A Healthy Dog is a Happy Dog
I was just a girl when we brought home our first dachshund. But today (at the ripe old age of 45) I can still remember our first post-adoption encounter with his breeder, a scant few months after he joined our family.
“He looks like an eggplant!” the breeder exclaimed with dismay.
We weren’t sure at first what she was getting at, but we knew it wasn’t a compliment.
She immediately introduced us to the “Green Bean Diet.” The extra pounds melted away and our little eggplant grew long and strong and lean and healthy, just as dachshunds are supposed to do.
Every dachshund since has been automatically pre-registered for the Green Bean Diet along with a side order of strictly rationed daily treats, and we’ve never had another eggplant situation.
But boy, do our dogs love to eat. They love to eat even more than we do! And their taste buds make the range of potential edibles quite a bit vaster than our own (toy stuffing, wood chips, fallen leaves, purse straps, stray socks and a great many other questionable delicacies have been known to fall (um) prey to certain keen sets of small, sharp canines).
This makes choosing healthy treats – defined as treats that pack a taste punch without piling on the pounds or putting health at risk – an ongoing challenge.
In this post, learn some of our favorite tips for choosing the healthiest treats that will make your pooch go “woof!” with delight!
3 Main Types of Healthy Dog Treats
- Single-Ingredient Treats. Here, you have just one ingredient on the list. So there is no worry about hidden additives or other no-no’s you don’t want your pooch to have.
- Multi-ingredient Treats. Here, you have several or many ingredients to review before choosing whether or not to offer your dog the treat. Issues can include the presence of GMOs (genetically modified organisms), additives, preservatives, artificial colors or flavors or even flat out-toxins (thankfully, this is less common in domestically-made treats).
- Non-food treats. Finally, there are many other treats besides food to offer your pup, especially if recent weigh-ins have given your dog’s vet cause for concern. IQ puzzles, training time, walks, pats – all of these and more can be safely offered in lieu of or in addition to food treats.
6 Store-Bought Dog Treats You Can Trust
If you are on a mission to find healthy dog treats in a hurry, this list can help you stock up in short order!
Like Savvy Beast, Blue Buffalo has total transparency about its ingredients lists and even offers a handy tool to help you do a side-by-side comparison of popular big box dog treat manufacturers’ ingredients against Blue Bufallo’s treat ingredients. While this brand doesn’t specify organic ingredients, they do commit to excluding artificial colors/flavors/preservatives, meat by-products, processed grains and glutens from their treats.
Zuke’s is not only 100% committed to whole, natural treat goodness, but the company donates a percentage of purchases to the Dog & Cat Cancer Fund. You can read about each and every ingredient in any treat on their website. The company also offers a Quality Assurance Guarantee that there are no fillers, imported ingredients or pathogens due to stringent testing that exceeds pet food manufacturing standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
These tasty and trusted treats are made in Michigan, USA. Fruit- and veggie-based treats use freeze-drying to seal in nutrients without using any artificial flavor enhancers or preservatives. Meat-based treats use only whole meats and eggs – no by-products. Treats that are grain-free and gluten-free are marked.
Rocco & Roxie uses only whole meat ingredients in their jerky treats. They use no fillers, artificial anything, gluten or by-products and are small-batch manufactured in the USA. Best of all, the jerky is guaranteed not to leave a stinky residue on your hands!
If your dog is a biscuit-lover, these are the biscuits you want to keep on hand. The website offers an extensive and thorough ingredients list so you don’t have to do any legwork to verify the safety of each treat type. The treats are made in the USA/North America and contain no artificial preservatives. And there are plenty of tasty flavors to choose from.
What About Homemade No-Prep Dog Treats?
One very common dilemma many dog parents face is whether to make treats at home from scratch or buy them.
Now consider the typical dog’s sense of smell. It is amazing, right? Dogs can smell a treat yards away (some dog parents might argue miles away, but the actual data suggests the scent of a treat carries up to about 25 feet for most dogs). And if it smells good, the assumption is that it must taste even better.
This is precisely why treats work so well as a training and reward tool. It is just a matter of choosing the right mix of treats to achieve your goals without compromising your dog’s health or weight.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always feasible time-wise to make treats at home, and this is totally understandable in a culture that prizes all-work, no-play over work-life balance. In other words, chances are good the boss won’t understand why you need to knock off work early today to go home and mix up a special batch of home-baked pumpkin-puree crispy cookies for your pooch. Go figure.
The good news here is, there are some homemade treats you can offer that don’t require any prep time at all. Similarly, if you opt to buy treats, it is definitely possible to find a number of treats you can trust (read on to learn more!) to be healthy, wholesome and as nutritious for your pup as they are tasty.
Check Your Fridge
First things first – here is a list of some popular, vet-recommended, no-prep home treats you probably already have in your frig or pantry right now:
- Baby carrots.
- Green beans.
