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Science has some bad news about your dog treats

A new study finds that, due to poor labeling, you probably don't actually know what's in the treats you're giving your dog, or how many to give them.
Dog with treat.
A new study says confusing or vague labels on dog treats could be contributing to poor health in pets.Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

You give your dog treats because you love her so very much. But do you know what's in those tasty snacks? Or how many is too many?

New research suggests that, due to poor labeling, the answer is probably no. And this lack of information could be harming your precious pooch.

A study published Thursday in the journal Vet Record found that confusing treat labels make it hard to know what's actually in them. For instance, ingredients are often listen as general categories, such as "meat and animal derivatives" or "cereals," rather than being specific. Additionally, portion instructions are often vague and imprecise.

The lack of clear labeling means, among other things, that people might be allowing their dogs to consume more calories than they intended. This could contribute to pet obesity, which is widely seen as a major health risk and growing problem for pets.

Lead author Giada Morelli, a veterinarian and Ph.D. student in veterinary nutrition at the University of Padova in Italy, told TODAY that the issue is concerning because of the fast-growing dog treat market. As of 2015, the last year for which figures are available, this market had $7 billion in sales per year worldwide, according to industry data, and has been growing in the U.S. at the rate of 10 percent per year.

"Commercially available dog treats have slowly become a common part of the dog’s diet and almost every pet food brand produces many dog treats," Morelli said. "Despite this, very little is known about the nutritional value of treats and their impact on the dog’s diet, health and wellness."

Morelli said it would be better if treats had clearer, easier to understand labels, with more specific ingredients lists, calorie information and precise feeding instructions.

Moderation is key, Morelli noted. The general rule of thumb is that treats should not comprise more than 10 percent of your dog's caloric intake.

She also said pet owners should not be shy about consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to develop a healthy eating regimen.

You may be curious, given her work, what treats Morelli feeds her own dog — a border collie named Sonic. The answer is: she doesn't.

"Fortunately he is more interested in chasing tennis balls rather than eating food," Morelli said.