Healthy dog treats are hard to find.
Many commercial dog treats contain ingredients and additives that are unhealthy for our dogs. A dog may also be allergic to some of these ingredients. For example, my Shiba Inu is allergic to wheat, and my Siberian Husky is allergic to wheat, oats, and some types of fish.
Dog treats can be very useful in grooming and training, but always exercise moderation and feed our dog a balanced diet.
How to Find Healthy Dog Treats
There have been a variety of dog treat recalls, so make sure to only get food from companies that have good quality control. Get treat information and reviews from a range of sources before making a choice.
- This AVMA page is very useful for helping us keep track of various dog food recalls.
- This page from the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association has more news and updates on recalls.
When looking for dog treats, the first thing that I do is look at brands that produce healthy and highly reviewed dog food. Some examples include Wellness, Orijen, Blue Wilderness, Taste of the Wild, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Natural Balance.
Next, I check the treats produced by each brand, and look at their ingredient list. In general, the main ingredients are listed before the first named source of fat, e.g. chicken fat, canola oil, flaxseed. This page has a great list of AAFCO definitions of dog treat and dog food ingredients. They help to clarify many of the terms used by treat manufacturers.
We want to pick treats which contain less processed, fresh ingredients. The more processed an ingredient is, the greater the probability for contamination and loss of nutrients. Therefore,
Barley > Barley flour > Gound barley
Since dogs are primarily meat eaters, I also prefer treats with higher protein content, with a named meat as its primary ingredient, not grain, sugar, or other additives. Here is an article on whether high protein diets are harmful to dogs.
Below are a list of dog treats that I have looked at. I will list their pros and cons, and discuss how strong a motivator they are in training. I also give my dogs homemade dog treats.
1. Dog Biscuit Treats
Dog biscuits are a popular treat because they are easy to carry around, easy to stuff in toys, easy to break into pieces, and they usually cost less than many of the other treats. In addition, my dogs love them.
However, finding a good dog biscuit that is also reasonable priced can be a challenging task. For many years, I was using the Innova EVO dog biscuits. These biscuits were great because they have high protein content and are grain free. However on March 2013, there was a voluntary recall on Innova products due to possible salmonella contamination. As a result, I have stopped using Innova products.
Since then, I have been looking for a healthy replacement.
a) Wilderness Trail Treats Dog Biscuits
The ingredient list for these biscuits look great (the best that I have seen so far), and it has a 30% protein content. The turkey biscuits, for example, contain Turkey, Chicken Meal, Potatoes, as its main ingredients.
I am currently testing out these biscuits.
b) Wellness Bar Treats
I have used these before because they are wheat free, and the molasses give them a wonderful smell. However, the protein content on these treats is low (about 10%), and a second look at the ingredient list shows that it has Ground Barley and Cane Molasses as the first two ingredients.
Since the meat source is much further down, and the list is topped by grain and sugar, I decided to pass on Wellness biscuits. The only exception is their Lamb and Apples formula, which contains Lamb Meal, Potato Flour, Lamb, Sweet Potatoes, as the main ingredients, with a 24% protein content. I may give this a try in the future.
Wellness also has a Minibites treat with better ingredients, but it is much more expensive, and the Wilderness biscuits still look better to me.
c) Nature’s Variety Grain Free Biscuits
These biscuits look interesting because it has a 24% protein content, a simpler ingredient list, and a meat meal as its main ingredient. For example, the rabbit biscuits contain Rabbit Meal, Tapioca, Garbanzo Bean Flour, Apples, as its main ingredients.
I recently tried the rabbit biscuits and my dogs love them. They have a strong scent, are crunchy, and easy to break into smaller pieces. However, my Husky’s stool seems to have gotten softer, so she may be allergic to one or more of the ingredients.
One possibility is to try out the limited ingredient version of these biscuits. For example, the Instinct Limited Ingredient Biscuits with Turkey Meal and Pumpkin contains Turkey Meal, Peas, Tapioca, Pumpkin, as its main ingredients.
d) Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Treats
These dog biscuits are grain-free, with an average amount of protein (about 16%). As advertised, the ingredient list is simple, for example the chicken treats contain Dried Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Potato Protein, Chicken, Chicken Meal, as its main ingredients.
It would be better if the meat source preceded the potatoes, but that would likely also make them more expensive.
2. Dog Chicken Treats and Jerky Treats
These chicken treats are nice because they are mostly meat and do not contain too many additives. However, they are usually a lot more expensive than dog biscuits, and other types of dog treats.
