Features September 2012 Issue

How to Choose Top-Quality Dog Treats for Your Dog

How identify the hallmarks of top-quality dog treats – and potentially harmful ones, too.

There are nearly as many types of dog treats on the market as treats for humans: sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, meaty, fruity, fatty, savory, and so on. Despite the variety, top-quality dog treats should share the following two traits: They should pose zero risk of killing your dog. And they should be appealing to dogs by virtue of the quality of their food ingredients – not as a result of chemistry experiments with 20 or 30 different food by-products and a host of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.

Treats are powerful tools for dog training. Because we promote force-free training, we recommend the liberal use of treats. And anything a dog eats a lot of ought to be healthy, never harmful.

Domestic Sources, Domestic Manufacture
As to that first trait: Currently, the only dog treats that have been implicated in dog deaths and dog illnesses have been either made in China, or made primarily with ingredients that were imported from China (see news article here). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and many other parties are searching for an explanation – an agent that could cause the illnesses that have been reported in thousands of dogs who were fed treats containing ingredients from China. We think it’s only prudent, then, to avoid buying any product that is either made in China or contains ingredients from China, until the specific causative agent is identified and can be avoided. In our opinion, there simply is no point in risking the life of your canine family member for a cheap treat.

Quality Defined
As to the second trait of a good dog treat: What is a quality food ingredient? In our opinion, foods that you feed your canine family member should contain only ingredients that are:

-Unadulterated, unprocessed or lightly processed, wholesome foods that are . . .
. . . procured from local, traceable, reputable, inspected/audited sources

These latter two criteria eliminate almost every commercial dog treat you will find in chain grocery stores or big-box megastores. That’s one of the reasons we strongly recommend that you shop for treats in independent pet supply stores with educated staffers – stores that refuse to carry low-quality products. Just as in the human food industry, the titans of the pet food industry (who make the products found in grocery and big-box stores) put a lot of “junk” into their junk foods.

And while a very occasional Cheeto or Pop-Tart (or Snausage or Pup-Peroni) is unlikely to cause immediate harm, no one can say they could actually be good for you (or your dog). Whereas a handful of dried organic fruit or fresh oatmeal-raisin cookies are the kind of snacks that are delicious and contain nutritional benefits for you; and dried meat treats or fresh oatmeal-chicken cookies can genuinely nourish your dog.

As always, you have to scrutinize those ingredients lists – and be discriminating! Remember that your dog depends on you to make healthy choices for him. Don’t be the “pet parent” who gives his kid the canine equivalent of sodas and Fritos every day. If you want a fit, long-lived canine companion, then everything you feed him should support his health, not undermine it. There’s no reason that treats can’t be good for your dog – in moderation, of course. (If you find yourself cutting back on your dog’s nutritionally “complete and balanced” food in order to maintain his healthy weight, rather than cutting back his daily ration of nutritionally incomplete, unbalanced treats, your dog could end up fat and nutritionally deficient.)

Unsure that you can identify healthy ingredients? See the chart on the facing page for tips. If you’re still in doubt after that, consider making your dog’s treats yourself! We’ve included directions and recipes in the accompanying article "How to Make Your Own Top-Quality Dog Treats!". “Bone” appetit!

Comments (10)

I am really confused about the recommendation of oatmeal raisin cookies, I thought raisins (dried grapes) cause kidney failure in canines?

Posted by: Finn&HobbesMom | July 25, 2014 8:08 PM    Report this comment

Dora, the fresh homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies are for you not your dog.

Posted by: Cheryl C | August 17, 2013 7:40 AM    Report this comment

The above article mentions homemade oatmeal raisin cookies to feed your dog. I believe I have read a number of places that raisins are poisonous to dogs. Some one might want to edit that article.

Posted by: Dora B | August 15, 2013 4:24 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for this information!

Posted by: Unknown | March 11, 2013 11:47 AM    Report this comment

I just made my first homemade batch of dog food. I used the book Unlocking the Ancestral Diet. This was the first book to give concrete recipies AND the reasons for the items and possible substitutions. IT was so easy. I have a small dog so I froze half the batch. WE can aternate and with the substitution suggestions, I can be pretty sure to have the items I need to make his food from now on. I agree it is really scary about what is happening with pet food. We all love our dogs so much that I would be devastated if I caused him harm by feeding commercial foods.

Posted by: Remysmom | September 25, 2012 11:40 AM    Report this comment

DO NOT BUY Kirkland Dental Chews for your dog. They are toxic although the bag says 'Made in USA'. the ingredients are 'globally sourced' China??? My small dog had seizures after eating these 'treats'. Stopped immediately once I stopped the chews. The toxins accumulate in the dog's body causing seizures.

Posted by: Unknown | September 21, 2012 12:59 PM    Report this comment

I will only buy treats for my dogs that are all-natural and crunchy. The crunch scrapes their teeth and keeps them strong, and no processed foods or by-products keeps their digestion good. Their current faves are the Natural Balance Healthy Bones.

Posted by: Kiki22 | August 31, 2012 1:03 PM    Report this comment

We are certainly becoming alot more aware of not only what we eat as humans but what we feed our beloved animals.I have found that algae ( NOT TOXIC CYANO BACTERIA) but chlorella and spirlina are very balanced in nutrition and important in all animals diets (Wild and Domesticated). Chlorella Algae is a natural healer and more information and products with pure algae can be found online. Good luck.

Posted by: chlorellies | August 22, 2012 8:48 AM    Report this comment

We are certainly becoming alot more aware of not only what we eat as humans but what we feed our beloved animals.I have found that algae ( NOT TOXIC CYANO BACTERIA) but chlorella and spirlina are very balanced in nutrition and important in all animals diets (Wild and Domesticated). Chlorella Algae is a natural healer and more information and products with pure algae can be found online. Good luck.

Posted by: chlorellies | August 22, 2012 8:48 AM    Report this comment

if most commercial treats are posing a problem with my pets health what about the commercial bagged dog food we buy??? i pay a lot of money thinking he is getting the very bes (BLUE) but, is he?? there are a lot of bogus advertising out there. should i make my own dog food and freeze it? thank you

Posted by: Unknown | August 20, 2012 10:23 AM    Report this comment

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