By: Sarah Gardner
If you're looking for healthy dog treats, I guess that you've already found some that are unhealthy, dangerous, recalled or packed with ingredients that you've never heard of and can't pronounce. I've seen a variety of commercial dog treats that claim to be healthy, natural or organic but we're never really sure if they're truly healthy or not. That's why I've put together some useful information to help you understand what constitutes healthy dog treats and what doesn't.
After many years of purchasing dog treats for my dog, Lady, I have learned that healthy dog treats can sometimes be packed with sugars, salt, food dyes, corn syrup, by-products, xylitol and ones that have been over-processed, which I wanted to avoid giving to her. I started looking at easy, and healthy dog treat recipes that I can make for her at home. You can find more information on these unhealthy ingredients further down the page.
Now let's focus on finding healthy dog treats for your dog. But, before we go into that, I want to mention that making healthy dog treats is the best way of ensuring your treats contain healthy ingredients that will suit your dog. Here are a variety of healthy dog treat recipes that I make for my dog, Lady to help get you started:
By making your dogs treats, this allows you to control the ingredients, the process, and the storage. I have found by making my dog, Lady, her treats at home this has been economical, and it's a great feeling knowing she is not getting any of the made ingredients that can sometimes be in commercial dog treats. If you wanted to attempt to start baking your dogs treats, look around this site, I have provided a variety of recipes site to help get you started.
Preservatives are found in many commercial dog treats these are necessary to extend the shelf life of the treats. However, it's possible to find dog treats that have natural preservatives. To be clear, the essential ones to avoid are; BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite and nitrate.
It's better to find treats that contain a natural preservative such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), rosemary extract, sugar-free ascorbic acid, citric acid (found in citrus fruits). These are all safe alternatives that you should look out for. Of course, when making your own dog treats, you can opt for the natural alternatives. There are some common natural preservatives found in baked goods such as cinnamon, sage, rosemary, and cloves. Honey is also an excellent natural preservative to use.
Without a doubt, looking at the ingredients list in your dogs treats, and being able to understand them, is the best way to tell if a dog treat is healthy. After all, what goes into our dog's have a significant impact on the health and longevity of their life. Unfortunately, many dog treats contain high levels of carbohydrates which can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses.
As caring dog owners, we strive to ensure our dog's are getting a high quality dog food, but it is vital to do the same for their treats. If you don't already, I would recommend getting into the habit of checking and understanding the ingredients of your dog's treats and food. The information that you need to know to ensure the product's quality is required by law to appear on the packaging.
One of the most common rules that dog owners use to choose a dog treat is the 1st ingredient rule. The 1st ingredient rule means that the 1st ingredient in the ingredients that are listed should be meat or fish. As dogs are carnivores, their food and treats should contain animal or fish as the primary protein source - The more natural ingredients that you see at the top of the ingredient list, the healthier for your dog.
The first thing you don't want to see in your dog's treats are any fillers. These usually are wheat, corn or soy which are all top allergens for many dogs. Many manufacturers add these ingredients to dog treats as a cheap way of bulking up the product. They're full of calories and fiber that could make your dog feel full without adding nutritional value. Many dogs have a difficult time digesting these.
Seeing meat by-products, meat meal or meat by-product meals listed in the ingredients may sound healthy, but they are anything but healthy. Meat by-products or 'meal' are the leftover remnants of animals (bones, organs, blood, feet, beaks, etc.) these type of meat is slaughtered for human consumption. Adding meat by-products and meat meal to dog foods and treats is a cheap way of keeping the protein content high (although a low-quality protein) and the manufacture's costs low.
If that doesn't sound gross enough, meat meals and by-products also contain out of date meat from supermarkets, grease from restaurants, and the four D's from livestock - dead, dying, diseased and disabled. When I heard about this, it raised concern that these types of meats could be in our dog's treats or food.
There is no reason why healthy dog treats should contain artificial flavors or colors - It is entirely unnecessary.
Frequently pet food manufacturers use artificial flavors to make low-quality foods tasty for dogs. Familiar artificial flavors that can be found in dog treats are propylene glycol, corn syrup, and monosodium glutamate MSG. If they are made from high-quality ingredients that have nutritional value to a dog, then most dogs will enjoy them. Pet food manufacturers regularly add artificial color to dog treats, to make them appealing for us owners, so we purchase them.
Preservatives aren't entirely necessary but are often used to extend the shelf-life of dog treats. Unfortunately, many preservatives are known carcinogens (cancer-causing genes) so are best avoided. The main culprits are BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, and nitrate. Look for treats that have a short shelf-life and need to be kept in a refrigerator.
Many manufacturers make claims about healthy dog treats, but labeling is sometimes misleading. Labeling that states "premium," "super premium," "ultra-premium" or "gourmet" are made-up names that have no claim on the healthiness of the treats.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), who are the regulating body for pet food manufacturers, do not require manufacturers to make the foods higher quality or healthier just because they've named them "premium," "super premium," "ultra-premium" or "gourmet." So, if dog treats are labeled "premium" or "gourmet" you can go ahead and ignore that label entirely.
Healthy dog treats that are labeled 'natural' do have a standard that they must conform to. 'Natural' labeled dog treats must only contain ingredients from an animal, plant or mined sources. Healthy dog treats that are labeled 'organic' are always going to be the healthiest treats to buy for your dog because they will contain the healthiest and safest ingredients. These treats also have a standard that they must conform to.
For more detailed information on understanding the difference between 'natural' and 'organic' labeled dog treats, click here. It is always important to know what you are looking for, before purchasing commercial dog treats. Here are a selection of our healthy, safe and cost-effective homemade organic dog treat recipes.
In case you're not able to remember all of this important when you go shopping for healthy dog treats - I've created a table that you can print and take with you. I have summarized the good and the bad ingredients to look out for.