Cat treats: made of pure, unadulterated cat heroin?
September 12, 2012 3:34 PM   Subscribe

What is the difference between dry cat food and cat treats? Why is one a dull part of the daily diet, and the other a miraculous food that is cat ambrosia? I haven't done a taste test, but they pretty much look alike, little crunchy bits.

The raccoons, on the other hand, skipped the cat treats to go directly for the big bag of dry food.
posted by jeather to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would guess it's the context in which they're given treats vs regular food. Treats = good kitty. Regular food = don't die, kitty.
posted by cmoj at 3:36 PM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Some kind of treats are moist and soft rather than dry and crunchy, but yes some do look exactly like dry food. I think it may be the novelty factor, as cmoj suggests. My Trilby never seemed very enthusiastic about his dry cat food when he ate a mostly dry cat food diet. Now I feed him canned food and he only gets the dry when I go away for a few days. He actually loses it at the sight of the bag and tries to eat from the bowl as I'm pouring the food into the bowl on the counter. If I stand in the middle of the kitchen to pour the food into the bowl he tries to climb up me to get at it. I have to leave him a very generous bowlful of dry because he rushes over to it, sticks his face in the bowl and starts inhaling it like he hasn't seen food for three days and if I left him what he should have he'd eat it all in no time and starve until I got back.

We've also had our struggles with him stealing the dry food. I moved the dry cat food bag from kitchen cupboard to kitchen cupboard as he learned to open all the kitchen cupboard one by one (including the cupboards over the sink and stove) to get at and eat his dry cat food. When he breached the last cupboard I started keeping the dry food in the hall closet, which has a proper door with a doorknob. Trilby spent the next week repeatedly searching through all the kitchen cupboards to try to find the dry cat food. Then I guess he forgot about it.

And yeah, when he ate dry cat food all the time, he'd just eat whenever he felt like it and leave the rest. So I vote "novelty factor".
posted by orange swan at 3:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

My theory is variety. You eat the same thing every day day in day out, anything that tastes differently is like manna from heaven.
posted by wwax at 4:01 PM on September 12, 2012

My cat will eat dry food like it's a treat if I give it to him piecemeal, which is how I sneakily do taste tests, so I think it also had to do with format/how it's presented.

Also the treats I give him smell more like DELICIOUS FOOD than his dry food -- I think this is also (partly) why he goes insane for the canned stuff even when he's not actually hungry .
posted by sm1tten at 4:10 PM on September 12, 2012

I'm comparing the ingredients of Purina Cat Chow (food) and Purina Whisker Lickin's (treats) right now and some differences I'm noticing are:

1) animal liver flavor is the first ingredient for the treats but the 9th ingredient for the food
2) chicken by-product meal is the first ingredient for the food but the 5th ingredient for the treats
3) the percentages of fat, protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins are all quite a bit higher for the food than the treats
4) the percentage of moisture is more than twice as high for the treats as the food

So based on this, I'm going to guess that the treats are basically a juicy, tender vehicle for delicious flavoring, while the food contains actual nutritional content. I don't think I buy the variety theory (as the main explanation, though I'm sure they do like the change of pace). I once had an inexperienced catsitter who poured a whole bag of treats on the floor, and I ended up with an apartment covered in cat puke consisting of half-digested treats. That's only about as many treats by volume as a normal bowl of food, which definitely wouldn't have left me with such a mess to clean up!
posted by ootandaboot at 4:14 PM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

Part of it may depend on the cat. My parents' cat is completely indifferent to treats. They have tried her on many different types of treats, and she is indifferent to all. Plain Meow Mix cat food is her version of kitty crack.
posted by pie ninja at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had a catsitter fiasco identical to ootandaboot, so there's definitely some real difference.

I've always assumed the treats just had more sugar in them. No evidence, but I offer it up as theory.
posted by etc. at 4:27 PM on September 12, 2012

Cats cannot taste sweet things, so it's not sugar.
posted by sbutler at 4:31 PM on September 12, 2012

Just because something looks the same doesn't mean it tastes the same!

ootandaboot's go it: the treats are highly flavored filler with extra fat. They're junk food, like kitty Doritos.
posted by Specklet at 4:57 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I can put dry cat food in the little cat treat bag, and it does not get the same rapturous reaction. In fact, if the cat dish runs out of dry food, they won't go into the bag to get more (I assume they would eventually, but I don't think that's really worth experimenting with), but they will eat through several layers to get to the treats.

