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With our pets being major sources of comfort during a tough year of coronavirus shutdowns, there’s no doubt many of us want to spoil them as much as possible, especially with their favorite treats. But instead of tossing your pup an extra weiner from the grill, you might want to think carefully about the types of treats you’re giving your canine friend — and the amount you’re giving them. JoAnn Morrison, DVM, director of veterinary science at Banfield Animal Hospital, noted that a beef hot dog can equate to as much as 30 percent of a 30-pound dog’s recommended daily calorie intake (147 calories out of 479 total calories).
SKIP AHEAD Best dog treats to shop
“Many pets do not require a lot of calories each day,” Morrison said. “Some human foods — even in small treat-sized amounts — can take up too many of your pet’s daily calories and quickly add up to extra pounds.” Just as you want to find healthier snack options for in between meals for yourself, you should take the same approach to your dog’s diet. We consulted experts about how to shop for the best dog treats and where to find the best ones.
Morrison suggested looking at treats as one part of your dog’s daily diet. “As a general rule, treats should never make up more than 10 percent of a dog’s daily caloric intake,” Morrison advised. “Whenever possible, choose treats that clearly state the calories contained in each treat.”
Kristen Nelson, DVM, author of “Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life,” also suggested that dog owners should pay special attention to the amount of fat in a treat, with an eye toward concerns about your dog gaining too much weight. “Many of the treats are quite high in fat to make them appealing,” Nelson said.
It’s important to remember that treats aren’t usually designed to be nutritionally balanced. If you want healthier treats, keep an eye out for the Association of Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy label (often in small print) on a bag. In addition to concerns about overfeeding, Morrison noted that pup parents should avoid potential allergens and artificial sweeteners like xylitol in the dog treats they buy. Nelson also advised to be mindful of foods like grapes or raisins, which can be healthy for people but toxic to dogs. If you’re not sure about a certain food, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintains a list of foods that can be harmful to your pet.
For training, Nelson recommended Zuke’s Mini Naturals. They come in tiny morsels, so you don’t have to break up a larger treat as you’re working with your dog on a new skill. Chicken is the first ingredient for these soft chews that are about the size of a pencil eraser.
These dental treats, approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (Nelson suggested checking for the organization’s approval of all dental treats), help clean tartar and plaque from your dog’s teeth and maintain healthy gums. They also help freshen your pup’s breath and include easy-to-digest ingredients, vitamins and minerals.
These peanut butter treats come in the shape of bagels for the dog that enjoys brunch. The crunchy discs — wheat flour and peanut butter are the first two ingredients — are oven-baked without artificial fillers or colors.
These crunchy, organic treats pack only six human-grade ingredients (meaning safe, although not recommended, for people to eat). Organic pumpkin is mixed with organic oat, rye and peanut butter flour, organic oats and organic coconut oil. The packaging is also 100 percent recyclable, making these an eco-friendly option.
A dispenser that works like spray cheese, this semi-soft peanut butter-flavored treat can be put inside of a chew toy to keep your dog entertained. You can even freeze a treat-filled toy beforehand to make it last longer.
A granola bar re-imagined for your pupper, these dry bars get points for portability. Chicken is the first ingredient with cranberries and blueberries mixed in with quinoa and oats for a crunchy bite in the park.
These heart-shaped treats are soft-baked and easy to break into smaller sized treats. Chicken and potatoes are the first two ingredients and they’re also packed with peas and carrots. The treats don’t contain soy, wheat, or artificial flavors or preservatives.
Here’s a dental chew meant to stop tartar from building up on your pup’s teeth — beefhide is the first ingredient in the crunchy treats that are packed with protein.
These human-grade treats are a blend of turkey (the first ingredient), rolled oats, honey and cranberries. The soft meatballs can be given to your dog whole or crumbled over their food as an added treat.
This is a hard chew treat with chicken and veggies — dried beets, carrots and peas — but without an actual bone so you don’t have to worry about it splintering in your dog’s mouth. A soft center rewards your dog for their chewing efforts.
Organic, free-range chicken is the first ingredient in these crunchy cookies. The small, thin discs work as treats for small and big dogs, and they can be broken up to use for training and rewarding.
These rawhide-free treats are filled with a pork-flavored chew center. They're made with real chicken and vegetables, too. The treats are enriched with vitamins and minerals, and are easy for dogs to digest. SmartBones also offers a peanut butter option with a pork-flavored center.
DreamBone’s treats won’t splinter while dogs chew them, so they’re safe and can be enjoyed across a long period of time. They’re made with corn, sweet potatoes, peas and carrots, as well as real chicken. DreamBone’s Classic Chicken Bone Chews come in three sizes: mini, medium and large.
As you're shopping for the best dog treat, the experts we consulted recommended minding the portion sizes and actual size of the treat and consulting your veterinarian about grain-free options and how to decide whether a dental dog treat is right for you.
While watching a puppy struggle with an oversized bone looks adorable (and is perhaps fit for TikTok), you should be mindful of the treat you’re handing your dog. “The size of the treat should be appropriate to the size of your dog,” she said. “Very small dogs shouldn’t have large treats and conversely, a very small treat would not be recommended for large dogs.” She suggested keeping an eye on your dog while they’re chewing larger treats like rawhide chews that can break and turn into choking hazards. Nelson also recommended breaking up big biscuits to cut down on the calories per treat.
Grain-free diets are a current trend in dog food, but as NBC News previously reported, the FDA opened an investigation in 2018 to examine a potential link between grain-free diets and a heart condition called canine dilated cardiomyopathy. Nelson recommended avoiding grain-free treats but noted you should ultimately consult your veterinarian. “The grain-free phenomenon is a fad from human nutrition,” she said. “When the grain is removed, other ingredients, like higher glycemic carbohydrates or fat, may be added — and those lead to other issues.”
Puppy kisses are great — dog breath is not. While regular brushing is the best way to keep your dog’s gums and teeth free of plaque, dental treats can help tone down your dog’s breath and clean their teeth. “Dental treats can help remove some plaque buildup and can be a valuable addition to your at-home oral health care for your dog,” Morrison noted.
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Jonathan Bender is the author of "LEGO: A Love Story," "Cookies & Beer" and "Stock, Broth & Bowl: Recipes for Cooking, Drinking & Nourishing." He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
Mili Godio is an SEO editorial assistant for Select on NBC News.
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