We pet parents love to reward our fur babies with tasty treats, but how do we make sure they’re not impacting their long-term health with too many calories or unhealthy ingredients? Just like a healthy meal, healthy dog treats should be low in calories, hydrating & high in moisture content, and made with whole ingredients without any preservatives or additives.
In this blog, we focus on treat products to avoid, fresh human foods and homemade treats you can safely use as healthy snacks for your dog, and recommend some local companies making natural, healthy dog treats that you can rotate into your pet’s overall diet. We also have some fun ideas on how to make homemade dog treats with our full meal recipes (courtesy of local pup @Vancity_Winston). Keep in mind that providing nutrition and variety for your dog will keep him or her healthy, happy and stimulated in the long-term
Ingredients & Treats to Avoid Feeding Your Dog
Before we get started on healthy treats, let’s shine the spotlight on problems caused by unhealthy treats. If you just got a puppy, and are new to the world of puppy treats, you may not be aware of some of the harmful ingredients and products to avoid. We’ve put together a list of the most common pitfalls pet parents fall into when trying to choose a treat for their pet so you can avoid them:
Although Rawhide is extremely popular as a cheap dog treat, it’s a byproduct of the leather manufacturing industry, and can contain several chemicals harmful to your pup. Rawhide is made from the hide of an animal (most often cattle) which is split into the top layer (leather) and the interstitial tissue layer (rawhide).
Before this layer can be turned into a treat, it has to be washed with degreasers, detergents, be sterilized and bleached with hydrogen peroxide to give it the characteristic white or yellow colour. Some of the chemicals that can end up in your dog’s chew include sodium sulphie, hydrogen peroxide, titanium oxide (used to whiten the rawhide), formaldehyde, mercury, lead and arsenic.
A typical ingredient list of a dental stick treat contains the following: Flours (maize, wheat), glycerine, maize gluten, gum, poultry liver powder (natural poultry flavour), sodium tripolyphosphate, fibre, calcium carbonate, gelatin, potassium chloride, preservative, flavour, zinc sulphate
Even if they help clean a dog’s treat, denta-stix contain preservatives, flavourings and salt which are definitely ingredients to be avoided.
In 2012 a variety of jerky dog treat brands were found to be contaminated with ingredients sourced in China, causing the death of more than 1000 dogs. Although these treats were recalled and are now being produced within North America, some of the same toxins can be used in the final recipe.
In an updated report, the FDA advised pet owners to stay away from jerky treats until they can determine exactly which ingredients are making dogs sick. For a full list of these brands consult the FDA statement here since some of these treats are still being sold in independent pet stores and on Amazon.
Preservatives on the Ingredient List
A chemical antioxidant called Butylated hydroxyanisole, which is commonly cited as BHA or E320. This preservative was widely used in cosmetics, but international regulations now restrict its use. Although it is still legal to use it in the US, the NIH has listed it as a carcinogenic substance.
Dog treats are sometimes dyed with additives to make it more visually appealing. However, some of these colours can be dangerous for your pet. Keep an eye out for the following colours of your pet’s treat labels
- E102 or Tartrazine (Yellow#5)
- E110 or Sunset Yellow (Yellow#6)
- E132 Indigotine (Blue#2)
- E129 Allura Red (Red#40)
Some studies have found that these colours caused mood swings, hyperactivity and ADHD in children, and vets have pointed to them as being a potential cause for problem behaviour in pets also.
Sugar, Salt & Artificial Sweeteners
Many manufacturers add sugar to dog treats to improve the taste. Not only does it cause unhealthy weight gain and dental problems, but also serious illnesses like diabetes
A more serious concern than simple sugars are artificial sweeteners. Substances like sorbitol and xylitol are even more dangerous for dogs. The use of sorbitol in both human and animal food has been controversial. For dogs specifically, it is known to cause stomach problems. On the other hand, xylitol is poisonous and can cause seizures, clotting problems, and even death. Read your dog treat labels carefully to avoid these ingredients.
Raw bones/Cooked Bones
Whether or not raw bones are harmful is controversial among both vets and pet owners. One of the disadvantages of raw bones is that they carry salmonella and e-coli, often at high levels, which can cause stomach upset in dogs. If your pup is already on a raw diet, raw bones may not make much of a difference, but for pups on any other type of diet their stomachs may not yet be used to dealing with high bacterial loads and cause diarrhea, bloating or other GI issues.
Cooked bones are definitely ones to avoid because they are more likely to splinter & break apart. Bone fragments can get lodged in your pet’s throat or intestine and cause obstructions. If you choose to feed raw bones, make sure you closely supervise your pup while they are chewing away.
Cheap and Healthy Dog Treats Ideas to Keep Your Pooch Happy
Just like healthy snacks for humans, fruits and vegetables make the best snacks for dogs too - plus they are cheap! To make vegetables tastier for pups you can dip them in bone broth before freezing, mash and freeze in ice cube trays, or simply cut into bite-sized pieces and serve fresh. Whichever way you feed these, you can be assured they’re natural, healthy and nutritious for your pup.
Apples chunks: Apples are awesome for humans, and awesome for dogs too! These tasty fruits are filled with great nutrients and fiber. They’re also low in protein and fat, which makes them a very smart choice when choosing a healthy snack for your dog, especially if they’re senior citizens. Remember that apple seeds and the core are dangerous for dogs, so avoid these parts of the apple to ensure your dog’s safety!
