All dogs seem to be adept at wrangling treats out of hapless owners. Whether it’s their big, pleading eyes, a few barks to let you know they want something, or a gentle paw on your knee, dogs seem to have an innate ability to make us give them treats and snacks at their command.
If you’re going to give your dog treats (and you will), you should make sure you are giving him foods that you can feel good about. Just like dog foods, some treats are better than others for your dog. You can even make your own treats.
First, a few facts you need to know about treats and your dog.
What you need to know about dog treats
Dog treats are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state laws, as are dog foods. In some cases even local laws apply. Most states model their laws using Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, though these are not mandatory. Labeling for treats can be a little different from the labeling for dog foods. For example, unlike dog foods, dog treats that are conspicuously labeled as treats are not required to have a statement of nutritional adequacy.
Are treats good for dogs?
Some treats are better for your dog than others. For example, many people warn against giving dogs jerky treats made in China. In recent years the FDA received over 5000 complaints from consumers, veterinarians warned against them, and there were recalls of some brands. The FDA even conducted an investigation, though it didn’t find a single root cause for the problems associated with the jerky treats. We would advise you to avoid buying your dog jerky treats, just to be cautious.
How many treats can your dog have?
Treats, in general, can have far more calories than most dog lovers realize. Most experts say that treats and snacks should not make up more than 10-15 percent of your dog’s daily calories. Let’s say you have a dog that weighs about 30 pounds. Your dog will probably need about 900 calories per day, depending on his activity level, age, and other factors. If you allow 10 percent for treats, that means your dog can only have 90 calories per day in treats and snacks (and 810 calories for dog food).
Now, consider how many calories some dog treats contain. If you look at this list of dog treats and calories you will see just how many calories some treats have. Some of the cookies and biscuits aren’t too high in calories but a regular Greenies Original dental chew has almost 100 calories! Cheweez Chew Rolls with Meaty Middles have well over 100 calories, even for the small size. Even the moderate cookies will add up if you give our dog a lot of them.
Dog foods and treats are supposed to display their calories on their labels but some don’t. You should be able to find calorie information on the brand’s web site.
The bottom line here is that you have to count calories for your dog when you are giving him treats. The calories can quickly add up.
What to look for in the best dog treats
There are lots of different kinds of treats and snacks for dogs which can contain different kinds of ingredients. You can look for treats that are organic, GMO-free, and so on. If your dog has an allergy, of course, you will need to look for treats that do not contain the offending allergen – and which ideally have not been cross-contaminated with other treats or foods that contain the allergen.
In most cases, you should read the label and make sure certain ingredients are not present. Ingredients to avoid in dog treats include:
- Artificial preservatives such as BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin. Other artificial preservatives to avoid include potassium sorbate, sodium nitrate, and calcium propionate. Look for natural preservatives such as vitamins C and E. Forms of vitamin E are often shown as “mixed tocopherols.”
- Artificial coloring should also be avoided.
- Chemical humectants such as propylene glycol should be avoided. Propylene glycol is used to keep some pet foods and treats chewy and moist. It’s also a preservative. However, there are other options that are more natural such as vegetable glycerin and molasses.
- No xylitol! Or other artificial sweeteners.
Many dog treats will contain some sugar or sweetener such as honey and molasses. We are not including natural sugars here as something to avoid in pet treats – though you should avoid treats that are loaded with sugar. Your dog doesn’t need a lot of sweets. And you should definitely avoid any artificial sweeteners such as xylitol. You would think that companies that make pet products would be smart enough not to use xylitol since it can be toxic to dogs but a veterinary company had to recall an oral rinse for dogs a couple of years ago because it contained xylitol. Always read the label!
Different kinds of treats
There are lots of different kinds of treats. Your dog may be particular or (like mine) he may like everything.
Meaty treats. As you can guess, these treats contain a lot of meat. They can also contain fun things like lungs, heart, liver, and other organs. No judgment here. Dogs love these things. Some companies make these treats in an air-dried form or they can be baked. Since these treats are high in protein they often cost more than simple cookies. Consider them a high value treat for times when your dog does something especially good.
Cookies and biscuits. These treats are traditional in form though they can have any kind of ingredients. Many of them contain wheat. You may not like wheat in your dog’s food but it’s a common ingredient in dog cookies and biscuits. Other cookies are made with more unusual flours if that’s an issue for you. You can find all kinds of cookies and biscuits with ingredients ranging from kale to blueberries. Long-time favorites such as peanut butter, cheese, and other things dogs love are also popular. These treats usually have moderate calories and they can be good for every day rewards.
Dental treats. Dental treats have a real role to play in helping dogs have cleaner teeth and fresher breath. Dogs usually love them but they tend to be high in calories. For this reason, we recommend limiting the number of dental treats your dog gets per day.
As we said, there are lots of dog treats. Here are some that we consider the best.
- Primal Chicken Shredders Dry Roasted Dog Treats
- Canine Caviar Buffalo Lungs Dog Treats
- The Real Meat Company Duck Neckers Air-Dried Dog Treats
- The Honest Kitchen Wishes Dehydrated White Fish Filets Dog & Cat Treats
- Stella & Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch Grass-Fed Beef Recipe Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Treats
- Plato Small Bites Slow Roasted Salmon Dog Treats
- Blue Dog Bakery More Flavors Assorted Dog Treats
- Old Mother Hubbard Classic Original Assortment Biscuits Baked Dog Treats
We hope the information provided here will help you choose the best dog treats for your dog. Remember that dogs are individual so treats that one dog loves may not appeal to another dog. You may need to try some different treats and snacks before you find out exactly what drives your dog wild. Plus, most dogs appreciate a little variety when it comes to their snacks.
You can also make some delicious and healthy treats for your dog yourself. They don’t have to be complicated. Small slices of apple or little pieces of banana can make great treats for your dog. They are healthy and low in calories.