Take a walk down the aisles of any “big-box” pet store and you will be overwhelmed by all the dog treats that are available for our canine companions. Selecting the ones that are best for your dog can be difficult. Reading the labels to find safe dog treats can get tiresome and with all the pet treat recalls, you may not know what brands to trust.
You will be surprised to find out that most veterinarians don't necessarily recommend any dog treats that are specifically made for dogs. Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't any high quality safe dog treats on the shelves at pet stores, it simply means that you will find a much healthier option in the isles of a grocery store.
As a veterinarian, I'm very much on the side of healthy dog treats, and particularly those that are 100% natural and possibly even made by you, the owner. However, there are safe and healthy dog treats available for purchase which I as a vet would like to recommend.
I talk in more detail on these treats below, but here are two products which I always recommend to pet parents:
- Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews
- Hill's Science Diet Adult Chicken Jerky Strip Dog Treat Bag
Keep in mind that human food isn't always good for dogs, and many of the foods that we eat can be toxic to our pets. However, many of the natural, whole foods that we consume, like fruits and vegetables, are not only good for dogs, but our canines really enjoy eating them as well.
Did you know that wild dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat meat and plants? That's why our domesticated canines still crave the nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and other plants.
RELATED: 10 Vet Recommended Dog Food Brands
You don't have to buy expensive dog treats that are made with all-natural whole foods. You can feed your dog raw whole foods and still get the same benefits. These recommendations will help keep your dog safe and promote healthy snacking.
Not to mention, you may already have some of these healthy foods and safe dog treats for your pooch to munch on in your refrigerator and cupboards.
Vet Recommended Safe Dog Treats for Snacking
Most pet owners will give their dog two or three treats at a time without even thinking about it. Look at the package that your dog treats came in, and check the calorie count. If your treats have 12-15 calories each, you may be giving your dog upwards of 40 calories each time you do that.
Obesity is as much an epidemic in the pet world as it is for humans, and we need to be conscious of the choices we're making when feeding our dogs. Not all store bought treats are high in calories but most are, so be aware. There are many low calorie, healthy options that can't be found on pet store shelves. Here are the top choices that I recommend.
Stay out of the pet store!
That’s right – avoid buying your dog’s treats online or at the pet store. Instead, shop at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. Select healthy options for your dog instead of the fat-laden puppy pepperoni and freeze-dried chicken nuggets of dubious origin. Knowing where your dog’s food comes from helps to ensure safety.
The goal of treating your dog is to reinforce desired behaviors, such as during training, and simply to make him happy. Most dogs don’t care what they are eating, as long as it comes from you.
Dogs also seem to be “bottomless pits” when it comes to snacks. Remember that it is okay to say “you’ve had enough” and stick to small portion sizes. It's also okay to avoid eye contact with your Fido when he's making his adorable begging face. Just because he wants a treat doesn't mean you need to feed him.
If your dog likes crunchy treats, try these snacks:
- Oat cereal, plain, unflavored and shaped like little O’s (ie. Cheerios brand). These little o’s make great training treats! Keep a plastic baggie of them in your pocket for a quick, healthy reward.
- Raw carrots, apples, pears, sugar snap peas, or green beans. These fruits and veggies are full of flavor, fiber and crunch – they are an affordable and easy snack.
- Natural crunchy peanut butter (ie. Smucker’s, Adam or Maranatha brand). Be sure to select the brands that contain ONLY peanuts and salt. Recently, some brands of peanut butter have been adding an artificial sweetener called xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
If your dog enjoys softer, chewy treats, try:
- Fresh blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries. These berries offer your dog a burst of antioxidants and are best when in season.
- Baked or dehydrated sweet potato cubes. You will pay a fortune for dehydrated and processed sweet potato treats at the pet store. Instead, make your own at home!
- Baked dark or white-meat chicken or turkey with the skin and fat removed. This treat is as easy as buying a rotisserie chicken from your grocery store. Cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. One 1-inch cube is sufficient for a large breed dog to have a tasty snack. If you are on a budget, buy inexpensive dark meat cuts and bake at home. Remember to not use any added salt, onion, garlic or strong spices! Bones are never recommended, as they can be a choking hazard or cause digestive obstruction.
- Bananas. They're organic and rainforest-friendly. Bananas are an affordable, tasty stand-by treat. For a large-breed dog, a thumb-sized portion once or twice a day should do the trick! Small breed dogs need only a thumb-NAIL sized portion once or twice a day.
Select dog treats that are right for your pet
Many dog owners ask me if rawhide or bully stick treats are safe. The answer is yes and no. Rawhides and bully sticks can be choking hazards or cause digestive upset, so they are never 100% safe. If your dog takes his time to chew the rawhide into little bits, then yes – it is probably safe for him to have. ALL dogs should be closely supervised when chewing rawhide treats or bully sticks.
A veterinary-trusted brand that contains natural enzymes and helps clean your dog’s teeth is C.E.T. Chews, made by Virbac. Better yet, seek out a company like White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia (USA) that produces dog treats from their own grass-fed, organic cattle.
Conscious pet treats decisions
Feeding your pup like you feed your family takes some time and careful brand selection. Read the ingredients list and pay attention to the quality of the ingredients. Are they organic? All-natural? Where are they sourced? You can even take it a step further and research the brand online to find out what their quality control standards are
One company that is dedicated to sourcing their ingredients from reputable places and are focused on quality control is Hill’s Science Diet. Their chicken and fruity jerky snacks – Hill's Science Diet Adult Chicken Jerky Strip – are made from natural ingredients and promote healthy digestion in dogs. Just remember – feed all types of snacks in moderation, even the healthy ones!
A word about unsafe dog treats
The most common “unsafe” treat is one that is toxic or can cause illness in dogs. Unfortunately, not all foods are safe to share with our pets. Examples of foods to avoid as snacks include:
- Onions, shallots, chives
- Anything containing Xylitol (chewing gum and some peanut butters are common)
- Coffee, caffeine
- Macadamia nuts
- Yeast dough
- Raw, undercooked meat, bones and eggs
For more information or questions regarding “is this safe to feed my dog?”, please refer to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.
When it comes to treating our dogs with tasty snacks, love equals food for many pet parents. Please remember that treats are to be given in moderation and that many pet parents over-do it. Too much “junk food” can also replace healthy balanced meals and can lead to picky pooches.
These empty calories are also contributing to a massive increase in pet obesity in many countries. In the United States, dogs are just as likely to be overweight or obese as humans are. Feed and treat your precious pooches but be careful, as there can truly be too much of a good thing.