As human beings, one of the easiest ways for us to express our love and affection for each other is through food – and it seems that it’s no different when it comes to our pets! We love our dogs and want to spoil them, which often means pampering them with lots of treats on a daily basis.
Knowing what you’re feeding your dog is an essential part of their long-term health and wellness, and while we often spend hours extensively researching the best overall diet for our dogs, treats often fly under the radar when it comes to being held to the same quality standards – and it’s easy to understand why!
The truth about dog treats
With so many different dog treat options now available – all with appealing pictures on the front of the bag designed to tug at our heart strings, along with claims that this particular treat will be the answer to your dog’s happiness forever more – it can quickly get confusing and overwhelming when it comes to making the best choice. But let me make it super simple for you – and I cannot stress this next point enough.
When you pick up any bag of dog treats you need to ignore the pictures, ignore the claims, ignore the promises and marketing hype – and even ignore the brand name, and actually turn the packet over and read the ingredients. That’s it!!
Unfortunately for our pets, the majority of commercially available dog food and treats are made with ingredients considered to be feed-grade instead of human-grade.
Feed-grade ingredients are lower quality than human-grade and have allowances for toxins, such as mould-produced mycotoxins, that are well documented to cause illness and death, along with a wide range of other ingredients that are not fit for human consumption.
So why would we feed these to our pets?
You can learn more about the "science" of pet food labels here.
Ingredients to avoid
No matter what kind of treats you buy and where you get them, make sure these ingredients are not inside.
- Ingredients such as soy, corn and wheat are often used as fillers to make production costs cheaper.
- These types of ingredients add extra fibre and calories to treats, but often with suboptimal nutritional value due to extensive processing.
- They are difficult for our dogs to digest, which may contribute to digestive upset and gas, and studies show that soy and gluten can damage the gut lining, increase intestinal permeability (aka ‘leaky gut’) and contribute to adverse skin reactions, allergies and food intolerances.
- Colours are only added to pet foods and treats to appeal to us as owners – our dogs have no interest at all in what colour their treat is.
- Artificial colours provide no nutritional value and the science tells us that a large number of food dyes are linked to serious disease, with many being known carcinogens. For example, Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 and 6 have been documented to contribute to hypersensitivity (allergic-type) reactions, behaviour problems and cancer in humans.
Caramel colour has also come under fire as it contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), a known animal carcinogen.
- The challenge with commercially prepared dog treats is that they require preservatives to extend shelf-life and keep them from going bad.
- Preservatives that you want to avoid include ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).
- These three preservatives are banned for human consumption in many countries as they are all known carcinogens. They have also been documented to contribute to liver and kidney damage.
- Sugar isn’t any better for dogs than it is for us, and artificial sweeteners are just that – artificial.
- When reading the ingredients list look out for words such as sugar, sucrose, caramel, corn syrup, fructose, honey and molasses.
- There are various reasons for why sugar might be added to a treat - to improve the palatability and mask the taste of poorer-quality ingredients, to improve the texture of the treat, and even to make a treat more addictive to our dogs.
- The problem is, just like in humans, consuming excess sugar in the form of regular treats can lead to weight gain in our dogs.
- According to the research, over 50% of all dogs are now overweight or obese and sadly, obesity is the leading cause of diabetes in dogs.
- Added sugars can also contribute to yeast infections and dental disease.
What to look for
When shopping for dog treats the best approach is to keep it simple and think about how you’d like to eat.
Do you want food that has a bunch of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, a list of numbers that you have no idea what they mean, that is saturated with artificial colours and preservatives or that is composed of the spoiled and unwanted dregs of the human food manufacturing process? No? Me either, so why would I accept that for my dog?
Key things to look for to make your dog not only happy but healthy include:
- Human grade ingredients
- Organic as much as possible
- Based on wholefoods
- Every ingredient is an easily recognisable food
- Functional ingredients known to promote health
- Natural preservatives (vitamin C or E) or no preservatives
- Manufactured by a company you trust
Make your own dog treats
Another great option for those of you who are motivated, is to make the treats yourself!
By purchasing the raw ingredients – either individually or as a pre-blended dry mix, you avoid the need for artificial preservatives, you have much more control over what you add or don’t add, and you’re likely to create enough treats to last a lifetime for a fraction of the cost to buy them premade.
If you would like some inspiration for what dog treats to make at home, why not check out the following recipes:
And if you're at all concerned about your dog's digestive health, we would also recommend taking a look at our Digestive Health range. So you can be confident that your dog's supported to experience health digestion, because - after all - good health begins in the gut.
Careless dietary choices can expose our pets to many of the same problems that we face – obesity, digestive issues, skin flare-ups, allergies, food intolerances, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and overall poor health.
While the search for the perfect dog treats may be challenging at times, it’s worth the effort to ensure that we are making the best choices for our pets.
There are a lot of ingredients that are both delicious and healthy, there are others that should be avoided at all costs. If you don’t recognise the ingredients, if they’re not something that you would want to eat yourself or if they don’t seem to match what a dog would naturally eat (think ‘species appropriate’), then I’d say that your dog is better off without them.
And just because the label says that a treat is "all-natural", that in no way means that it doesn't contain artificial preservatives. You really do need to do your due diligence and read the ingredients list yourself. The great news is that there are lots of reputable companies out there that do have our pets’ best interest at heart.
Prefer to learn by listening? Then check out Narelle's podcast episode on Weight Loss in Dogs here.
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