A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes

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This one is kind of a no-brainer: dogs love dog treats. And, as pet guardians, we have a hard time not caving in to those puppy dog eyes. But, picking the right treat can be pretty overwhelming. As we browse those rows of smiling dogs and bright packaging, we’re often racked by indecision. Should we go with the big-name brands? Are the generic ones okay? Can puppies tackle dental chews? Are any of these death traps waiting to happen? In this two-part series, we’ll explore the dangers of treat giving and lay down some guidelines to help confused canine guardians select the right treats for our fur babies.

The Two Purposes of Dog Treats

A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes | Vet Organics

The reasons we hand out treats, and the frequency with which we hand them out, determine what kinds of treats we need to be giving our fur babies. While there are dozens of reasons we might toss Fido a figurative bone, most of them can be sorted into one of these two categories.

Training Aides: Treats used in training should be small, low in calories, and easy to gobble up. Using anything that takes more than a few seconds can lead to our dog becoming distracted from his or her task.

Snacks: Sometimes Fido deserves a treat just for being so stinking cute. These snacking treats, however, need to be low-calorie and easy to dispense. This is especially important when we’re dealing with dogs who are overweight.

A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes | Vet Organics

How Often Should We Give Out Treats?

Now that we know why most pet owners give out treats, we need to have a chat about the frequency at which we should do so. While treats are definitely better for dogs than table scraps, they should still equal no more than 10-percent of their daily caloric intake. Please note that treats should also be reserved for training and positive reinforcement. Giving treats out all willy-nilly can make it hard for our dogs to form positive behavioral associations with them.

The Six Types of Dog Treats

A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes | Vet Organics

We can only give out one or two handfuls of treats each day. That means it’s important that we pick out the right type. What type we choose to give our dog depends largely on Fido’s preferences. While there are hundreds of treats on the market, they can typically be sorted into one of these six categories:

Freeze Dried and Jerky Treats : These treats offer a taste and texture that reminds many dogs of table scraps. They offer the additional benefit of having a long, stable shelf-life. Available in a wide array of flavors—including lamb and seafood—there’s a jerky treat for even the pickiest dog. Due to their vibrant flavors, these treats are a favorite of dog trainers and selective guardians alike. An example of jerky type treats would be EcoTreats Beef Jerky Strips.

Animal Bones and Hooves : It’s hard to miss the rows of antlers, hooves, and cow bones that line the shelves of every farm surplus store. Though these treats are definitely all-natural, they aren’t always safe. Bone treats not only lead to chipped or broken teeth but if they are cooked, the bones can become brittle, which can cause gastrointestinal blockages and perforations. Bones sourced from poultry are also particularly dangerous because they are light and often splinter in our dog’s digestive tracts. For those of us going to bone route, it’s best to choose uncooked bones, like antlers. Or choose frozen, marrow-in bones from hooved animals.

Dental Chews: Most bone-like treats nowadays aren’t made from animal bones at all. Instead, they’re molded from corn starch or other digestible materials. Because of the amount of chewing required, many veterinarians believe that these treats can help fight plaque and improve dental health, without causing the unnecessary wear on teeth that bones can cause. While some brands may be safer than real animal bones, swallowing large chunks of these treats can still lead to gastrointestinal blockages. There’s also the argument that corn and other grains may not be best for doggy digestive tracts. Therefore, it’s important to keep these away from our fur-babies unless we’ve got the time to supervise.

A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes | Vet Organics

Table Scraps: While these treats are the ultimate in convenience, they’re not always healthy for our dogs. Foods such as cookies, cheese, crackers, hot dogs, and sauce-covered meats should be avoided. Fresh, natural items, such as apples and unflavored seafood, can actually be beneficial to our dogs. Just remember that overindulgence in human-grade foods can lead to obesity. For more about table scraps and humans food that are safe and unsafe, please read, Are Table Scraps Okay For Dogs? You might also read, Table Scraps Pets Cannot Have, Part One and Part Two

Crunchy Treats: If it pops and crunches like a freshly poured bowl of Rice Krispies, it likely falls into this category. Crunchy treats come in a wide array of sizes, shapes, and flavors. Popular options included in this category are milkbones and dog biscuits. As long as they’re low in calories, these types of treats are well-suited to training. We want our pups to eat their dinner, so we just need to remember that timing and volume are important. Whatever guide we use to choose our pup’s food should inform our treat choices. For example, if we prefer grain-free, all-natural dog food, like EcoEats, we should also choose grain-free, all-natural treats. This will help keep our dogs from getting an upset stomach or digestive discomfort, like flatulence, from our treat choices.

Soft Dog Treats : These treats are the ones that leave our dogs smacking their lips minutes to hours after they’re wolfed a piece down. They are particularly useful during obedience training because of their pleasing taste and texture. Some well-known treats in this category include Begging Strips and Cesar Softies. While these brands are popular, they’re not exactly high-end. Instead, we suggest EcoTreats Slow-Roasted Beef Spleen Bites.

Gourmet Treats : From doggy cupcakes to allergen-free foods, there are plenty of options for the pet parent looking to spoil their best friend. While these treats are often good for our pooch, they’re rarely—if ever—good for our wallets. Consider the more affordable option, EcoTreats™ Wild-Caught Sockeye Salmon Filet Bits. They’re premium, all-natural, 100-percent sourced in USA, and they’re great for both, cats and dogs.

Picking the Right Treats for Every Life Stage

A Guide to Dog Treats Part One: Varieties and Purposes | Vet Organics

While our pup’s personal preferences matter much more than the number of candles on their birthday cake, their age might affect their ability to digest certain treats. Puppies often prefer smaller treats and should be closely supervised when given dental chews. Due to their missing or worn teeth, many older dogs opt for softer, chewier treats. Adult dogs, meanwhile, have the ability to wolf down every treat on the shelf. Regardless of their age, we should always double check that the treats we choose are the appropriate size, nutrients, and texture for our pooch.

We’ve discussed the when, why, and what behind dog treats. We’re also now aware that table scraps, animal bones, fatty foods, and oversized treats are a no-go. With this knowledge under our figurative belts, we can examine treats themselves in more detail, such as evaluating the labels more closely, and choosing treats that will be easy to digest. Bon Appetit!



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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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