light' or 'lower calorie.' These are not significantly lower in calorie than other treats and they do add extra calories to a cat's daily intake.

I’ve been told my cat is overweight and she is eating a special food to help her lose weight. Are there treats she can have?

Water based vegetables like green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower are low calorie snacks. Not all vegetables fall into this category. For instance, carrots are surprisingly calorie-dense, so they do not make good treats for cats. Fresh or frozen green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower are crunchy and inexpensive easy snacks. It is surprising what cats are willing to eat when they are hungry! Be sure to check with your veterinarian before feeding any vegetables in case there are vegetables your cat should not eat.

Another terrific low calorie snack that works great for a cat treat is air popped popcorn - no butter or salt, please! Cats enjoy the crunch, and they can have popcorn snacks nearly any time - even to provide extra volume for a meal.

So many commercial treats have been recalled or have resulted in cats getting sick.  I'd like to make my own treats instead. Are there good recipes for cat treats?

The internet has countless cat treat recipes! When choosing a recipe for homemade treats, it is best to keep it simple. Watch the sugar content (remember, that honey and molasses are simple sugars) - less is better and none is best. Also, because homemade treats have no preservatives, be sure to store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

"If your cat eats a special diet, ask your veterinarian about recipes for homemade treats."

If your cat eats a special diet for any reason, be sure to ask your veterinarian about recipes you are considering for homemade treats. Most therapeutic diets can be made into treats pretty easily, and that will not disrupt the nutritional balance your veterinarian has prescribed. If you are using a canned food that has a fairly firm texture, slide the contents of an entire can out onto a cutting board. Cut the food into bite-sized pieces and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a conventional oven, bake the pieces at 350° F for approximately 30 minutes, checking periodically for the texture you desire. Baking does change the texture of the canned food, but still offers the appropriate nutrient profile.

For a therapeutic dry formulation, grind kibbles in a blender or food processor, and mix with enough water to form dough. Shape into cookies and bake in a conventional oven at 350° F for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the desired level of crispness is reached. When using treats of this kind, do not allow the quantity to exceed 5% of your cat's total daily intake.

By making smart treat choices, we can give them a little something to reinforce the good behaviors we want repeated, and simply build our bond with them.

Homemade Cat Treat Recipe

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup no-salt-added chicken broth
1/3 cup corn meal
1 Tbsp. softened margarine


  1. Preheat conventional oven to 350° F
  2. Combine chicken, broth, and margarine
  3. Add cornmeal and flour
  4. Knead dough into a ball and roll out to 1/4 inch thick
  5. Cut into fun shapes and bake for 20 minutes on ungreased cookie sheets
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