- Broccoli or cauliflower wedges.
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries).
- Broken rice cakes (no salt added).
- Dry cheerios (plain or whole grain, only).
- Apples, sliced (no seeds!).
- Air-popped popcorn (no salt or butter added).
- Small slices of banana.
- Lettuce wedge ends.
- Sardines (small size, frozen).
- Rice (brown, no salt or butter added).
- Chilled red pepper slices.
- Yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin (no sugar, salt, butter or spices added).
SAFETY TIP: Steer clear of anything super-hard that could cause tooth and jaw damage or intestinal impaction if swallowed, such as ice cubes (although many dogs love these), bones, hooves or rawhide.
Treat Ingredients No-No’s
If you are a first-time pooch parent, congratulations! You have embarked upon the world’s most rewarding journey, complete with what probably feels like the world’s steepest learning curve!
One of the lessons you need to learn pronto is which foods are on any canine’s no-no list. This is because these ingredients are known to be toxic or dangerous to dogs in some way.
Here is a list of absolute off-limits ingredients that should never be added to any dog treat or offered as a treat on its own:
- Avocado (leaves, pits, fruit).
- Wild mushrooms.
- Caffeine in any form.
- Alcohol in any form.
- Onions and garlic in any form.
- Grapes or raisins.
- Milk, dairy.
- Macadamia nuts (some dog parents steer clear of walnuts as well).
- Candy, gum.
- Bones, hooves, antlers, rawhide.
- Fruit pits or seeds (apple seeds contain arsenic and peach/plum pits contain cyanide).
- Raw eggs (salmonella and other bacteria is the main concern here).
- Raw meat or fish (ditto as for raw eggs).
- Salty or sugary “people” foods.
- Yeast (raw or cooked).
- Anything in your medicine or cleaning supplies cabinet.
- Anything your family vet specifically states is off-limits.
SAFETY TIP: If you are selecting store-bought treats and you come across any item in the ingredients list that you can neither pronounce nor place, chances are good this is not something your dog should be ingesting!
8 Tips for Choosing Store-Bought Dog Treats
In addition to steering clear of scary-sounding 5-syllable ingredients, these 8 helpful expert tips can assist you with selecting the healthiest, tastiest store-bought treats for your dog.
- The first 2-4 ingredients in the list matter most. You want to see healthy, wholesome, whole-food ingredients listed here. No fillers (soybean meal, cornmeal, et al), no refined sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.) or salts (sodium this-or-that) or, of course, anything that sounds like an additive or preservative (BHA, propylene glycol, glycerin that is not specified as “vegetable based”).
- Look for un-processed ingredients. For example, whenever possible, choose just plain wheat over wheat bran, wheat germ or even wheat flour. The latter three indicate processing on the original whole grain wheat ingredient has been done.
- Eschew artificial anything. Whether the goal is to artificially color the treat (which is usually done to appeal to the dog parent, not to the dog, who doesn’t care!) or to extend the moistness, crunch or chewy nature of the treat, these additives would never be found in a dog’s diet in nature and as such will be foreign and perhaps irritating to your dog’s digestive system.
- Natural sweeteners are mostly okay. So long as your dog has not indicated any allergy or sensitivity to these, small amounts of natural sweeteners such as pureed apples, a bit of local honey or molasses can be added in moderation to no ill effect.
- Natural preservatives can actually be healthy for your pup. Vitamin E (listed as “mixed tocopherals” on most ingredients lists) and Vitamin C are both examples of natural preservatives that can help boost your dog’s immune system.
- Organic ingredients take priority. Because organic ingredients are regulated by the Food Drug Administration (FDA) even if dog foods and treats themselves currently are not, you can feel a higher level of trust towards any dog treat that uses some or all organic ingredients.
- Don’t blindly trust labels. Because the pet food and treat industry as a whole is not currently regulated by the FDA or any governing body, labels like “no allergens” or “all-natural” aren’t really worth the paper they are printed on – unless, of course, you can verify from the company exactly what those labels mean and how they relate to your dog’s health.
- Choose smaller sizes wherever possible. This tip refers to choosing both smaller-sized treats as well as smaller batch treats. Treats will add additional calories to your dog’s daily diet, so offering small treats or small broken bits of larger treats will make less of an impact on your dog’s weight. As well, if you are buying organic treats with no preservatives or only natural preservatives, they will not last as long so it makes more sense to buy them in smaller quantities.
Of course, your pooch will have the final say in which treats are keepers (which also means you may want to try just one store-bought treat at a time so if you find something your dog loves, you can just stock up on that treat)!
You may also want to print out the list of dog-safe single-ingredient treats and dog treat no-no’s to post on your fridge so you can see at a glance which treats are safe to offer your pup. And by taking some extra time now to research the safest, healthiest and tastiest store-bought treats, you can shop quickly, knowledgeably and with confidence that your dog is getting nothing but the best treats!