If you’re a dog parent, it’s only natural to want to spoil your pup with sweet treats. And, May being National Pet Month, it's only natural to want to celebrate with an extra snack here and there. But As much as they may like french fries and nibbles of other table scraps, veterinarians agree that the best (okay, healthiest) way to treat a pup is with treats made specifically for them. Here’s where it gets precarious, though: Not all dog treats are created equally.
“The ingredient list is a tricky subject, not only in dog food but in treats as well,” TikTok-famous vet, Hunter Finn, DVM, admits. “The pet treat sector is just not well regulated and, let’s be honest, treats are not a necessity for our pets, but help us strengthen our bond [with them].”
Since you don’t want to give your pup gross treats, but you also don’t want to make them sick, it’s important to know what ingredients to look for and which to steer clear of. More on that, below.
- Gary Richter, DVM, Gary Richter, DVM, is the medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition.
- Hunter Finn, DVM, Hunter Finn, DVM, is a veterinarian in Texas.
- Leilani Alvarez, DVM, DACVSMR, Dr. Leilani Alvarez, DVM, DACVSMR, is a senior veterinarian in New York City and veterinary advisor to The Honest Kitchen.
- Mary Rhodes, Mary Rhodes is the head of production & product development at Bocce's Bakery.
Ingredients to look for
Dogs—they're just like us! Sure, they have four legs and four paws, but when it comes to their diet, pups need their fair share of greens. According to Mary Rhodes, head of production & product development at Bocce's Bakery, our canine companions thrive off of fresh fruits and veggies, such as blueberries, strawberries, spinach, apples, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. “They provide great taste and essential vitamins and minerals,” she says.
In addition to feeding your dog the rainbow, Rhodes says that peanut butter (without any added sugar or salt) is a great snack option, given the flavor and protein it provides. Don’t only look for specific ingredients, though. Consider labels, too. When seeking out healthy, tasty dog treats, Leilani Alvarez, DVM, DACVSMR, who is the veterinary advisor at The Honest Kitchen, says to prioritize those that contain few ingredients (only one, if possible) and are:
- Made in the USA
- Preferably organic
- Bite-sized (to avoid weight gain)
- High in fiber; low in carbs
- Made with pure animal protein (chicken, fish, and/or beef as the primary ingredient(s))
All in all, you want to feed your doggo a healthy diet. “When choosing treats for your pup the ingredients should be whole, unprocessed, and easily digestible,” says Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care & founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition. And remember, dogs digest differently than humans. As such, raw foods are actually recommended. “Freeze-dried, dehydrated, or frozen raw treats are ultimately the best options because they have the most amount of nutrients and have not gone through a lot of processing,” Richter says.
Ingreidents to avoid
Whether incorporated into a treat or served on its own, there are some foods you simply don’t want to give your dog. In addition to chocolate, grapes and raisins are a no-go, according to Finn. “These can cause kidney failure and can be fatal,” he warns. “Even just one grape can be very harmful to your dog.”
Similarly, Alvarez says to avoid treats made with:
- High carbohydrate content (“It predisposes [dogs] to obesity,” she warns.)
- High fat (“It can cause GI upset/pancreatitis,” she shares, noting that macadamia nuts are particularly high in fat and can cause vomiting and diarrhea.)
- Ingredients sourced in China (“They can be contaminated with toxins,” she says.)
- Xylitol (“Many peanut butters, yogurts, and honeys include xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs,” she says.)
Additionally, Richter says that it’s important to avoid any meat by-products, or what's leftover of the slaughtered animal, which can be tricky, considering many treats are made with these ingredients. Essentially, anything with the word “meal” in it means that it’s been modified and isn’t as healthy.
