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If there’s one thing dog owners love to do, it’s give their pups tasty treats they go wild over. According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science study, 83% of dog owners give their dogs treats regularly. But choosing the best dog treats isn’t so simple.
An important thing to remember about dog treats is this: “All treats aren’t created equally,” says Kara Burns, a licensed veterinary technician specializing in nutrition and editor-in-chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse. The quality and nutritional value of treats vary, so Burns recommends doing your homework and talking to your veterinarian before buying any of the ones below or the best organic dog treats.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates the sale and distribution of pet food, but treats aren’t included. Because treats aren’t intended to be nutritionally balanced, they don’t need to meet the same nutritional requirements described in our guide to the best dog food. However, the AAFCO says the word “treat” or “snack” must appear on the packaging.
We spoke with canine nutrition experts to find out what to look for in the best treats for dogs. With their guidance, we researched hundreds of treats. Our picks hit the points our experts recommend, and we’ve fed many of them to our dogs.
When it comes to the best dog treats, we’re talking about the healthiest ones for your dog, of course, and there’s a good rule of thumb to follow. “The simpler, the better,” says Dr. Kasey Aona, medical director and owner of GoodVets in Polaris, Ohio.
In addition to whole, unprocessed foods like raw carrots and green beans, commercially prepared treats can be convenient and healthy. Along with choosing treats that contain as few ingredients as possible, make sure the treat is safe for your pet, says Dr. Jacqueline Brister, a veterinarian and consultant at Embrace Pet Insurance.
For instance, check that the size of the treat isn’t too big, the texture is right for your dog, your dog isn’t allergic to any of the ingredients, and the treat won’t exacerbate health woes like sensitive teeth or weight issues.
Once a treat has cleared the safety inspection, the final deciding factor is perhaps the most obvious: Will the flavor appeal to your dog? Favorite flavors among many dogs include peanut butter, pumpkin, and bananas.
Best for training
Providing treats as an immediate reward is a common and effective dog training method. Keep in mind that the best dog training treats might look innocent because they’re small, but their size makes them easy to overfeed. “Even in dogs who are on active weight loss plans, we use treats for training rewards, but we count those calories,” says Dr. Lindsey E. Bullen, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist with Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, DC.
You can use treats that come in small sizes or cut larger ones into smaller pieces. Bullen says that you can also use some of your dog’s kibble to train — just feed your dog less for their next meal.
Although variety is best for training your dog, soft, strongly scented treats are often used as high-value treats. To keep the treats high-value, consider using them only during training sessions and not as regular treats for your dog.
Dogs are not immune to stress or anxiety, and sometimes they need a little extra help to calm down. Some calming treats your vet might recommend contain ingredients like L-theanine, magnolia and Phellodendron extracts, and thiamine.
But do they work? “There have been a few scientific studies that suggest these products or their ingredients really can create a calming effect and reduce anxiety,” says Brister. “For instance, some dogs with thunderstorm anxiety improved on Solliquin. However, these products or their ingredients do not tend to alleviate stress or anxiety completely.” She adds that while some people report seeing significant improvement in their pet’s anxiety using these products, many report no change.
Always talk to your veterinarian if your pet exhibits signs of anxiety. They may recommend special behavioral approaches or medication.
Best dental chews
Dental disease is a common health problem in dogs. It makes eating difficult and causes other symptoms like bad breath, excessive drooling, and significant oral pain. Regular at-home dental care and yearly veterinary professional dental cleanings help prevent dental disease. Daily dental treats are also an easy way to help keep a dog’s mouth clean and healthy.
When looking for a dental treat, it’s best to stick with those approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). “In much the same way that we have human dental products that have been approved by the American Dental Association, these products approved by the VOHC have demonstrated efficacy and are supported by studies,” says Burns.
Dental chews, however, don’t come without risks, and they can be a choking hazard. To help prevent that, the VOHC recommends buying dental chews appropriate for your dog’s weight. Only give your dog a dental treat when you can supervise them — if a dog swallows dental treats rather than chewing them, we do not recommend giving them.
Best for puppies
No matter what treat you choose for your puppy, make sure it’s small. Smaller-sized treats are an excellent option for reinforcing positive behaviors without overfeeding, says Dr. Antonio DeMarco, chief medical and mentorship officer at GoodVets in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Treats formulated specifically for puppies and training treats are always good options.
If you’re using the treats for training, make sure your puppy finds them tasty. You might have to experiment to find out what your dog loves best. Also, consider having a variety so your puppy doesn’t get bored with their treats. Texture also matters. While soft is always best, DeMarco says you should be able to break a crunchy treat with your fingers easily, or else it could damage your puppy’s teeth.
Best for senior dogs
Aging canines can face numerous health issues. Many senior dogs struggle with dental problems, so choosing a soft-textured treat can be beneficial. Another consideration is the calorie content of treats, says Bullen. As many senior dogs become less active, they may gain weight, leading to conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Many treats for senior dogs include ingredients that may benefit aging canines. Glucosamine is a common ingredient in the best dog treats for seniors, and many people give glucosamine supplements to dogs with arthritis. It’s possible glucosamine can reduce some of their pain and help them move better, according to the American Kennel Club.
Omega fatty acids help support skin and coat health and are included in all of our picks. An antioxidant-rich diet may also help lessen the effects of brain aging in dogs, according to a study in Neurobiological Aging. Take, for instance, cranberries, which contain plenty of antioxidants.
