Believe it or not, rewarding your dog's good behavior with treats can be a dangerous endeavor for the long term health and happiness of your furry friend.
If you are anything like me, your are probably concerned with feeding your dog 🐶 toxic ingredients and other harmful 💀 substances that most commercially available treats are packed with.
In this post I came up with a comprehensive list of organic dog treat options for healthier snacks.
This post comes with a nice gift 🎁. As a bonus🎉, I'm adding a must-have, must-share guide on some of the most pervasive and non-intuitive pitfalls 🪤 to avoid when buying packaged dog 🐶 treats.
Hopefully this section will help raise awareness about the dangers ☠️ ☠️ of buying treats for your dog.
I’ve also added a great educational video 📽️ by the FDA on xylitol for Dogs. This is a must watch!
As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for reliable, unbiased and fact-based dog care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.
And so, to be safe we recommend pet parents do research on every ingredient in every recipe you make at home.
A simple online search such as "is garlic safe for my dog" will provide you with what you need to know to assess ingredient safety in your recipe.
Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients list on the dog treats you buy at the store?
You know the ones, packaged with a smiling puppy and a bright background, hanging from pegs or perched on shelves near the checkout lanes. What about those yummy jerky treats that your dog goes nuts about?
Globally Sourced Ingredients (AKA ingredients that come from China)
Sure, most of them claim to have been made with "natural" ingredients, but this claim begs two important questions:
Are they made with natural ingredients too? or, are they made with natural ingredients only?
The answers to these two questions may mark the quality of life your pup will have for the rest of his life.
"As of December 31, 2015, FDA has received approximately 5,200 complaints of illnesses associated with consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, many of which involve products imported from China, which produces much of the jerky pet treats on the market. The reports involve more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats, three people, and include more than 1,140 canine deaths."-FDA.gov
The numbers presented above are in no way meant to scare you, not at all. But rather, they are meant to educate and increase awareness about the risks involved when buying anything edible for your fur children.
Would you want to eat food with a list of ingredients like the one above? Full of preservatives, dyes, and "globally sourced" ingredients? I know I wouldn't.
When it comes time to give my fur baby a treat, I oftentimes think about making my own. Sure, it's a lot more work than picking up something at the store, but it's way healthier, or should I say healthy, period.
Some veterinarians even say that homemade natural treats have many advantages over store bought pet treats.
Now, if you want to make sure your furry friend is getting healthy, truly safe, and nutritional treats, keep on reading. I've put together a list of some of my favorite recipes for homemade treats you can try out, and your pup is sure to love.
And, if you're not quite sure if you want to spend the time making your own treats, I have another option for you at the end. So, how about those recipes?
First up are some of the easiest treats you can give to your pooch: whole foods. Fresh fruits, frozen vegetables; these kinds of treats are tasty, healthy, and easy to keep on hand.
They don't take much preparation, and they're healthy for your pup, too. We all know that look of puppy dog yearning when your pet pal wants a bite of whatever you're eating, so when you have a healthy snack, you don't have to feel bad about giving them some.
Apple slices. The core and seeds of the apple should be removed, but the skin is fine. Just make sure to chop the apple into slices or cubes so the pieces don't get caught when your pup scarfs it down.
Green beans. Fresh and frozen are both great options, and if you need something a little softer, cooked green beans can be a tasty treat too. Just make sure not to cover them with salt, butter, or spices, at least not for your pup's portion.
Watermelon chunks. Watermelon is full of water and tasty sweetness, it's easy to eat (albeit a little messy), and it's healthy for your fur baby. For a great summer treat, a few watermelon cubes are unmatched. Just remove the seeds and don't give them the rind.
Bananas. A few chunks of banana can be a delicious, sweet treat for your puppy pal. Just make sure not to give them too much since they're loaded in sugar (especially when ripe), and you don't want to overdo it.
Berries. Berries are a top treat for people and dogs alike. Full of nutrients and vitamins, berries are tasty, easy to handle, and great as rewards.
Those are all fine, but what about more traditional treat-like options? If you want something baked, something made out of multiple ingredients, or something made with a little peanut butter, keep reading.
First up, this recipe comes from ShowMeTheYummy. It's incredibly easy to make; just mix up the ingredients, roll them into balls, roll in oats to coat, and you're good to go. Here's a detailed rundown.
1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Cup Applesauce
½ Cup Peanut Butter
½ Cup Plain Yogurt
2 Strips of Bacon, Cooked and Crumbled
5 Cups Old Fashioned Oats
To make the recipe, start by combining the pumpkin, applesauce, yogurt, and peanut butter in a bowl, stirring to combine. Then, stir in the bacon bits and oats to give it substance.
Next, you can use a cookie scoop or a spoon to scoop out equally sized chunks and roll them into balls. The recipe above will make around 32 treat balls. You can store these in the fridge for around 4-5 days or freeze them for up to four months.
Make sure, when you're picking ingredients, to always get plain, natural versions. Applesauce, for example, is available in a wide range of different flavors, like strawberry or cinnamon.
These flavors generally come with sugars. Always choose unsweetened applesauce for your pup and make sure to give it to him in moderation.
Additionally, try to buy organic and ensure there are no preservatives or other additives in them. Alternatively, you can buy apples and make your own (just leave out the cinnamon and sugar, Fido doesn't need it.)
The same goes for things like yogurt and peanut butter. It's always better to get healthy, organic versions of these foods for your dog.
Peanut butter, in particular, needs to be carefully and thoroughly checked; you want to avoid any of the "sugar-free" peanut butters that use xylitol, which is toxic to dogs but is commonly used as an artificial sweetener for humans.
"In dogs, the pancreas confuses xylitol with real sugar and releases insulin to store the “sugar.” Even worse, the canine pancreas releases 3-7 times the amount of insulin that it would release to address a similar amount of actual sugar. Blood sugar levels plummet resulting in weakness, disorientation, tremors, and potentially seizures." - Wendy Brooks, DMV, DABVP - Veterinary Partner.com
According to the FDA, death in dogs due to consumption of xylitol can occur in as little as 1 hour.
Watch this 85 second video by the FDA on xylitol for Dogs:
Baked Bone Treats
These bone-shaped treats are like healthy little cookies, easily made at home and baked for your dog whenever you need them. This recipe comes from Wholefully.
2 ¾ Cups of Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup Wheat Germ
½ Cup Ground Flax Seed
3 Large Eggs
½ Cup Olive Oil
½ Cup Applesauce
½ Cup Pumpkin Puree (Make sure it's just pumpkin and not pie filler)
1 Tablespoon Honey
You'll notice a few familiar ingredients here. Pumpkin and applesauce are both healthy, simple, easy to find, and filling, and dogs love them. That's why they're found in just about every dog treat recipe you can find online.
Other ingredients in this recipe are more about giving it substance, so it bakes. In particular, tat's what the flour and eggs do.
To make this recipe, start by heating your oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line a couple of baking sheets, too. In a bowl, mix together the flour, wheat germ, and flax seeds.
In a different bowl, mix the eggs, oil, applesauce, pumpkin, and honey. Once they're both mixed and thoroughly combined, you can add the wet bowl into the dry bowl and stir it up. This will make your dough.
Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough until it's about a quarter of an inch thick. Having made a ton of dog treats, a trick I find useful is to layer the dough between two sheets of parchment paper.
It prevents the dough from sticking to your rolling pin. Then, cut it into whatever shapes you want. A dog bone shape is traditional but requires a cookie cutter to do it. Of course, it's perfectly fine if you just cut it into squares or rectangles. If you have a pizza cutter, it’ll work perfectly.
Arrange your shapes on your baking sheets about an inch apart, and bake for 25-30 minutes. You'll want them to be quite hard and a deep brown, though not burned, of course. Pull them out, let them cool, and give your pooch a treat.
Doggo Biscuit Bites
These dog treat bites look a little bit like hard cakes or cookies and are perfect for little snacks or rewards for your canine companion. One batch makes around 50 treats, according to the source, Nutrition Stripped.
2 Cups Mashed Sweet Potato
½ Cup Peanut Butter
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
3 Cups Rice Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
This recipe is going to take more time than the previous two. To make the mashed sweet potato, you’ll need to peel and boil the potatoes until they're tender, which will take around 20 minutes.
Once drained, mash them and let them cool. If you want a smoother consistency, you can "mash" them in a blender too, but I've found that a potato masher works just fine, and a fork will do in a pinch.
You can also buy canned sweet potato or use pumpkin puree instead (again avoid the pill fillings as they have additional ingredients).
This is another baking recipe, so preheat your oven to 350. Beat the eggs, then mix in the sweet potato. Then, stir in the flour and remaining ingredients until you have a batter.
Pour this onto a rimmed baking tray that has been lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You're basically making a large sheet cake. It should cover a 9x13 baking tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.
Once cooked into a cake form, remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes, or until it's cool enough to handle carefully.
Pull the cake out of the baking sheet and cut it into strips like long, thin rectangles, an appropriate dog treat size.
Put an oven-safe cooling rack on top of the baking sheet, put the cake strips on it with a bit of space between each, and bake for another 10 minutes. This dries out and hardens the cake.
You can store these in a jar in the pantry for about a month or in the fridge for closer to two, though be wary of condensation as it will make the treats soggy. You can also cut them smaller if your dog is a smaller breed and can't have such a large cookie treat.
Simple Four-Ingredient Dog Biscuits
This one is a fairly similar recipe and process to the bone-shaped biscuits above, but it's fewer ingredients and is a little easier to make. It comes from EatingBirdFood and makes a whopping 120 miniature bone treats, perfect for small dogs.
1 Cup Wheat Flour
½ Cup Peanut Butter
¼ Cup Applesauce
¼ Cup Vegetable, Chicken, or Beef Broth (Make sure your choice is garlic and onion free as they can be harmful to your pup.)
Again, since this is a baked recipe, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix your flour, peanut butter, and applesauce in a bowl until combined.
Then, add the broth and mix until you have a thick dough ball. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it's thin and use a cookie cutter to cut it into treat-sized bits. Any excess can be re-balled, re-rolled, and re-cut until you've used it all.
Arrange the biscuits on your baking sheets and bake for about 18 minutes, or until they harden and crisp up. You can then store them however you like, and hand them out like the treats they are.
Coconut oil has a whole host of health benefits, which is why it makes a great ingredient in some healthy dog treats.
These treats are formed in a mold sort of like chocolate candies (but without the chocolate, obviously) and are simple and easy to make, courtesy of Golden Barrel.
1 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Cup Peanut Butter
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
To make these treats, you need a saucepan or a pot and a silicone mold in the shape and size of the treat you want to have when you're done.
They're really simple to make. Add all three ingredients to your pot over medium-low heat. You want to melt the coconut oil and the peanut butter until you can stir them smooth, with the cinnamon evenly mixed throughout.
Once it's all melted and smooth, pour it into your molds and pop them into the freezer. They'll set up pretty quick.
Silicone molds are easy to pop treats out of, so you can keep them stored in the fridge or freezer, and pull them out when you want to hand one over.
Too Much Work?
If you don't have the kitchen space, the tools, or the time to make your dog treats by hand, there's still one option available to you: buying some.
I’ve tried well over a dozen recipes and even tasted the results for myself. While this was fun to do around the holidays to share with my pup parent neighbors, it’s not something I have time for on a regular basis.
Knowing time is limited in our busy lives and reading ingredient labels takes a lot of that precious time, that's why I decided to start my own research and development process to make my own.
I've spent the last 12 months scouring the country for reliable partners to manufacture 100% safe, nutritious, and delicious dog treats.
They aren't quite ready yet, but be sure to check back soon. I have a whole bunch of USDA certified organic, cool new products on the way, we’re just putting the final touches to make sure they’ll get two paws up.
Buying Dog Treats is About One and Only One Thing: Ingredient Safety
When it comes to buying dog treats, does it seem to you that the internet is fraught with recommendations of what to buy? "Best natural treats..."; "Top 10 treats your dog will love...", "The best human-grade dog treats for 202...". And the list goes on and on and on.
If it seems like it, it's because it's true. All those recommendations are just different ways in which people make money. They are basically info-graphics that make the writer money.
There seems to be no concern at all about ingredient integrity or product claim verifiability. And, nobody seems to care about the safety of what you feed your dog but rather they seem to only care about making money with recommendations at the expense of your beloved fur children's health and happiness. It is sad and of course frustrating.
But no worries, this is where Toe Beans fits in. I founded toe beans with dog and cat safety as my number one concern. I've written extensively to help educate pet parents to make smart decisions on behalf of their furry children.
Back to our bonus section. Today you are in for a treat.
Next time, before you buy dog treats, and in general anything that your dog consumes orally, ask yourself this simple but critical question:
“Based on the information provided on the product listing and the product package, can I rest assured no ingredients in this product will harm my dog?”
If your answer is a resounding yes, then you're good to go, buy it.
However, for the average busy pet parent, answering this question conclusively takes some skill, countless hours of research and of course common sense and intuition. But no worries, I've gotcha.
For starters, you have to make sure you ignore the noise and all the carefully crafted distractions on the package and the listing itself.
As we have covered in other posts, product reviews and badges are to be taken with a grain of salt. Unscrupulous sellers have been taking advantage of this for years now.
The product review problem is so pervasive that the Federal Trade Commission has gotten involved.
“Companies including Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. could face fines over fake reviews or other misleading endorsements online, according to a warning from the Federal Trade Commission...The agency (FTC) sent more than 700 companies a notice that they could incur penalties of up to $43,792 per violation if they use endorsements in ways that run counter to past FTC enforcement cases.- Bloomberg Law
Did you check the list of companies in the link above? Does this surprise you?
