Too Many Treats Can Be Trouble for Your Cat


Cat treats are edible snacks made specifically for cats. They come in various flavors and forms including crunchy biscuits, soft chews, and meaty bits. Cat treats serve several purposes for pet owners:

  • Provide extra nutrition
  • Reward good behavior
  • Aid dental health
  • Deliver medication
  • Promote bonding during treat time

While most treats are safe for cats in moderation, feeding too many treats can lead to negative side effects. This article explores the potential health and behavioral impacts of overindulging in cat treats.

Weight Gain

Feeding too many treats can easily lead to obesity in cats. Studies show that around 60% of cats are overweight or obese. Obesity puts cats at risk for many health problems including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

The extra weight puts stress on a cat’s joints and bones, potentially leading to painful arthritis at a young age. Overweight cats are also more likely to develop diabetes, as the excess fat can lead to insulin resistance. Fatty tissue secretes hormones and chemicals that can stimulate tumor growth, increasing cancer risk. The heart must work harder to circulate blood and oxygen in an obese cat, which can lead to congestive heart failure over time.

Keeping cats at a healthy weight by limiting treats and controlling portions is crucial for their long-term health. Check with your veterinarian to determine the ideal weight range for your cat. Slowly reduce excess weight by feeding species-appropriate portions and treats. Increased playtime and exercise also helps cats burn extra calories and shed pounds.

Nutritional Imbalances

Providing too many treats can upset the nutritional balance of a cat’s diet and lead to deficiencies in important nutrients. Cat treats are not nutritionally complete and balanced like cat food. They tend to be very high in calories, fat, and protein compared to regular cat food.

For example, some popular cat treats contain up to 85% protein, which is far higher than the protein levels in most cat foods (VCA Hospitals). This protein imbalance can stress the kidneys over time.

Treats also tend to lack adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for cats. Overindulgence in treats means cats fill up on low-nutrition snacks instead of the balanced nutrition in their regular cat food. This can lead to deficiencies over time.

Specifically, treats are often low in taurine, an amino acid cats cannot produce on their own and require in their diet. Taurine deficiency can cause heart and eye problems in cats. Treats also tend to lack proper calcium and phosphorus ratios, as well as antioxidants like vitamin E (Petsy).

Moderation is key when giving treats to cats. Stick to 10% or less of total daily calories from treats to avoid nutritional imbalances. Check treats for a nutritional adequacy statement and healthy ingredients.


Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that aids in digestion and regulating blood sugar. It occurs when digestive enzymes begin digesting the pancreas itself. While chronic pancreatitis is more common in dogs, acute pancreatitis is more frequently seen in cats. The most common cause of pancreatitis in cats is ingesting a high-fat meal or treats which overwhelms the organ. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, the high level of fat prompts the pancreas to secrete large amounts of enzymes and triggers inflammation and potential tissue damage[1]. This inflammation leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, abdominal pain, and other symptoms. Treating pancreatitis in cats relies on managing symptoms and pain as well as addressing any underlying conditions. If not treated promptly, pancreatitis can become a recurring problem in cats. Vets generally recommend a low-fat diet after a bout of pancreatitis to avoid stimulating the pancreas again. So feeding cats too many fatty treats on a regular basis can significantly increase their chances of developing this painful condition.



Too many treats can lead to obesity and other health problems in cats, including an increased risk of diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic health condition in which the body cannot properly regulate blood sugar levels. According to ChicagoPetSitters, obesity and excess sugar from treats are two of the main reasons cats develop diabetes. The extra weight stresses the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Additionally, the sugar and carbohydrates in treats cause blood sugar spikes.

As noted in an article by Dr. Jan Moll, obesity is a prevalent underlying cause of diabetes in pets. The excess fat in the body leads to insulin resistance, making it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar. Giving too many carb-heavy treats essentially overloads a cat’s system with sugar and can trigger the onset of diabetes. It’s important to limit treats and feed cats a portion-controlled, low-carb diet to reduce diabetes risk.

Dental Disease

Soft, high carbohydrate treats can contribute to dental problems in cats. The carbohydrates in treats like Temptations lead to the production of plaque on the teeth. This sticky plaque harbors bacteria which can lead to inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), tooth decay and periodontal disease if not removed through brushing.

Unlike crunchy kibble, soft treats do not help scrape off plaque as the cat chews. The texture of soft treats allows the plaque to remain stuck on the teeth. Over time, this plaque hardens into tartar which can only be removed by a veterinarian.

In contrast, dental treats are formulated to help clean the teeth. They contain abrasive ingredients that scrape plaque and tartar off the teeth as the cat chews. Some examples include greenies, CET chews, and Purina Dentalife. These treats also contain anti-plaque enzymes to prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth.

However, treats alone are usually not enough to fully prevent dental disease. The American Veterinary Dental College recommends daily toothbrushing along with dental treats and annual veterinary dental cleanings as the most effective way to maintain good feline dental health.

Gastrointestinal Upset

Consuming too many cat treats, especially new treats, can lead to gastrointestinal upset like vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Cats have sensitive digestive systems and introducing large amounts of treats can overwhelm their system. According to Hill’s Pet[1], cats have a low tolerance for large amounts of fat, carbohydrates, and other ingredients commonly found in treats. An influx of these ingredients from too many treats can lead to an upset stomach. Additionally, new treats may contain ingredients that cats are not used to, leading to diarrhea or vomiting as their body adjusts. It’s best to introduce new treats slowly and monitor for any gastrointestinal issues[2]. Stick to the recommended serving guidelines on treats, and avoid giving more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories from treats to prevent gastrointestinal problems.


Behavioral Problems

Too many treats can lead to behavioral problems in cats by reducing their ability to self-entertain.

Cats naturally have a strong prey drive and enjoy hunting, stalking, and pouncing. When given too many treats on demand, this innate desire to “hunt” is not satisfied. As a result, cats may become demanding, vocal, or even aggressive when treats are not immediately provided.

Overly-treated cats can lose interest in toys and independent play. Since they expect treats for any interaction or stimulus, they do not learn how to entertain themselves. This can lead to attention-seeking behaviors like excessive meowing, furniture scratching, knocking items off shelves, or following their owner persistently.

According to experts, moderation is key when giving cats treats to avoid these behavioral issues. Treats should make up no more than <10% of a cat's daily caloric intake. Setting aside specific times for treat-dispensing and play can help cats learn to amuse themselves in between.

As stated on, “Rarely, a cat may also get physically aggressive by hissing, biting, or scratching when treats are denied. This happens especially if they can see or smell treats but aren’t receiving them.”

Financial Cost

Giving cats too many treats can lead to added costs for pet parents. Treats are often more expensive per calorie compared to balanced cat food. According to Tufts University, cat treats can cost over $2 per 100 calories, while high-quality dry cat food costs around $0.50 per 100 calories. This means treats end up costing 3-4 times more for the same caloric value.

The costs add up quickly if treats make up a significant portion of a cat’s diet. For example, a 5 lb bag of Temptations cat treats costs around $15 and contains about 7,000 calories. Compare that to a 15 lb bag of dry cat food for around $40 containing over 50,000 calories. Pet parents could easily spend $100+ per month just on treats. Meanwhile, a month’s supply of balanced cat food may cost $20-40. Relying too heavily on treats takes away money that could be spent on vet care, toys, litter, and other cat expenses.

The best practice is to use treats sparingly, relying on them for training rewards or the occasional snack. Sticking to measured mealtimes with a nutritionally complete cat food will help avoid overspending on unnecessary supplemental calories from treats.

Treat Recommendations

When giving cats treats, it’s important to choose healthy options and stick to recommended daily amounts. Some tips for healthier treating include:

  • Look for treats made with high-quality ingredients like meat, fish, or vegetables rather than fillers.
  • Choose treats with lower calories, fat, and carbohydrate content.
  • Offer treats made for dental health, like Feline Greenies Dental Treats.
  • Pick treats in moderation, following package guidelines. Most recommend 1-10 treats per day for an adult cat weighing 5-10 lbs.
  • Substitute a portion of daily food intake with treats so as not to exceed calorie needs.
  • Break treats into smaller pieces to further limit calorie intake.
  • Avoid too many fatty or sugary treats like cheese, lunch meat, or frosting.
  • Discuss appropriate treat options with your veterinarian.

Treats are fine for cats in moderation, but too many low-quality, high-calorie treats lead to health issues. Follow suggested daily treat amounts and choose healthier options whenever possible.

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