My dogs absolutely love chicken breast strips, however, there have been several chicken jerky treat recalls in the past. In particular, we should be careful of chicken jerky products that are made in China.
I used to buy Dogswell jerky treats, but after reading this FDA complaint report, where Dogswell was one of the brands mentioned, I have stopped using them. Dogswell is an American company, but their jerky treats are made in China. Other companies may produce the treats domestically, but buy packaging or ingredients from China.
It is actually quite difficult to find chicken dog treats that are fully China free. I am currently using Trader Joe’s chicken breast strips (stated made in the USA on the packaging).
Here is what is stated on the Milo’s Kitchen website –
All of our high quality treats are made right here in the USA. We source 100% of our beef, chicken, duck and sweet potato domestically, which allows us to ensure the highest standards of oversight and regular monitoring.
All major ingredients, including meats, proteins, grains and vegetables, come from the USA. Although we source a limited amount of minor ingredients, such as preservatives, from other countries due to limited availability in the U.S. or to U.S. suppliers, we’ve listened to our consumers and do not source any of our ingredients from China.
Here is what I found on Trader Joe’s –
In October 2007, Trader Joe’s began to phase out foods imported from China amid concerns that standards on “organic” products from the country are not as stringent as they should be. Between February 2008 and April 2008, Trader Joe’s claimed to phase out single-ingredient products from China due to concerns over tainted goods. However, Trader Joe’s does not provide ‘Country of Origin’ disclosures on most of its private label brands, citing reasons of food source and supplier secrecy.
3. Moist Dog Treats
a) Zukes Mini Naturals
Zukes Mini treats are moist, and have a very different texture when compared to the dry biscuit treats. They are also wheat free.
I have tried Zukes Minis before but they were not a big favorite with my dogs, they only have about 15% protein content, and they contain vegetable glycerin. While certain types of vegetable glycerin are probably safe in moderation, there are also unsafe types of glycerin. Here is an FDA notification for glycerins made from the Jatropha plant. Given the safety questions surrounding this particular ingredient, and the lack of nutritional value for dogs, I thought it best to avoid for now.
I have also tried the Zukes Z-filet, but I would not recommend it. The Z-filet contains a high amount of salt, which upsets the stomach of my Siberian Husky.
Note that many moist treats including WellBites (Wellness), BlueBites, and Wild Bites (Blue Buffalo), contain glycerin in order to give it the moist texture.
b) Natural Balance Dog Food Rolls
These rolls have a nice, strong smell that drives my dogs crazy. I used to cut them up into small, bite-sized pieces for training. The pieces can be somewhat messy on the hands, but both Shiba and Husky love these treats, and will do good work for them.
However, I stopped using these food rolls because they have wheat as a main ingredient. However, based on the ingredient list of their recent rolls, they no longer contain wheat.
Nevertheless, I still decided to pass because the product has fairly low protein content (about 11%) and a lot of sugar. In addition, the wheat-free version contains glycerin (just listed as glycerin *not* vegetable glycerin).
4. Dog Dry Treats
In addition to dog biscuits, there are a range of other dry dog treats. We consider them here.
a) Freeze Dried Dog Treats
Baa-Baa-Q’s are made out of lamb lung, is 100% natural, and is not high in fat. I mostly put these into the Hol-ee Roller Ball dog toy. This provides my dogs with an interesting mental activity, and they are very motivated to get the lamb lung out.
Stewart freeze dried liver treats is similar to the Baa-Baa-Qs because it is high in protein (50%), and does not contain any additives. This page contains nutritional information and feeding guidelines. However, my dogs only have medium interest in these.
Orijen also has a range of freeze dried dog treats with high protein content (45%-65%) and a good ingredient list. The Tundra formula, for example, contains Boneless venison, elk liver*, boneless elk*, venison liver, boneless quail*, steelhead trout*..
Note though that the fat content for the Orijen treats is also fairly high. The Tundra formula is the lowest at 25%, and the beef formula is the highest at 55%.
b) Charlee Bears
During dog training class, my Shiba Inu would not stop begging from the people with Charlee Bears in their pockets. Unfortunately, Charlee Bears contain mostly wheat flour, and my poor Shiba is allergic to wheat.
These dog treats can be helpful for dog training because they are small and low in calories. However, the ingredient list is not great, in particular there is wheat flour, salt, and garlic powder. As pointed out by HMagoncia, garlic can be poisonous to dogs.
There is a fair amount of discussion around how much garlic is toxic to dogs. Some people say that a little garlic is ok. While others are more cautious.
