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Natural dog food and treats have definitely been gaining buzz in the pet community—particularly with pet parents who want to give their pets the healthiest, most nutritious snacks and treats possible.
In this article we’ll look at natural dog treats: what they are, if they’re healthy, and some of the best natural dog treats to offer your dog in 2020.
What Are Natural Dog Treats?
The term “natural” can mean a lot of things. But what, exactly, does “natural” mean when it comes to pet food and treats?
The animal and pet food corporation responsible for regulating pet food manufactured in the U.S., The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), “has a clear definition of the term ‘natural,'” says Clinical Pet Nutritionist, Johnna Devereaux, who recently answered some of our questions over email. “Pet food labelers must comply with the definition to use the words ‘Natural’ or ‘All-Natural’ on any pet labels.”
You can read AAFCO’s lengthy definition of what “natural” means here, but basically it’s pet food that’s derived “solely from plant, animal, or mined sources” that’s either completely unprocessed or processed in natural ways, such as “physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation.”
Non-natural ingredients, according to the AAFCO, are items that are “chemically synthesized, such as vitamin ingredients, mineral ingredients, preservatives, and special-purpose food additives,” like “artificial flavors and colors, chelated minerals, mineral amino acid complexes, vitamin supplements, propylene glycol, calcium ascorbate, and other preservatives (such as BHA and BHT).”
So, properly labeled natural dog treats will have ingredients derived directly from natural sources, or processed by natural methods.
(Read our article, “Decoding Dog Food: The Guide to What You’re Really Feeding Your Pet,” for more about the truth behind pet food labeling.)
Are Natural Dog Treats Healthy?
So, the million-dollar question: Are natural dog treats healthier than other treat options?
Ultimately, Devereaux says, “treats that are described as natural are not necessarily a healthier option.” That’s because even though such treats may be labeled as natural, there are still a lot of variables to consider.
One reason natural dog treats might not be healthier is that even though they are technically compliant with the definition of natural, they still may contain trace amounts of unnatural materials, as the AAFCO’s indicates on its website: “A feed or feed ingredient can contain trace amounts of chemically synthetic compounds and still be considered natural.”
Another reason natural dog treats might not be the healthiest option for your pet? “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean the treat contains healthy ingredients. Again, as the AAFCO maintains, “There is no requirement or statement that natural feeds or ingredients are safer than those produced by a chemically synthetic process.”
The truth is, if you’re a consumer looking for the healthiest, most natural treats for your dog, you have to take a good, hard look at the ingredients on the label.
What to Look for When Shopping for Natural Dog Treats
When shopping for natural dog treats (or any dog treats, really), you want to look at the ingredient list. The healthiest treats will use real, nutrient-packed foods as the ingredients—and typically, the fewer ingredients, the better.
The Best Natural Dog Treats for 2020
Based on what we’ve learned from Devereaux, the AAFCO, and the Dog Food Project, let’s get to the good stuff: Our picks for the best natural dog treats for 2020.
The Soft Bakes treats from K9 Granola Factory proudly display “All-Natural” front and center on their package. Made with rolled oats (and free from both corn and soy), these soft biscuits are made fresh in the USA—and actually smell like a delicious vanilla birthday cake. How do I know? This particular flavor of Soft Bakes happens to be my dog, Bennett’s, favorite treat of all time.Get 'em on Amazon
Another natural dog treat with human-grade ingredients, the Chicken Nuggets from pet brand Full Moon are made from antibiotic-free chickens and free from grains, soy, corn, and glycerin. These nuggets are also bite-sized—making them a great all-natural option for smaller dogs.Shop Now
If you’re looking for a natural dog treat with more of a crunch, Nutro’s Crunchy Dog Treats could be a solid choice. Packed with nutritious ingredients (like whole brown rice, oatmeal, and dried berries), these treats are free of artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors—just like a natural treat should be.Shop on Amazon
Remember how we said when it comes to natural dog treats, the fewer ingredients, the better? Well, you can’t get a shorter ingredient list than these Sweet Potato Chews from Wholesome Pride. These vegan, gluten-, and grain-free treats are made from a single, high-quality ingredient: dehydrated sweet potato.Find on Amazon
If you’re looking for options, look no further than Old Mother Hubbard Baking Co. Their line of all-natural, oven-baked dog biscuits come in a variety of flavors (with fun names like Bac’N’Cheez, P-Nuttier, Char-Tar, and Just Vegg’N) and are packed with nutritious, whole-food ingredients like oatmeal, apples, carrots, ground flaxseed, and sweet potato.
These biscuits also come in a variety of sizes, from mini to large, so you can make sure your pet gets the perfect-sized bite.Shop Now
You wouldn’t feed your dog fast food—but Fetch Fries from Fast Pet Food? That you can feel good about feeding to your dog. Made from organic chicken and sweet potato, these treats boast a short ingredient list (just five!) and are free from corn, soy, and gluten (and note the glycerin is vegetable derived, and not the more problematic synthetic variety).Find on Amazon
Talk to Your Vet before Introducing Any Treats Into Your Dog’s Diet
There are a lot of great options for natural dog treats on this list. But before you introduce anything new into your dog’s diet—including natural dog treats—make sure to talk with your veterinarian. Your vet can assess your dog, their health history, and their individual needs and can give you deeper insights on the best diet for your dog, including which treats are the best.