If you're looking for healthy dog treats, my guess is that you've already found some that are unhealthy, dangerous, packed with ingredients that you've never heard of, or confused by what's healthy and what's not. I've found many dog treats claim to be healthy or natural, but with no barometer to measure them against, 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!
Unhealthy dog treats are usually the ones packed full of sugar, unpronounceable ingredients or ones that have been over-processed. You can find more information on the truly unhealthy ones further down the page, and the downright dangerous ones here.
Now let's focus on finding healthy dog treats for your dog. But, before we do that, I just want to mention that making your own treats is definitely the best way of ensuring the treats you give your dog are healthy.
When making your own treats, you're in total control of the ingredients, the process, the storage, and of course, it's more economical. If you want to give that a go, you can find tons of recipes on this site to get you started on making healthy dog treats at home. Below you will find homemade recipes for diabetic dog treats, dog liver treats and healthy dog biscuits.
Sometimes preservatives in commercial dog treats are necessary to extend the life of treats, however, it's possible to find treats that have natural preservatives instead of the harsh kinds. To be clear, the ones to avoid are; (BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, and nitrate).
It's better to find treats that contain 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 treats, you can opt for the safer alternatives yourself.
There are also some common natural preservatives found in baked goods such as cinnamon, sage, rosemary and cloves. Honey is also a good natural preservative.
Without a doubt, looking at the ingredient list, and being able to understand it, is the best way to tell if a dog treat is really healthy for your dog. After all, what goes into your dog has a huge impact on his health and longevity of his life. Unfortunately many dog treats with poor ingredients contain high levels of carbohydrates which contributes to obesity, diabetes, and many other illnesses and diseases related to an unhealthy diet.
As dog owners, we strive to ensure our dog's are getting a good quality dog food but it is very important to do the same for the treats that we give them on a daily basis. If you don't already, you should start getting into the habit of checking the ingredients of your dog treats and food. The important information that you need to know to ensure the product's quality is required by law to appear on the packaging. It is all about the ingredients when it comes to looking for healthy dog treats.
The ingredients are listed on the packing by weight. There is more of the first ingredient on the the list present in the treat than the second ingredient, and so on. The first few ingredients on the packaging are the most significant, since they comprise the majority of the content - They should be extremely high in quality.
First thing you DON'T want to see is any kind of 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 and many dogs have a difficult time digesting them - Which is not a nice thought!
It may sound healthy, but any dog treats that contain meat by-products, meat meal, or meat by product meals, are anything BUT healthy! Meat by-products, or 'meal' are basically the remnants (bones, organs, blood, feet, beaks, etc.) of meat that has been slaughtered for human consumption.
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 i.e. dead, dying, diseased and disabled. This is a worrying thought that these types of meats could be in our dogs treats or food.
Adding meat by-products and meat meal to dog foods and treats is a cheap way of keeping the protein content high (although definitely a low quality protein) and the manufacture's costs low.
There is no reason why healthy dog treats should contain artificial flavors or colors. It is completely unnecessary...period!
Frequently pet food manufacturers use artificial flavors to make low quality foods more tasty for dogs. Common artificial flavors to avoid are propylene glycol, corn syrup, and monosodium glutamate MSG. There is absolutely no need for healthy dog treats to have any kind of artificial flavors or colors. If they're made from high quality ingredients that have nutritional value to a dog then most dogs will want to eat them! Pet food manufactures regularly add artificial color to dog treats, to make them appealing for us owners so we buy them.
Likewise 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 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. Scroll down for some healthy preservative options to look out for.
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". There is no guide or standard that measures foods in this category. So, if dog treats are labeled as any kind of "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. They must have 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 understand the different 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 few healthy, safe and cheap homemade organic dog treat recipes.
In case you're not able to remember all of that when you go shopping for healthy dog treats, I've summarized the good and the bad below so you can print that out and take it with you!