—as little as one clove of garlic can lead to toxicity in dogs and cats.
Please note that a pet’s weight, type of breed and prior health history can vary the toxicity level of ingested garlic.
While mass consumption of garlic puts pets at high risk, your pet can also become poisoned after chronic ingestion of small amounts of garlic over a period of time.
R.B. Cope, BSc. BVSc, PhD
My opinion is that it is better to stay on the safe side and not use dog treats with garlic. Garlic may provide some medicinal properties for our dogs, but there is controversy over that as well. Personally, I would just use supplements or alternative (less risky) ingredients, if necessary. At the current moment, the beneficial claims of garlic just does not seem to justify the risks involved.
c) Smokehouse Chicken Poppers.
A problem I had with Smokehouse Poppers, was that they were too large in size. To make sure I did not overfeed my dogs during training, I had to cut them into smaller pieces individually. This was very time intensive and a big pain in the ass, so I stopped using this dog treat.
It turned out for the best because in 2007, there was a recall on Smokehouse products.
For this reason, I would not recommend using Smokehouse dog treats.
5. Dental Dog Treats
In the past, I gave my dogs deer antlers for their chewing pleasure.
However, my Shiba Inu cracked one of his pre-molars while chewing on a deer antler.
The dental specialist I went to advised us NOT to give our dog any hooves, compressed rawhide, compressed antlers, processed white bones, or even non-edible Nylabones (basically anything that we think is too hard, and has no give).
Instead, she suggested that we use Greenies for dental health. Make sure to get the proper Greenie size for a dog, and supervise his initial chewing sessions to ensure that he does not swallow large pieces of the dental dog treat. So far, Greenies have worked out well for us.
Note that rawhide is not a good dental dog treat.
Many dogs can tear off fairly large chunks from a rawhide chew-toy. If swallowed, these chunks may become a choking hazard. They may also block the digestive system and cause infection. Rawhide pieces may absorb water and expand in your dog’s stomach, causing further digestive issues.
Please Let Us Know
If there are particular commercial dog treats or dog food that have caused your dog problems, please post about it below.
The more information we share, the better we can protect our dogs from poor quality dog treats and dog food. Woof Woof!!
What jerky treats would you recommend for a 1-year old Husky that are made here in the USA?
I am currently using chicken jerky from Trader Joe’s. I pick the packets carefully though, because they sometimes have pretty hard/brittle pieces, which I *don’t* give to my dogs.
My 11+ yr , 6lb yorkie mix was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and I am trying to keep sodium lowest I can in his diet. I feed him WELLNESS / Small Dog /Senior variety for meals, boiled ground turkey to top it, and Trader Joes Organic chicken & Brown rice treats (1/3 of a stick treat once per day). Wondering if you have any info on these TJ dog treats as far as sodium goes..it’s low on the list of ingredients- but do you have any actual numbers on the sodium content?
Sorry, I do not know the exact salt content.
Thank you for the article on dog treats. Today I bought The turkey biscuits from Blue Buffalo that you discussed. My grand-dog, a 4 year old 18 lb. Schnoodle seemed to like it very much. He has mostly had Charlie Bears and Zukes (peanut butter) They are about 3 calories and this new turkey biscuit is 41 calories. They do not break easily but it would be better to use a smaller treat. any thoughts on keeping the calories down with a healthy treat like the turkey biscuit?
I actually use my dog’s kibble as rewards for doing regular tasks throughout the day. I am currently using Wellness CORE for my dogs, and I measure out how much each should get per day. Whatever is left over, I put in interactive food toys for my dog to work on.
For more difficult tasks like grooming or getting their attention during walks, I use microwave chicken or chicken jerky (made in USA). If you want to try using chicken jerky, please read the chicken jerky section in the article above. You want to stay away from products that are made in China or have packaging or any additives from China.
I cut the microwave chicken up into little pieces beforehand, then they are easy to use around the house. The chicken jerky can be more difficult to break, but I use pliers to help with that. I can break the pieces beforehand, and then keep the little pieces in the bag that I take with me during walks.
I also keep track of how much of these I use, and I reduce the amount of kibble that my dog gets accordingly.
Hi! Thanks for all the great advice. What are your opinions on the Royal Canin Educ treat?
My Shiba is allergic to wheat, and my Huskies have very sensitive stomachs, so I generally stay away from wheat and most other grains. Rice is probably the only one that my dogs are ok with. I try to pick treats with meat as its primary ingredient, and with as few additives as possible.