Somehow giving your dog treats makes you both happy. But you don’t want your dog to just be happy – you want him to be healthy, too. Dog treats aren’t as well regulated as dog food, which makes finding natural dog treats trickier.
Finding the best treats for dogs is difficult, but it’s not impossible if you do your homework. Here’s what you need to know about choosing natural dog treats and five of our favorite products.
How to Choose Natural Dog Treats
Because dog treats aren’t well regulated, they’re often subject to marketing gimmicks that trick you into thinking you’ve got a healthy treat even when you don’t. However, it’s not impossible to find healthy dog treats, you just need to be a discerning consumer.
Looking for natural dog treats but aren’t sure if the product stands up to the test?
Here are four things to look for when choosing natural dog treats:
Veterinarian and Dietician Approved
Anyone can mix together a bunch of ingredients and call it a dog treat. But if you want to buy healthy, natural dog treats, then you need to find treats that have been developed in conjunction with veterinarians and dieticians.
This will ensure the treats are devoid of nasty ingredients that hurt your dog. And, that the treats are put together with recipes that are nutritionally balanced and healthy.
Don’t settle for treats that are merely safe, like “non-toxic.” Look for treat manufacturers who employ a full-time veterinary dietician.
Quality is a critical issue in pet treats. Even some treats made with the right ingredients and the right balance are ruined by poor quality control. This increases the risk of bad batches, which means an increased risk of illness for your pets.
Look for treats made in the United States and in small batches. You should also look for ingredients which are human grade. Any manufacturers who voluntarily follow the Association of American Feed Control Official’s (AAFCO) safety standards are usually a good choice.
Honest pet treat manufacturers will be happy to share their supply chain and manufacturing processes. If they can’t answer your questions, avoid them completely.
One of the biggest challenges in finding natural dog treats is navigating the ingredients found in many mass-produced treats.
Some preservatives are required to keep the treats fresh during transport and on the shelf. But how many strange ingredients should you really tolerate in your pet’s treats?
In many cases, the best you can do is to look for natural ingredients sourced in the United States.
Vegetables, grains, proteins, and fats in whole food form are the best options for dog treats because they are often what you’d include if you made the treats yourself at home.
Consequences of poor treat choices
High-quality ingredients are probably the most important criteria good dog treats can have. Poor quality ingredients, particularly in jerky products, are associated with canine illness and even death.
Since 2007, there have been several recalls of pet treats that have been linked to widespread pet illness and even pet deaths. Jerky and other treats made with jerky that have been imported from China have been linked to the development of a kidney disease in dogs.
Fanconi-Like Syndrome (FLS) is an otherwise rare kidney disease. The disease, known as FLS, prevents dogs from absorbing all the nutrients in their food. Instead, their nutrients go straight to their urine.
Indeed, ingredients linked to China have been found to include many different types of toxins. Previous studies of these ingredients have found contaminants like:
Although the FDA studies have been unable to find causation between the nutritional composition of the products and the illnesses, it’s still better to avoid them when you can. This requires avoiding pet products from China when possible.
Yet, even when you avoid Chinese products, steering clear of these ingredients is problematic. In some cases, products made in the USA will include ingredients sourced from China. Because country of origin for ingredients is not required on labels, knowing where they came from is often impossible.
Healthy and Balanced
Finding pet treats that are simply ‘safe’ isn’t enough to ensure you’re protecting your dog’s health. There’s no need to get hung up looking for organic dog treats; it’s not required for a healthy and balanced snack.
Instead, look for treats that include a good balance of carbs, fats, and proteins. Then, go a step further and look for treats that include vitamins and minerals that support your dog’s health. Here are a few vitamins and minerals to look for and what food forms they come in:
- Carrots, pumpkin, eggs, sweet potatoes, spinach, liver, fish oil
- Grains, liver, green vegetables, dairy
- Fruits, veggies, organ meat
- Fish oil, dairy, liver, eggs, beef
- Grains, kale and spinach, seeds, liver
- Dairy, bones, green beans
- Spinach, green beans, grains, tomato juice
- Fruits, dairy, grains, vegetables
These nutrients support heart and kidney health and will even help keep your dog’s coat healthy and shiny.