At the end of the day, Finn suggests that if you can’t pronounce it, then don’t buy it. “Many products will have additives that add flavor, prolong the shelf life, or have other benefits for the treats but in my opinion the simpler the better,” he says. “The only time I’ll stray from this tip is if the product is a dual benefit treat. This means that it is a treat, but it adds value to your pet in some other way, such as a joint supplement, dental chew, or probiotic. Many times these will have some ingredients that don’t seem natural to you to help make the treat more effective, but it doesn’t mean that these are not safe.”
Still, if you want to ensure that your pup is eating safe, nourishing foods, he recommends only shopping for supplemental treats with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal of approval. “If you are buying a dental dog treat then look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VHOC) seal of approval,” he adds.
One more thing
Even when you opt for healthy, well-made dog treats, Alvarez says that they should take up no more than 10 percent of your fur baby’s total daily caloric intake. “This is important to maintain nutritional balance of the food and to avoid weight gain,” she says.
To ensure that your pup is getting the most out of their meals and treats–and to make sure that all of their dietary needs are being met—schedule regular appointments with your veterinarian. And if you’re ever unsure about whether or not your dog can eat something on the spot, use your smart home devices to your advantage. Alexa, for example, can answer what ingredients are safe for dogs. Talk about convenient! (Test it for yourself by asking “Alexa, what is safe to put in homemade dog treats?”)
10 of the healthiest dog treats to spoil your pup with
These training crisps from Bocce’s Bakery tick off all the boxes and ship in two days when you order them off Amazon. Their light, bite-sized shape make them the perfect treat for obedience training, allowing you to reward Fido without filling him up. Each treat contains just three calories and is made with feel-good ingredients, including oat and blueberry powder to boot.
Or, check out these organic training treats by Full Moon. They’re whipped up using all-natural, best-in-class ingredients, so you won’t have to worry about any preservatives, artificial flavors, GMOs, or any other weirdness. Like the Crispies, they’re only three calories, so no worrying about packing on the pounds during a training sesh.
If you want to go the chew option, you can’t go wrong with these pure sweet potato slices from Petaluma. They’re dehydrated from organic sweet potatoes grown in California, are a great source of fiber, and are friendlier on carpets than other jerky chews. The bag is compostable, too, making it an excellent sustainable alternative to traditional treats.
You might grimace at the name, but your pup will love these wolffish skins, made entirely of 100 percent, pure fish. They’re made in a human-grade food facility, meaning they’re safe enough for humans (although you’ll probably want to pass) and are definitely safe enough for dogs. Even better, they’re loaded with protein and healthy omega 3s, the same good fats that keep your skin and nails looking good. Shiny coats and fur are snack away.
Beef liver is an excellent source of key vitamins and nutrients your pup should have in its diet. Unlike traditional kibble and snacks, these are freeze-dried to preserve the nutrients and flavor and give your dog the most bang for its buck. Just note, 1-2 pieces a day is the recommended serving.
Ah, Greenies, the toothbrush disguised as a dog treat. Their minty texture is strategically designed to support your pup’s dental hygiene, removing plaque and tartar while supporting a healthy gum line. And the scent?! Bye bye, stinky dragon breath—you won’t mind getting licked after they munch these up.
You can’t go wrong with a classic peanut butter as a dog treat. The protein-packed snack is primarily pet safe, just as long as it doesn’t contain xylitol, added sugar, or any other suspect additives that could be toxic to your pet. Smear a streak of the stuff on your bathtub wall to distract your pup on bath day, or scoop in a spoonful onto his or her kibble for a protein boost at dinner time.
Like human supplements, buying dog supplements can be tricky—there’s a lot of confusing ingredients, and many brands aren’t regulated.
Which is why we love Reggie, the vet-approved supplement company that makes multivitamin treats at a NASC provider. All of the brands supplements come in a chewable snack that Fido won’t even realized is actually a vitamin, like these multivitamins that are packed with vitamin C, copper, and iron.
Similarly, Zesty Paws makes these 8-in-1 snacks that support everything from coat and fur growth to brain health. Think of them as a functional smoothie, packed in puppy form. Choose from savory chicken or sweet, creamy peanut butter.
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