There are tons of dog treats and chews to choose from: bully sticks, dental chews, bacon-flavored Nyla Bones, and chicken rawhide rolls (to name a few). The problem is that it is very difficult to determine which of these treats are healthy for your pup and those that might be fattening or downright dangerous.
Not sure what treats are safe for your dog? Trying to find a longer-lasting treat that is both healthy and safe? Or maybe you just want more ideas for healthy snacks.
After consulting our vet, we came up with this comprehensive list of the best (healthiest) and worst (least safe) snacks to feed your dog. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below! We'd love to hear from you.
Carrots are a low calorie food loaded with carotenoids, fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K and potassium. They may also help mitigate plaque build up due to their abrasive quality. Consider boiling whole baby carrots before chopping and feeding them to your pup. Research shows that cooking carrots whole (i.e. not in cut up pieces) significantly boosts anti-cancer properties and preserves nutritional value.
Apples provide dietary fiber, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. Like all fruit which is high in sugar, feed to your pup in moderation.
Small pieces of cut up frozen sardines are an easy and affordable treat, and one of the healthiest snacks for dogs. Rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and low in contaminants, sardines will keep your pup’s skin and hair healthy. Packaged sardines are a cheap and affordable option, available at local grocery stores and even Amazon.com.
Broccoli, boiled or raw, is another excellent low calorie, low fat snack that offers high levels of fiber and vitamin C. All this said, limit the amount of broccoli you feed your pup. Broccoli contains isothiocyanates, and too much at once can cause gastric irritation. Also keep in mind that the broccoli stalk can be a choking hazard if not cut up in small pieces.
Want to keep your pup busy for 15-30 minutes ? Fill a classic Kong toy with a thin layer of peanut butter or canned pumpkin and freeze it for a few hours. Your pup will love getting the treat out of the Kong’s crevices - a healthy and mentally stimulating exercise. Peanut butter is a delicious source of protein, heart-healthy fats, vitamin B, niacin and vitamin E. Make sure to look for all natural "one-ingredient" peanut butter with no added salt, sugar, or artificial ingredients. Peanut butter is also high in calories, so give in moderation. Pumpkin is a great, lower calorie alternative to peanut butter - a food rich in fiber and vitamin A. Kong toys are available on Amazon and at most major pet retailers.
Freeze a large carrot and use as a chew toy (or teething toy) for your pup. Make sure the carrot is large enough so there is no choking hazard, and take the treat away from your dog and re-freeze once it starts thawing.
A lesser known treat and notoriously pricey, Himalayan Dog Chews are rock-hard, fully digestible treats that are known to engage even the most active or distracted pups. What are they? Cheese. The treats are made of boiled yak (and sometimes cow) milk, then dried over several weeks until a rock hard chew is formed. Dogs love the cheesy smell and use their teeth to soften and slowly scrape off the cheese. One caveat: Although unlikely, these are very hard snacks that could result in a chipped or cracked tooth. Like always, keep an eye on your pup while he or she is snacking. Himalayan Dog Chews toys are available on Amazon and at most major pet retailers.
Elk antlers are a long-lasting bone-like treat filled with vitamins and minerals (calcium, zinc, manganese, and potassium). The treats are odor-free and stain-free and may help remove plaque from pups’ teeth. Elk antlers are especially tempting for puppies going thru chewing phases (not all older dogs love the treats). As with all dog treats, watch your pup while he has an elk chew. Similar to Himalayan dog chews, the primary risk (although unlikely) is a chipped tooth. Elk antlers are available on Amazon and at most major pet retailers.
Cheese is delicious but very high in fat, cholesterol and calories. Too much cheese in a pup’s diet will contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Bully sticks are 100% beef dog chews that are made from the uncooked pizzle or penis of the bull (yep... interesting huh). Although most dogs LOVE these treats (Django included), limit how often you buy these. Bully sticks are a dense, caloric treat that can contribute to weight gain if not careful. According to a Tufts research report from a few years ago, the average bully stick contains about 90 calories - that’s 9% of a 50lb dog’s required nutritional intake and 30% of a 10lb dog’s required intake. Another thing to watch out for… there are a lot of bully stick brands and many of them are not ‘all natural’ as described but may contain chemicals and other preservatives to keep the beef looking fresh. Look for USDA approved bully sticks that confirm no antibiotics, hormones or chemicals were used in the cow feed or treat. Consider Patriot's Made in the USA, grass-fed bully sticks - they are USDA approved and available on Amazon.
There are a few major reasons to stay away from rawhide treats - number one is contaminants. Rawhide treats are almost always imported from overseas and produced with a cocktail of chemicals, colorings and preservatives like sodium benzoate. In the short-term, these may upset your pup’s stomach and cause vomiting and diarrhea. In the long-term these can cause much more serious health problems. Another reason to avoid rawhide - choking. Too many dogs have broken off and swallowed chunks of rawhide, resulting in unnecessary vet visits and in a few rare cases death.
Similar to rawhide treats, cow hooves are known to break off in pieces. These chunks can irritate the stomach and small intestine, perforate the bowel, and even pose a choking hazard.
Pig ears are greasy treats that can easily upset a pup’s stomach. They also often carry bacterial contaminants such as salmonella which can lead to severe stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting.