Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your dog.

Healthy Treats for Dogs

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As the new year begins, many of us are prompted to rethink our eating habits. Why not do the same for your dog?

Conventional dog treats

We love our dogs, and it’s easy to spoil them. Treats help strengthen the special relationship we have with our dogs, and are helpful as training tools. Many conventional dog treats—biscuits, cookies, or chews—are loaded with fat, sugar, and calories. Not to mention dyes, preservatives, and artificial flavors. Just as with our own foods: if it looks like junk, it probably is. Are these treats harmful for the average dog? Not necessarily. Most humans can devour a bowl of Doritos or a double-fudge brownie now and then with no ill effects. But indulge too much or too often, and problems result.

Too much junk food can upset the stomach, as well as disrupt the normal balance of vitamins and nutrients in the diet. And it can make your dog fat. Most vets recommend that treats comprise no more than 10% of a dog’s average caloric intake. An average 40-pound adult dog needs just under 1000 calories per day. A small dog needs much less. At 35 calories, a single Pup-peroni treat might comprise one-tenth of a toy poodle’s total daily calorie allowance. And who ever stops at just one?

Conventional treats—even in moderation—can be a problem for a dog with food allergies, or one with certain medical disorders such as diabetes, pancreatitis, liver or kidney problems, and bladder stones.

Healthy Alternative: There are countless “low fat” and “natural” dog treats on the market. Not only are they less fattening, but many offer healthy ingredients and lack the added sugar, dyes or chemicals. Always read the ingredients list on the package. If you wouldn’t eat it, neither should your dog!

If you’re using treats to train you dog, here are some tips for keeping the calories under control:

  • Try soft, low-calorie dog treats.
  • Freeze-dried chicken or liver treats work well, because they are tasty, low in fat, and can be broken into small bits.
  • A low fat cereal such as Cheerios can work well.
  • Consider using your dog’s own low-fat kibble as a treat. Be sure to subtract the training treats from his daily food ration.
  • Consider using clicker training, a method that lessens the need for food as a reward.

If your dog has food allergies or special medical needs, it’s best to consult your vet about healthful treat options.

Table treats

Some Human Foods That Are Unsafe for Dogs:

  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Nutmeg
  • Cooked meat bones
  • Poultry bones

It’s tempting to share table scraps with your dog, but there are a few reasons why this isn’t a good practice. First and foremost, it teaches your dog to beg at the table. Secondly, it’s another great way for her to pack on the pounds. Finally, there are many human foods that simply aren’t safe for dogs (see box). Overindulging in fatty or greasy foods can cause a serious gastrointestinal disorder called pancreatitis, so this should be avoided. And leftover bones are never a good idea, as the cooking process renders bones more brittle, and therefore more likely to break into hazardous chunks and splinters.

Healthier Alternative: If you choose to share your feast with Fido, select only cooked lean meats or vegetables. And again, do so in moderation. Your vet may have specific recommendations. Here is a general list of healthy people foods for dogs:

  • Green beans
  • Carrotsdog_bowl_treats
  • Apples (seeds removed)
  • Bananas
  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Eggs (cooked)
  • Popcorn
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter

Bones, rawhides, pig ears.

Our cultural associations of a dog chewing a bone run deep. However, bones, rawhides, pig ears, beef hooves, and similar chew treats can pose serious risks for dogs and are therefore best avoided. This is especially true for puppies or adult dogs who are fanatical chewers. A dog can easily break a tooth on a rock-hard bone. A chunk of bone or rawhide can get lodged on the way down, causing a choking hazard or gastrointestinal obstruction. The fat, dyes and preservatives in rawhide can irritate the intestinal tract, and bone chips and splinters most certainly can as well.

Healthier Alternative: Dogs to chew for exercise, entertainment, and comfort. To satisfy your dog’s chewing urge without the risks, try either indestructible synthetic bones or better: a Buster Food Cube or Kong toy stuffed with a treat such as peanut butter or kibble. A dog will spend hours happily—and safely—gnawing at this type of toy.

Dental treats

It’s widely believed that chewing bones and rawhides can improve dental health. There is an abundance of dental treats on the market, but not all are created equal. Only a handful are clinically proven, and many are quite fattening. One popular brand’s extra-large dental chew weighs in at just under 400 calories. This is one-third of the recommended daily intake for a 50 pound dog!

Healthier Alternative: A handful of products are clinically proven to promote dental health. CET chews are a popular example. CET chews are specially treated rawhide strips. They have an abrasive texture and contain a natural antiseptic that tends to cleanse the teeth as the dog chews.

This year, treat your dog to a more healthful diet. Help her have her cake and eat it too!


Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at DogHealth.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.