An Owner’s Guide to Dog Treats Part 2: Picking the Right Treats

 

To our pups, treats are joy, reward, validation, and a break from boredom in a bite-sized morsel. But for their guardians, treats are an uncertainty. It can feel like choosing the right treat is a moving target. For those who missed A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes, check it out. We cover treat basics, uses, and how to choose from the many types out there. Read here to learn more about the dog treat industry, and more about picking a treat that’s right for each Fido. We’ll also explore some landmark treat lawsuits, demystify some frightening ingredients, and outline the things every good dog treat has in common.

An Owner’s Guide to Dog Treats Part 2: Picking the Right Treats | Vet Organics

The Dangers of Picking the Wrong Treats

As pet guardians, we all have a responsibility to protect our pets. Some of these dangers are obvious: busy roads, hungry ticks, and stray dogs. Others, like dog food laced with barbiturates, are harder to spot. While it’s not easy to pick out the perfect treat, stories like the below just reinforce how important it is:

Greenies Dog Treats: In late 2007, the makers of Greenies dog treats settled a class action lawsuit that alleged that their treats had killed or injured more than 10 dogs. While the company reformulated the product, there still appears to be a link between these treats and digestive issues, including deadly intestinal blockages.

Real Ham Bones: A class action lawsuit was filed against Real Ham Bones when a Basset Hound died after chewing one of their cooked bone treats. Since 2008, the St. Louis Better Business Bureau has received 54 additional complaints.

Waggin’ Train Yam Good Dog Treats: A 2012 lawsuit filed by a Chicagoan dog owner alleged that his Pomeranian died after eating these chicken-based treats. While he was the first to sue, there were more than 500 complaints lodged against the maker of these treats.  As these treats were made of chicken imported from China, many think that contaminated meat may have been to blame for the mysterious deaths.

For those looking for a way to stay up to date on the most recent threats and recalls, there are a few sites to keep bookmarked. Dog Food Advisor is one of the leading lists of updated food and treat recalls.

An Owner’s Guide to Dog Treats II: Picking the Right Treats | Vet Organics

10 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Dog Treats

As human beings, we’re privy to a lot of dietary variety. One day we’re enjoying pizza and the next we’re digging our way into a bowl of salad greens. Dogs, however, tend to be fed the same thing day after day for years on end. This often means that chemicals present in only trace amounts can quickly build up and wreak havoc on our fur-baby’s internal organs. Before we toss Fido a bone, we need to ensure that it’s free of these harmful ingredients.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): This antioxidant is used to keep oils and fats in dog treats from going rancid. It’s also a proven carcinogen. Because if it’s ‘safe in low doses’ the FDA has made no move to ban it in commercial pet foods.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): This manmade preservative is often piped into kibble to extend its shelf life. Banned in Japan, Sweden, Romania, and Australia, BHT is thought to be a carcinogen.

Ethoxyquin: While perfectly legal in animal feed, this chemical preservative is banned in human-grade food due to its potential to damage the liver. While trace amounts of ethoxyquin are probably safe for Fido, it can become dangerous if eaten meal after meal. Knowing that this preservative is controversial, many manufacturers sneak it in under an umbrella of poultry or fish meal.

Propylene Glycol (PG): A moistening agent used to soften up some dog treats, this ingredient is derived directly from antifreeze. While it’s touted as ‘pet-safe,’ we doubt regular consumption will do our pup any good.

Food Dyes (Blue2, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6): Though we’ve got no issue with the use of natural dyes, these four are lab-made and the opposite of animal-safe. There exists ample research connecting them to increased hypersensitivity, behavioral problems, and certain cancers.

Rendered Fats: If left in its natural state, the animal fat in our Beggin’ Strips would go rancid long before it reached our pup’s mouth. So, the fat in most big box treats goes through a rendering process to ensure it’s shelf stable. This does not mean it’s safe, however. Rendered animal fat can be a significant source of harmful bacteria, toxins, and microorganisms.

Corn and Wheat Gluten Meal: These grain-based products are often used as fillers and protein boosters in dog treats. While they contain protein, it’s of a less complete variety than meat-based proteins. That means a lower nutrient content available and more digestive distress.  

Dairy: Cheese and milk can often lead to digestive upsets in dogs. Not everyone realizes it, but many dogs are lactose intolerant and can develop milk allergies. If our pup suffers from flatulence, rumbly tummy, soft stools, or other symptoms of lactose intolerance, it’s best not to choose treats with dairy.

Byproducts and Animal Meals: We’ve all heard it told that hot dogs are the slaughterhouse’s garbage disposal. Animal meal and animal byproducts are where things go when even hotdog makers turn up their noses. Unless the label clearly states, ‘lamb meal’ or ‘cow meal,’ it’s impossible to know what exactly went into these mystery ingredients. So, we suggest avoiding them entirely.

An Owner’s Guide to Dog Treats II: Picking the Right Treats | Vet Organics

5 Things Every Good Dog Treat Has in Common

Once we’ve eliminated any treats with the above ingredients, we can then focus on finding treats that are:

Calorie Conscious: Obesity is a growing problem in the Fidos and Fifis of the world. That’s why we should check the calorie count on the back of any would-be treat. Anything fatty should be put back where we found it.

Free of Added Salts and Sugars: Avoiding unneeded sugar and salt is one of the best ways to keep our pet looking fit and trim. If these items are high on a treat’s listed ingredients, it should be low on our list.

Made in the USA: This is less about xenophobia and more about regulation. The FDA is pretty strict about what can and cannot go in our pet’s food. While other countries may offer cheaper labor rates, they often lack that governmental oversight. This is why many of the pet food horror stories start with food sourced out of China.

They’re All-Natural and Organic: Meats and organic ingredients should be at the top of the ingredients list. If they’re not, it’s often a sign that we need to look elsewhere.

With this checklist at our disposal, it should be easy to find a treat that meets all our dog’s needs. Once treat manufacturers realize how deeply we value our dog’s health, the number of healthy treat options is sure to grow. But healthiness doesn’t always equate to tastiness. So, it’s time to put Fido’s taste buds to the test, try a few treats, and find out which brands tickle Fido’s fancy. EcoEats has three healthful, nutritious treat varieties that are made in the USA from premium, all-natural ingredients: beef jerky, wild-caught sockeye salmon, signature chicken jerky, or slow-roasted beef bully sticks. Dogs love the taste, and as guardians, we can relax with the peace of mind that they are eating well.



Further Reading:



Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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