I pretty much give my cat treats as a bonus for being cute and because I was recently at the pet store and bought them, not because they've actually done anything other than sit on my bed.
posted by jeather at 4:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought that cat treats were coated in some sort of powder that cats can't resist? I can't recall off the top of my head what that might be...
posted by absquatulate at 5:05 PM on September 12, 2012

It's definitely a thing -- both my cats eat dry food (Innova Evo). Louie has never met a food item he didn't like, and of course he loves a treat (any treat). Dizzy is a mystery -- he loves his food, but I still haven't found a treat he cares for. If I need to bribe him I just use his regular chow.

If there is a special irresistible powder, I must know about it!
posted by phliar at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2012

Interesting, the irresistible stuff for training cats, for me, was condensed milk administered by fingertip. My cats were somewhat indifferent to treats.
posted by jadepearl at 6:23 PM on September 12, 2012

I use regular dry cat kibble as treats, and my cat will do anything for one. (Including shaking hands, highfives, kisses on cheek, and ringing a bell. /brag) I think being praised and handfed each one individually must trigger the reward pathways in her brain in ways that a bowl of kibble don't.
posted by Soliloquy at 6:38 PM on September 12, 2012

er, ways that a bowl of kibble doesn't. Lost focus there.
posted by Soliloquy at 6:40 PM on September 12, 2012

If I place one cat treat in a bowl of dry cat food, my cat Isis will sniff out and eat the treat. Treats are not at all the same thing as dry cat food.
posted by Ery at 7:34 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh it looks like you can get ingredient lists and guaranteed analyses* of these things online. To see the same ingredients lists I was looking at for my earlier comment: Purina Cat Chow, versus Purina Whisker Lickin's (click on the picture of the purple bag).

*whatever that means...despite clearly caring enough about this question to come back to it I couldn't quiiiite be bothered enough to read the extra page about understanding cat food labels
posted by ootandaboot at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2012

Isis is a pretty kitty!

My cats could care less about cat treats.

Now dog kibble will send them bonkers.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:06 PM on September 12, 2012

My theory is it's the brewer's yeast in treats. Mine goes freaking nuts for one particular brand of treats and won't even sniff twice at anything else; he also seems to find the smell of bread and beer intriguing (not enough to eat/drink/lick, but enough to really intensely sniff for a while), and I wonder if it's not a yeasty smell/taste that's hooking him. I had a cat growing up to whom we would give brewer's yeast supplements, and he'd go nuts for them. While I haven't seen those supplements in a pet store since (which makes me wonder if they aren't good for animals in a purer form?), there's certainly a high concentration of yeast in the treats my cat likes, hence the theory.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:33 PM on September 12, 2012

chicken by-product meal

Yikes. No wonder they don't get excited about that...

My former cat also went bananas over treats (even the sound of the bag opening would bring him running) but was only moderately interested in his food. They must taste different. They sure smell different.

I mean, you could do a taste test. It wouldn't kill you.
posted by windykites at 8:36 PM on September 12, 2012

As far as ingredients go, "treats" may or may not be identical to (certain brands of) dry cat food, and hence may or may not be nutritionally complete. It should say either way on the bag. Some treats, for instance, don't contain taurine, and these would definitely be labeled as "for supplemental feeding only" or similar.

That far as the cats' reaction to treats vs. regular food, the short answer seems to be "novelty". 3 of my 4 cats are on a mostly-raw/occasional canned diet, and they go absolutely batshit for plain old regular dry food when I offer it as treats. Back in their pre-raw days they ate the same brand(s) of crunchies they get as treats now, and they didn't react anything like how they do now. So my nearest guess is that the crunchies, regardless of how they're labeled, represent something both familiar and novel, and that combination often adds up to Cat Crack.
posted by aecorwin at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2012

Response by poster: There are a few brands of cat treats that no cat would eat, and only one cat was willing to eat the fish flakes, but there are some brands (Greenies, and something else I recognise when I see) that my cats all adore. They are generally not picky about food.

I do see yeast in the cat treats but it's also in their (dry) food. (I feed them various wet foods.)

I mean, you could do a taste test. It wouldn't kill you.

Well no. But although I am curious enough to use a question on this, I'm not curious enough to eat a cat treat. Also, I have found that the cats and I find different foods appealing.
posted by jeather at 5:06 AM on September 13, 2012

It's the smell. Whatever it is that they put in those things, the smell drives cats crazy -- the taste is probably pretty secondary to that.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2012

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