Carrots: Carrots are an amazing source of fiber and beta carotene while also being low in calories. Adding carrots into your pup’s diet (whether it’s as a meal add-on or midday snack) will help in many ways, including improving dental health, regulating bowel movements, and protecting eye health. Carrots are okay as raw, cooked, or frozen treats.
Bone Broth: Bone broth is a healthy and hydrating treat to give you pup after a long walk or frozen into cubes on a hot summer day. Not only is bone broth low-calorie and highly nutritious, it's also super tasty. Check out our bone broth topper/treat below
Watermelon cubes: A tasty, hydrating treat that most dogs love! Watermelon benefits your dog in multiple ways, such as maintaining a healthy immune system, regulating blood pressure, and repairing damaged tissue. Just be careful of the seeds and rind.
Baked sweet potatoes: Another snack that is high in beta-carotene is sweet potatoes. They are also a great source of vitamin B-6, vitamin C, and minerals like potassium, which can help kidney functions as well as nerve and muscle function. Raw potatoes can be rough on doggy tummies, so try oven baked sweet potatoes as a tasty treat for you furry friend.
Blueberries: Blueberries are often considered a superfood for humans. They’re just as good for dogs and are easy to use a pet treat! This nutrient dense berry has high amounts of vitamin C and fiber, which are essential to proper canine nutrition.
Cucumbers: Most dogs will LOVE the crunch that cucumbers have! They’re great for pups since they are low in calories, sodium, and fat. Plus, they have a high water content (96%) making them good for hydrating a dog after play or walks.
Green beans: Green beans are good treats whether they’re frozen or fresh! They’re full of important vitamins and minerals, including protein, iron, and calcium. Since they’re packed with fiber but low in calories, they are good for dog weight management. No need to worry during training sessions if you’re using green beans as training treats! Just steer clear of canned varieties with salt.
Pumpkin: Pumpkin is a an absolutely loved treat to mix with dog foods to make mealtime even healthier! This root veggie is filled with beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Many veterinarians think that pumpkin may help with an upset stomach, constipation or diarrhea. Tip: Grab a natural, no sugar added can of pumpkin puree from your local grocery store and freeze into ice cubes for a treat they can chew on for quite some time!
How to Incorporate Fresh Food into Your Pet’s Training Routine & Treats
Some of our Vancouver community have been getting very creative with incorporated fresh meals as healthy treats. Local pup and parent duo @Vancity_Winston show us how it’s done below using Kafka's Ocean Fish Feast recipe.
1. Spread onto molds
2. Get some on your nose
3. Freeze & serve!
Courtesy of @Vancity_Winston
Follow them for more tips on healthy eating!
Boredom-Busting Treats to Keep your Pup Stimulated and Engaged
Stuffing a Kong
A stuffed Kong can keep your pooch entertained for hours as they try to dislodge their treats (longer if it’s frozen!). You can stuff a kong with all sorts of food, but we recommend a mixture of cut up chunks of fruits or vegetables mixed with Kafka’s cooked recipes to keep it healthy and light!
Licking mats are not only a great way to slow down your pet’s intake of treats and keep them stimulated, but the licking action can also be therapeutic and soothing for anxious pups. If you're looking for a peanut butter free dog treat, just spread a soft food like one of Kafka’s signature recipes over the mat and serve. Easy cleanup in the dishwasher makes this a breeze.
Dogs have a highly developed sense of smell and love games that involve sniffing things out! The snuffle mat is a toy that provides dogs with the opportunity to do just that - sniff and search for hidden treats. The snuffle mat consists of fleece strips tied on to a rubber mat with holes in it. The loose ends of the fleece are on top and provide the hiding spots for the treats.
We recommend using in combination with our Ocean Fish Feast or Turkey Delight recipe for a heightened sense of smell and fresh taste. Best of all? Just throw the entire mat in the wash when they’re done for easy cleanup!
Puzzles and slow feeders are awesome if you want to slow down your pup’s eating to avoid them taking up too much air and getting bloated, or to prevent them from overeating. Pro Tip: freeze Kafka’s cooked recipes into little paws and store in the freezer for quick insertion into puzzle toys. Local company Shop Good Boy has a great selection of puzzles and feeding toys suitable for any fun-loving pooch!
Some Final Words on Dog Treats
It’s important to follow some rules when giving treats to our doggos:
- Avoid treats that are too hard and could damage teeth.
- Steer clear of human foods that can be toxic to dogs. Some of these toxic foods include grapes, raisins, onions, chocolate, and anything with caffeine.
- Don’t overfeed your dog with treats – treats should only make up a maximum of 10% of your dog’s daily diet.
Happy treating pawrents!
Kafka’s is a Vancouver-based fresh pet food company creating nutritious & healthy meals for cats and dogs and delivering to busy pet parents around the city. We make it our mission to make healthier, natural pet food more accessible while also providing vital information about pet care and nutrition. All of our fresh pet meals are made with whole human-grade ingredients, meet AAFCO guidelines for complete & balanced meals, and reviewed by a board-certified pet nutritionist. Check out our signature recipes for dogs or consult our feeding calculator to make a personalized meal plan for your pup!