Top 5 Natural Dog Treats
We’ve searched the lot and identified some of the best natural dog treats.
Here’s our list.
1. BLUE Wilderness Grain Free Biscuits Crunchy Dog Treats
The BLUE Wilderness grain-free treats come in several varieties including duck, salmon, and turkey. We like them because they include real meat in various flavors and the ingredients list is full of real foods.
These treats aren’t just protein bombs, they also include omega 3s, vitamin C, vitamin E, and calcium to provide extra nutrients.
They’re also free from:
- Chicken by-product meals
- Corn, wheat, and soy
- Artificial flavors and preservatives
Blue Wilderness treats are made in the USA, but it’s not clear where their ingredients come from.
What We Like:
- Natural ingredients list
- Employ staff veterinarians
- Added nutrients
What We Don’t:
- No list of ingredient sourcing
- No list of supply chain
2. Old Mother Hubbard Crunchy Classic Natural Dog Treats
Old Mother Hubbard’s crunchy treats come in a variety flavors including veggie, peanut butter, liver, and bacon and cheese. They also offer treats designed specifically for puppies.
These biscuits are baked in North America – primarily in the United States and Canada – and are based on an old recipe from 1926 that includes “all-natural ingredients” made from proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Some of the ingredients include wheat flour, oatmeal, bran, chicken, cane molasses, garlic powder, and cheese.
There are a few things to watch for with these treats: they include salt without a salt content. They also include chicken fat, and the fat content of the biscuits is ‘not less than 7%’.
What We Like:
- Balanced ingredients
- Natural ingredients
- Baked in the United States
What We Don’t
- Potential for high salt and sugar content
- No explanation of supply chain
- Not clear if they employ veterinarians
3. Fruitables Crunchy Dog Treats
Fruitables Crunchy Dog Treats are low-calorie baked biscuits that come in several flavors including:
- Banana & Pumpkin
- Pumpkin & Blueberry
- Apple & Pumpkin
- Pumpkin & Cranberry
Using a pumpkin base provides plenty of macro and micronutrients that support your dog’s health including fiber to support digestive health. Many of the fruits added are also dog favorites and include things like antioxidants, which dogs may not get enough of in their own food.
Fruitables are also made in the USA and all ingredients are sourced in the United States.
What We Like:
- Added micronutrients
- Made in the USA
What We Don’t:
- Mini treats are small
- Low protein
4. Rocco & Roxie Gourmet Jerky Dog Treats
You can’t have a list of dog treats without at least one jerky treat. Jerky products are difficult to sort through, but dogs love them.
Chicken and turkey jerky is also available and free of artificial flavors.
One of the reasons we chose this brand is that they provided a nutritional analysis of their treats. Rocco & Roxie jerky will include 35% protein, 12%, fat, 1% fiber, and 28% moisture.
What We Like
- Honest ingredients list
- Smell good
- Sourced and made in the United States
What We Don’t
- Garlic may not suit some dogs
- Sodium nitrate
- USA-based beef, but not certain about chicken
5. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dog Treats
These Natural Balance dog treats combine carb-rich vegetables with a meat product to create a nutritionally balanced treat. They’re available in flavors like Sweet Potato & Fish, Sweet Potato & Venison, and Brown Rice & Lamb.
The ingredients are listed as being free from:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial flavors
Natural Balance also performs 9 safety tests on every batch before releasing them to the market. If you’re curious, you can see the results from the batch you bought on their website.
What We Like:
- Nutritionally balanced
- Transparent ingredients and quality control
- Rosemary as a natural preservative
What We Don’t:
- Added sugar in cane molasses
- Some imported ingredients
Results: The Best Treats for Dogs
Finding pet treats might be tricky, but if you look for quality ingredients, transparent supply chains and manufacturing, and a healthy, balanced treat, you’re sure to find something your pet will love.
We’ve looked far and wide and found that the Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Dog Treats are the best of the five products.
By using vegetables instead of grain, Natural Balance dog treats combine both carbohydrates and micronutrients for a healthy product. What is more, they are incredibly transparent about their supply chain and manufacturing processes. Few other pet treat manufacturers would post their batch test results online.
Did we include your dog’s favorite treats on our list? Share your favorite products in the comments below.