Best for small dogs
Size is something to consider when selecting treats for small dogs. “You need to consider what your pet can handle,” says Burns. Treats for small dogs are often smaller than those for large dogs. Many manufacturers specify whether a treat is for a smaller dog, so when you read the packaging, check if the treat is appropriate.
Of course, some small dogs are perfectly fine eating a treat meant for a large dog, as long as it’s not so big that it becomes a choking hazard. Also, pay attention to the calorie count. Calories from treats quickly add up, especially for small dogs whose calorie needs typically aren’t as high as those for larger dogs. “The ‘recommended’ amount on the box [of small dog treats] usually grossly overestimates their needs,” says Bullen.
Best for large dogs
Just as you might do with small dogs, you can check a treat’s packaging to see if it’s labeled for large dogs. However, you don’t have to skip over small treats. Burns says she has watched giant dogs slowly eat small treats.
Though rare, some large dogs might vacuum small treats and aspirate them into their lungs, leading to aspiration pneumonia, a condition needing prompt veterinary treatment. If you’re concerned that your pup will eat small-sized treats too quickly, err on the side of caution and choose a larger treat. Our recommendations are bigger in size, so it’s less likely a dog will aspirate on them.
What to look for in dog treats
- Ingredient and calorie information: Ideally, a treat’s packaging should include the ingredients and calories per treat. If this information doesn’t appear on the label, it should be easy to find on the brand’s website.
- Flavor and texture: The best dog treats for your pup will include ingredients and flavors they. If you’re not sure what they prefer, try a few different flavors. Pumpkin, banana, sweet potato, and meats like chicken are favorites among dogs. For pups with dental issues, soft treats are best. If your dog doesn’t have problems with their teeth and likes a good crunch, biscuits are an excellent choice.
- Toxic ingredients: Check the ingredients on each treat’s label to ensure it doesn’t contain ingredients that are harmful to dogs, like garlic and onion powder.
- Product recalls: Avoid brands with frequent or serious recalls. Check the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, and Safety Alerts database to see a list of product recalls for pet treats.
- Misleading claims: Any treat with claims that sounded too good to be true was rated more poorly in our evaluation. “I counsel clients to look at the claims, and if they’re too good to be true — like curing a disease state — it’s probably not the best choice,” says Bullen. Meanwhile, terms like “natural,” “real,” “holistic,” and “premium” are marketing buzzwords that do not speak to a treat’s quality or nutritional value. We didn’t exclude these treats from our recommendations, but such labels didn’t influence our choices.
- VOHC acceptance for dental treats: Look for dental treats that the VOHC approves. Studies back the effectiveness of these treats.
How we selected the best dog treats
To select the best dog treats for this guide, we consulted four veterinarians, including one specializing in animal nutrition, and a veterinary technician specializing in nutrition. Although our experts did not recommend specific products, they helped us determine what makes a good dog treat and what to avoid.
We considered treats we feed our dogs and options from popular brands. Ultimately, we made our selections based on the criteria outlined in the “What to look for in dog treats” section.
Dog treats FAQs
Is it okay to give my dog treats?
Yes. “Giving your dog treats is a way of showing love and strengthening the human-animal bond,” says Burns. However, she adds that too many treats can exceed a dog’s recommended calorie intake. Limit how many treats you give your dog to avoid overfeeding. Your veterinarian can help you determine the appropriate calories to feed your dog.
What is the best treat to give a dog?
What’s good for one dog isn’t necessarily suitable for another. Fortunately, some of the best dog treats to give your pup in terms of convenience, health, and calories are probably already in your refrigerator or pantry. They include popular human food like peanut butter (without xylitol, which can be fatal to dogs), apples, bananas, strawberries, plain air-popped popcorn, apples, carrots, celery, and green beans, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Make sure to remove all seeds and feed appropriate-sized pieces to your dog. The treats that we selected can serve as a guide for you to choose treats for your dog.
How many treats can I give my dog in a day?
“Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s total daily calories,” says Bullen. Because that can be tough to determine, Bullen broke down the maximum amount of daily “treat” calories that dogs can have according to body weight. Remember that treats are a tasty bonus to your dog’s regular food, so you don’t have to give your dog this amount every day. Also, your dog’s health status and lifestyle affect daily caloric needs and whether they should have any treats at all.
- 10-pound dog: No more than 20 to 25 calories in treats/day
- 25-pound dog: No more than 50 calories in treats/day
- 50-pound dog: No more than 80 calories in treats/day
- 75-pound dog: No more than 100 calories in treats/day
- 100-pound dog: No more than 125 calories in treats/day
What are the consequences if I give my dog too many treats?
Too many treats lead to too many calories, which can lead to your dog becoming overweight, Burns says. A 2018 report by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention said that 56% of dogs in the United States were either overweight or obese. That excess weight can have many negative health consequences, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and high blood pressure.
Which dog treats do vets recommend?
Bullen provides a few tips when talking with dog owners about what treats are suitable for their dogs. First, evaluate any claims on the packages. “If the claims are too good to be true, the treat probably isn’t a good idea,” she says. She also recommends looking for treats with an ingredient list and calorie information on the package. If you can’t find that information on the package, look for it on the manufacturer’s website. Read the label to ensure the treat does not contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs. Bullen has seen treats with garlic and onion powder, both well-known toxins to dogs.
How should I introduce a new treat to my dog?
First, give your dog a small amount of the treat. Bullen says to monitor your dog to ensure they can tolerate the treat and don’t show any signs of sensitivity like vomiting, diarrhea, itching, and scratching.