Pet parents tend to look for different qualities when choosing a dog treat. Some focus on flavor or texture, while others worry about allergies and go for those that are wheat-, corn- and soy-free. But what truly makes a great dog treat, and how do you choose the right one for your dog?
Baking healthy and diet-appropriate treats is one way to go. In the store, a good place to start is by reading the label. There are a lot of ingredients it’s best to steer clear of, like sugar and artificial colors. No matter the packaging, it’s the label that really matters.
And don’t be intimidated by labels! We dove into the research and consulted Dr. Gary Richter, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, for his take.
Reading the Label
- There are some items that are simply not good for dogs including artificial colors, sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives. Dr. Richter explains, “keep ingredients natural. No artificial ingredients/ preservatives should ever be used.”
- Skip lower-quality ingredients like meat by-products and unhealthy carbs. According to Dr. Richter, “inexpensive/ filler ingredients such as by products, meat meal, corn, wheat, etc. are best avoided.”
- Look for these desirable ingredients: whole meats or fish, fruits, and vegetables.
- If you’re concerned about allergies, talk to your vet, and try a limited- or single-ingredient treat. Freeze-dried raw meat treats are some of the healthiest around.
- Avoid human “treats,” as dogs shouldn’t have the excess salt or sugar in our snack foods.
Note that treats should only make up about 10% of your pet’s diet.
Decide Which Category is Best
When looking for a great dog treat, narrowing down categories will make sorting through brands easy:
- Organic biscuits and treats: This means that some or all of the ingredients are certified as organic. Generally, it’s indicative of a higher-quality treat.
- Single high-quality protein sources: Freeze-dried raw treats or jerky are examples. Look for products made in the U.S., Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.
- Dental treats: Avoid marketing jargon and ask your veterinarian for some recommendations on dental treats and brands that make a real difference. This may be a treat you give only once a day.
- Senior treats: Seniors enjoy softer treats that are easy to chew. If you’re watching their weight, always consider feeding a little less when adding treats on top of meals. You may find senior treats that include supplements for joint health, as well.
- Puppy treats: Focus on variety for puppies, as these treats will mainly be used for training purposes and you need to keep them interested! You might also choose small treats, like Zuke’s Minis, as you’ll be giving lots of treats during training.
- Veggies and fruits: banana slices, fresh green beans, and carrots are all healthy and low in calories.
Shopping local makes good sense, too. Local artisans are at farmers’ markets and holiday bazaars across almost all major cities. Don’t forget to check the labels, even if it’s a local pastry chef with new treats for stocking stuffers. You can always ask where the treats were made.
Perhaps baking them yourself is the best option for your dog; if so, you can avoid having to look at labels altogether.
Homemade DIY Treat Recipes
Find plenty of dog treat recipe ideas here and in these roundups:
- 7 Homemade Mint Treats for Fresh Doggy Breath
- 5-Ingredient Treats That Even a Dog Can Make
- 8 Ways Your Dog Can Enjoy Super-Healthy Sweet Potatoes
Whether you’re considering meaty jerky-style treats or dental chews, just make sure what you’re buying is safe and healthy.
We go through a lot of treats in our house of three hounds! Sometimes it’s easier to just bake them myself. With plenty of options, the choice is yours.