If there’s one thing that almost all of our dogs have in common, it’s their love of treats. And it’s just as enjoyable for us — who doesn’t love to see their pup’s eyes light up and tail start wagging at the mention of the word “treat.”
Of course, not all treats are created equal. Since it’s something you might be giving your dog every single day, you’ll want to do everything you can to find healthy treats with high-quality ingredients. That way, you can feel good about what you’re feeding your dog.
Do a quick search on Amazon, and you’ll find some of the top picks for healthy treats — Rocco & Roxie Jerky Sticks, Zuke’s Mini Naturals, or Greenies Dental Dog Chews, for example. But how do you know that these treats are right for your dog? What should you be looking for on the packaging to ensure they’re the best choice? And are there alternatives out there?
Let’s dive in and discover what to look for in dog treats, what to avoid, and how to make the right choice for your pooch.
What to Look for in Dog Treats
Approach shopping for dog treats in the same way you approach shopping for food for your family, or even pet food for your furry family, for that matter. Look for the healthiest options by looking for healthy, natural, whole-food ingredients without a lot of added preservatives, artificial flavors, or potentially harmful by-products.
When you’re examining the ingredients list and the rest of the packaging, keep the following considerations in mind.
Low Calorie Content
Since treats are something you’ll probably be giving your dog frequently, you don’t want to add a lot of excess calories to their diet. That’s why picking a dog treat with a low calorie count is a good idea.
Here’s the golden rule to follow: Your dog’s treats should make up no more than 10% of their daily caloric intake. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your dog needs on a daily basis. Then, do the math to find out roughly how many treats he or she should get per day.
When you choose a low-calorie treat, you don’t have to worry as much about contributing to an unhealthy weight when you give your pup treats. This can be especially helpful for dog training since you’ll be giving your dog lots of treats in succession and don’t want to pack on unnecessary pounds.
Quality of Ingredients
One of the most important considerations when choosing healthy dog treats is the quality of the ingredients used. Generally speaking, it’s best to pick treats with as few ingredients as possible to avoid unnecessary additives or ingredients that don’t need to be there.
You’ll also want to look for:
- Organic ingredients. These are less likely to be contaminated by chemicals and preservatives, and organic dog treats tend to receive extra scrutiny from inspectors before final packaging.
- Whole-food ingredients. Look for “peas” instead of “pea protein,” “rice” instead of “rice starch,” and “chicken” or “beef” instead of “meat meal,” for example. Whole foods tend to contain a more complete nutrient profile than their processed counterparts.
- Natural ingredients and sweeteners. Dogs have a sweet tooth. Peanut butter, honey, and molasses, for instance, are natural sweeteners and are, therefore, a better choice than processed sugars. Naturally sweet foods like bananas, blueberries, and a variety of veggies are also good for dogs.
- Natural preservatives. You’ll want to avoid artificial preservatives whenever you can (more on that later). Look for natural preservatives like vitamin C and vitamin E — you might see vitamin E listed as “mixed tocopherols.”
You’ll see a lot of treats out there labeled “grain-free.” Currently, there is some debate in the dog food community about the benefits and risks of grain-free dog food and treats — the use of potatoes and legumes in dog food is currently being investigated by the FDA.
If you do choose a grain-free treat or food, you might want to avoid potatoes and legumes until the FDA has concluded their investigation. Potato is particularly common in dog food and some treats, so consider another source of fiber like brown rice.
A final tip: Pick dog treats that are made in the USA. Other countries may not have as strict of manufacturing regulations in place to ensure the pet treats are safe.
Before buying the first bag of low-fat, natural dog treats you come across, take a moment to consider what you’ll use them for. Sometimes, you’re just using dog treats as a fun indulgence for your pet. Other times, you’re using them for a more specific purpose.
Dog training treats should be very small in size and have a low calorie count. These are useful for training your dog in basic obedience since you’ll be giving them a treat every time they do something good. And make sure they’re chewy so your dog doesn’t get distracted by crunching up a dog biscuit during training sessions.
Larger, crunchy dog treats might be more useful when you’re trying to keep your dog in one spot for an extended period — when crate training, for example. Just keep an eye on your pup to make sure your dog doesn’t choke on the pieces of crunchy dog biscuits.
If your dog could use a little boost in the dental department, consider purchasing dental dog treats or dog chews made to help clean the teeth and gums. If Fido has a sensitive stomach, you might try a wheat-free dog treat, as these are usually easier on your dog’s digestive system.
What to Avoid in Dog Treats
There are a few things that savvy dog owners should avoid when purchasing treats. A quick scan of the ingredients list is all you’ll need to spot some of these common offenders.
Keep an eye out for artificial preservatives like ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, potassium sorbate, and calcium propionate. If at all possible, find treats that use vitamins E or C for natural preservation.
Artificial colors (food dyes) are unnecessary in dog treats. After all, your dog couldn’t care less what the treats look like. Color is added to dog treats purely to appeal to the human consumer purchasing them. Don’t be fooled.
A chemical humectant is a substance used in various foods to keep them moist and chewy, including some dog treats. Propylene glycol and fuel-derived glycerin are the two most common examples you might see on ingredient lists. The best dog treats will use a natural humectant instead, such as vegetable glycerin or molasses.
Essentially, choosing treats with the most natural ingredients you can find is your best bet. While treats are never your dog’s main source of nutrition, you can feel good knowing you’re not introducing a lot of artificial chemicals or harmful by-products when you give your dog a tasty snack.
Choose a Healthy Dog Treat Every Time
Whether your pup prefers soft chews, crunchy treats, jerky treats, or fancy dog cookies, you can make a few smart choices to ensure you’re giving your dog a healthy treat.
First, consider what you’re using the treats for. Perhaps you just need a general-purpose treat for everyday use, maybe you need dog training treats, or maybe you need something to benefit your pup’s skin and fur or dental health. Think about whether it’s better for your dog to gobble up the treat instantly (best for obedience training), or whether you’d prefer they take their time enjoying their treat (useful during crate training, for instance).
Look for treats that are low in calories so your dog doesn’t start to pack on the pounds. Choose a treat that uses as many natural, organic ingredients as you can find, and do your best to find one that uses natural preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors rather than artificial additives. Beyond that, it’s up to your dog — pick something that your pooch gets excited about each and every time.