Choosing Treats for Your Dog

Clare Deming
Dog with treat on nose

No doubt, pets love treats, but with so many options on the shelves of your pet store, it is tough to decide which types of treats are the best. Treats come in all shapes and sizes, with a variety of ingredients. Dog treats can be used for many purposes, so before you decide on the best type of treat for your dog, you need to decide whether your pet has any special needs to consider.

Guidelines for Choosing Dog Treats

Your dog may enjoy treats simply because they're a tasty snack, but you can also use dog treats for the following purposes:

  • Positive reinforcement training
  • Dental care
  • Giving medication
  • As a supplement or vitamin
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Supplemental calories
  • Human-animal bond

Just like in humans, tasty snacks can contain a surprising amount of calories, and overconsumption can lead to unwanted weight gain. As a general guideline, Purina states that treats should not comprise more than 10% of your dog's diet. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has outlined the calories found in many popular treats, a vast range - from 3 to 619 calories. It is also important to be aware of the calories in treats if your pet is athletic and requires supplemental energy.

For any types of treats, read the ingredient list carefully if your dog has any food allergies. If your pet becomes sick while eating a new type of treat, stop feeding it and call your veterinarian.

Training Treats

Treats can be used to assist with house-training for a puppy, agility or athletic training, crate training, or other behavioral modification plans, such as those for separation anxiety.

According to the Humane Society, treats used for training should be tiny and irresistible. Your dog should eat the treat in one gulp and should not be distracted by having to take time to chew the treat. It should not crumble into pieces which can also distract your pet.

Bil-Jac Treats

Some good treats to use for training include Bil-Jac brand Original Recipe treats or Little-Jacs. These both contain chicken and chicken liver and a 10-ounce bag will cost you between $5 and $10.

Zuke's

Other dogs may like Zuke's Mini Naturals. These are available in several flavors: chicken, duck, peanut butter, pork, wild rabbit, or salmon. This is a slightly cheaper option, with a 16-ounce bag available for under $10.

Treats for Dental Care

Dental disease is one of the most common health problems in dogs. While treats cannot give your dog perfect teeth, some types can slow down the build-up of dangerous tartar. Avoid treats for dental care in pets that don't stop to chew their food. If they swallow the dental treat whole, this doesn't let the treat work on the teeth and can lead to intestinal obstruction.

When you're looking for good dental treats, look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal. VOHC is a world-recognized organization that has created a list of products that are effective in reducing plaque and tartar.

Purina

Try Purina Veterinary Diets Dental Chewz for a beef-based option that is easily digestible. You can pick up a five-ounce bag for a little over $10.

Greenies

Many of the Greenies brand products carry the VOHC seal. Geenies treats come in several sizes and options include low-calorie versions as well. Ingredients include wheat and oats with some chicken flavoring. A six-ounce bag costs between $5 and $10, but larger options are available for bulk savings.

Treats for Giving Medication

When your dog needs to take medication, it can be tough to disguise a pill. An ideal treat for hiding medication will be tasty, soft, and can stick to the pill.

Greenies' Pill Pockets

One of the best treats for administering medication is made by Greenies brand. Pill Pockets are soft and have a pre-made pocket for you to insert the pill. The soft treat can be pressed together to seal the pill inside. Pill Pockets come in chicken, peanut butter, or hickory smoke flavors. They are available in two sizes and contain chicken and wheat. A variety for dogs with allergies is also available, and a 7.9-ounce bag costs about $10.

Glucosamine Treats

If your dog needs to take a vitamin or supplement (like glucosamine for joint pain or arthritis), sometimes you can find these products formulated as a treat. Make sure that you ask your veterinarian whether your pet needs to take a supplement before starting one. One of the most reputable brands of glucosamine treats is Cosequin. These chewable tablets are not as tasty as treats given for other purposes, but many dogs still enjoy them. The main ingredients are glucosamine and chondroitin, with small amounts of fillers and beef and cheese flavoring. These supplements are expensive, and a 180-count bottle of Cosequin will cost around $50 to $60. Keep the bottle out of reach because ingesting large amounts of glucosamine supplements have been linked to liver problems.

Treats for Environmental Enrichment

When your dog has to be left home alone, he can become bored. Other pets simply like to spend some time chewing their treats.

Prime Cuts

One category of treats that can take a dog some time to enjoy would be prime cuts. These include pig's ears, hooves, bully sticks, or some types of bones. Make sure that you watch your dog closely when first giving these types of treats. If your dog chews too aggressively, he could splinter these products or could even ingest a dangerously-sized piece. These kinds of treats are inexpensive - a six-pack of pig's ears is about $10.

Rawhide Chews

Many dogs enjoy rawhide chews. These are good treats for dogs that are moderate chewers and are not likely to swallow large pieces whole. The ASPCA recommends limiting the consumption of rawhides at a single time. Small dogs do have an increased risk of gastrointestinal obstruction if they swallow large pieces of rawhide. Wholesome Hide is made in the U.S.A. and is a good option for large and medium dogs. This is also a cheap option, with a 10-pack of chews costing under $10.

Treats as Treats

If you are looking for a treat simply to give your dog a treat, you will want to find something tasty and safe.

Kong Easy Treat

Kong Easy Treat is available in several flavors and is essentially squeeze cheese for dogs. An eight-ounce costs between $5 and $10, and the main ingredients are milk, soybean oil, and whey.

Pup-Peroni

Pup-Peroni brand treats are a favorite as well and are an economical choice (a 25-ounce bag costs about $10). These come in normal flavors (beef, bacon, roasted chicken) and some that are more unique (turducken, breakfast sausage with egg, or braised beef with sweet potato).

Lean Treats

For dogs who need to watch their weight, Lean Treats from Butler are a popular option. These are made with skinless chicken and are small for portion control. The bags are small (four-ounces) but only cost around $5.

Treats to Avoid

While your dog may love them, there are some treats you want to avoid.

Jerky Treats

Thousands of reports of illness in dogs have been reported to be associated with jerky treats since 2007. The Food and Drug Association has been investigating this problem, but has not been able to discover a specific toxin or source of these illnesses. Initially, most of the products were found to be sourced from China, but some cases have also been linked to products made in the U.S.A, as reported by the Veterinary Information Network. Until more is known about this problem, it is safest to avoid giving jerky-type treats to your dog. Organic treats are a safer option and there are several choices that contain 95% USDA-certified organic ingredients.

Raw Treats

Treats made from raw meat can also pose a health risk to your dog, yourself, or your family. The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine studied raw-food diets and concluded that a greater number of samples of these diets contained dangerous bacteria (Salmonella and Listeria). Your dog can become ill from eating uncooked food, and anyone in contact with the dog or the food is also at risk. Listeria is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, leading to stillbirth or death in newborns.

Find a Favorite

Most dogs enjoy receiving treats, but it is important to choose the best type for your pet. You may need to try a few brands or flavors to discover the perfect treat for your dog, but you'll be certain to find his favorite in no time.

Choosing Treats for Your Dog