How to buy the best dog treats, according to veterinarians

Why you should surprise your canine companion with one (or 11) of these tasty dog treats.
A dog being given a dog treat outside; Here's how to shop for the best dog treats including brands like Purina, Rachel Ray, Castor & Pollux and more.
Veterinarians and dog experts explain how to shop for the best dog treats and dental treats in 2020.manushot / Getty Images
By Jonathan Bender

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Since we’re home more, we’re snacking more — and so it’s only natural that you want to treat your lockdown companion. But instead of tossing your pup an extra weiner from the grill, you might want to think carefully about the (amount of) treats you’re giving your canine friend. JoAnn Morrison, DVM and director of veterinary science at Banfield Animal Hospital, notes 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).

IN THIS ARTICLE How to shop for dog treats | Types of dog treats to consider | Best dog treats to shop

“Many pets do not require a lot of calories each day,” Morrison says. “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 (like air-fried herbed chickpeas) for in between meals, 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.

How to shop for dog treats

Morrison suggests 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 advises. “Whenever possible, choose treats that clearly state the calories contained in each treat.”

With regard to calories, Kristen Nelson, DVM and author of “Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life,” suggests that dog owners 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 says.

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 notes that pup parents should avoid potential allergens and artificial sweeteners like xylitol in the dog treats they buy. Nelson also advises 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 maintains a list of foods that can be harmful to your pet.

Types of dog treats to consider

As you're shopping for the best dog treat, the experts we consulted recommended minding the portion sizes and actual size of the treat, consulting your veterinarian about grain-free options and how to decide whether a dental dog treat is right for you.

Find the right-sized dog treat

While watching a puppy struggle with an oversized bone looks adorable (and 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,” Morrison says. “Very small dogs shouldn’t have large treats and conversely, a very small treat would not be recommended for large dogs.” She suggests keeping an eye on your dog while they’re chewing larger treats like rawhide chews that can break and turn into choking hazards. Nelson recommends breaking up big biscuits to cut down on the calories per treat.

What about grain-free dog treats?

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 recommends avoiding grain-free treats but also notes this is a topic abut which it's perfect to 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.”

Should I get my dog dental treats?

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 notes.

Best dog treats to shop

1. Zuke’s Mini Naturals Chicken Recipe Dog Training Treats

For training, Nelson recommends Zuke’s: Tiny morsels mean 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.

2. Greenies Regular Dog Dental Treats

These dental treats, approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (Nelson suggests checking for the organization’s approval of dental treats otherwise, as well), help clean tartar and plaque from your dog’s teeth.

3. Three Dog Bakery Crunchy Beg-als

The 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.

4. Riley’s Organic Coconut & Pumpkin Bone Dog Treats

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.

5. KONG Easy Treat Peanut Butter Flavor

A dispenser that works like spray cheese, this semi-soft 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.

6. Wholehearted Boundless Bars Chicken With Mixed Berries

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.

7. Blue Buffalo Baby Blue Natural Soft Chicken & Carrots Biscuits

Chicken and potatoes are the first two ingredients. The soft chews for puppies are packed with peas and carrots. You can see the tiny orange flecks in the heart-shaped treats, to boot.

8. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Dental Chewz

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.

9. Spot Farms Turkey Meatball Recipe With Cranberries

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.

10. Rachael Ray Nutrish Soup Bones Chicken & Veggies Flavor Chews

This treat 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 the bone splintering in your dog’s mouth. A soft center rewards your dog for their chewing efforts.

11. Castor & Pollux Organix Organic Peanut Butter Flavor Cookies

Organic, free-range chicken is the first ingredient in these crunchy cookies. The small, thin discs work as treats for small and big dogs.

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