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There’s been a lot of emphasis on seeking out healthy, all-natural diets for dogs in recent years. But one area that often gets neglected in the search for high-quality, natural dog food is natural dog treats, which can play an important role in your dog’s diet.
Natural dog treats are made with whole-food ingredients, including animal protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. They don’t contain harmful ingredients, non-nutritive fillers, or artificial additives. In short, they provide your dog with a tasty treat and an added boost of quality nutrition.
In this article, we’ll look at natural dog treats, including what they are, whether they’re healthy, and which are the best natural dog treats for your pup’s diet.
What Are Natural Dog Treats?
The term “natural” can mean a lot of things, but it has a certain connotation when it comes to pet food and treats.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization responsible for regulating pet food manufactured in the U.S., “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 derived “solely from plant, animal, or mined sources.” It is 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,” such as “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.
(Check out 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?
The million-dollar question: Are natural dog treats healthier than other 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.
First, it’s good to keep in mind that even though they are technically compliant with the definition of natural, “natural” dog treats may still contain trace amounts of unnatural materials. As AAFCO indicates on their 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 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’ll want to take a good, hard look at the ingredients on the label. Because marketing claims can stretch the truth, it’s best practice to thoroughly examine their accuracy before making any diet changes.
What to Look for When Shopping for Natural Dog Treats
When shopping for natural dog treats (or any dog treats, really), it’s wise to give the ingredient list a close look. This will tell you which ingredients are used in the greatest proportion and whether there are any artificial or potentially harmful additives.
Here are some things to look for in high-quality, natural dog treats:
- A short list of whole-food ingredients
- Nutrient-preserving processing methods (like freeze-drying)
- No by-products, fillers, or non-nutritive additives
- Free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives
- Prepared in small batches to preserve freshness
The Best Natural Dog Treats
Based on what we’ve learned from Johnna Devereaux, AAFCO, and the Dog Food Project, let’s get to the good stuff: our picks for the best natural dog treats.
A natural dog treat made with human-grade ingredients, these Chicken Nuggets from Full Moon are crafted with antibiotic-free chicken and are free from grains, soy, corn, and glycerin. These nuggets are also conveniently bite-sized, making them a great all-natural option for smaller dogs.
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.
If you’re looking for a natural dog treat with 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. They are packed with nutritious, whole-food ingredients like oatmeal, apples, carrots, ground flaxseed, and sweet potato.
You wouldn’t feed your dog fast food—but Fetch Fries from Fast Pet Food? These you can feel good about. Made from organic chicken and sweet potato, these natural dog treats boast a short ingredient list (just five!) and are free from corn, soy, and gluten. We’ll also note that the glycerin is vegetable-derived, not the more problematic synthetic variety.
With only six wholesome ingredients (sweet potato, oat flour, oats, peanut flour, coconut oil, and cinnamon), Riley’s Biscuits are a natural snack you can feel good about serving your dog. These non-GMO treats are USDA-certified organic and are made without artificial colors or flavors.
Your dog will love the crunchy texture—and his teeth will, too! As he chews, the crispy texture helps remove tartar buildup for a cleaner, healthier smile. These biscuits are available in small and large sizes.
You can’t go wrong with a peanut butter and banana combo. These lick-smacking morsels by Wet Noses are made with natural, human-grade ingredients. Free of genetically modified fillers, they’re appropriate for all breeds and life stages.
Talk to Your Vet Before Introducing 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, his health history, and his individual nutritional needs to give you deeper insights on the best diet for your dog, including which treats are the best.