"The perpetrators win by boosting their own sales, which can jump by as much as 50% with the best-seller imprimatur, according to Lesley Hensell." - Bloomberg
In our experience, the safety of the ingredients in the dog or cat treats you choose for your furry children will be a function of a number of factors such as:
Quality and integrity of ingredients
Country of origin of ingredients (all of them)
Country of manufacture.
Verifiability and transparency of product claims.
Trustworthiness and reputation of seller/manufacturer.
Here are some key considerations regarding these factors.
Made in the USA is not a high enough threshold for safety
I’m sure up until now you may have favored dog and cat treats that showed this claim on the packaging. Am I right? What's wrong with this you may ask?
Well, the truth is that to make the most profit, many manufacturers will cut costs by using the lowest quality ingredients that come from countries known for their high level of toxins and chemicals in foods.
And so, they are happy making low quality dog treats in the USA while using imported ingredients from China, AKA "globally sourced" ingredients.
What you really want to buy is dog and cat treats that are made in the US only with USA sourced ingredients.
Dog and cat treats that are made with US sourced ingredients will disclose this claim loud and clear on the packaging.
Made in the USA with the “finest globally sourced” ingredients
This is a variation of the claim above. The verbiage sounds fancy, doesn't it?
I can see how many pet parents can easily fall for this one. I'm sure it sounds like some ingredients came from Italy, France, or maybe Spain, doesn't it?
But the truth is, you can be sure that globally sourced in most cases means that the ingredients came from a country they’d rather not disclose as you most probably wouldn't buy it.
Let’s face it, if any of the ingredients came from a European country or any other country known for its high-quality food, they would put it right on front of the package:
“made with the finest Argentinian beef,” for example. That'd be really cool and I would be the first to buy such treat for my pup :-)
In most cases, globally sourced means that one of those global countries is China. It could be the main ingredient or a key ingredient.
The thing is, for the manufacturer, that ingredient imported from China is helping them fatten their profits.
Organic product claims that are not backed up with a certification
You can rest assured the product is anything but organic. So, you can either do more research on the product or look the other way.
Believe it or not, this is a real problem. And, it's more pervasive than most people think.
Does this surprise you? Here is the scariest part, even on the largest Ecommerce sites, fake organic products are being sold everyday!
The main problem with sites like these is that their sheer size makes it difficult and even impossible to verify the claims in every product they sell.
If after reading this blog post you feel that you have been a victim of such sellers or simply want to contribute to a safer world for cats (and other living creatures), you can file a complaint with the USDA to report them.
Taking action is caring!
Made With 100% Natural Ingredients Should Never be a Proxy for Safe
This claim is one that will catch any pet parents’ attention and that will most likely result in a purchase.
Did you know that arsenic, macadamia nuts and, onions are 100% natural too?
The truth is that natural only means that a given ingredient exists in nature but not that it is safe to consume.
Understanding this is more so important today as increasingly marketers will do almost anything to create the most unthinkable distractions on their products with the sole purpose of outdoing their competitors.
Don't take our word for it. Here is the position of The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regarding the currently unrestricted use of the word natural on pet food:
“Natural” is a descriptive term that sounds positive, even though misperceptions about the word abound in regards to pet food labeling and claims. In the past, the term was undefined in both state and federal feed control jurisdictions and was not seen in the marketplace. But in an effort to appeal to customers, marketers have increasingly used the term on pet food product labeling. - AAFCO
So, make sure that you read through the whole list of ingredients before you buy your next dog treat made with "100% natural ingredients".
Unsubstantiated Value Enhancing Product Claims
This one is related to the transparency in product claims.
At the lowest end of the sophistication spectrum in terms of marketing gimmicks, you will find the “premium dog treat” claims.
Does anybody know what this means exactly? We've found that most products with this claim tend not to be made in the US, and the source of their ingredients is dubious.
If you take your time to read through these product listings and packaging, you'll likely find that nothing explains the premium nature of the product.
Is the product made from organic ingredients? Is it made from the finest Wagyu beef? Were chickens raised without antibiotics? Free range? Does it contain a specific unique ingredient that has been known to improve the life of dogs? Etc.
This claim is so baseless and unverifiable that it should be banned. Oh, I forgot for a second that in the eCommerce wild west, there is no dog treat police. So, watch out!
“Human grade” dog treat claims are most likely to be a sham
Just like the premium dog treat claim, this one should be banned too.
Here is what The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) says about this claim:
“This term has no definition in any animal feed regulations. Extremely few pet food products could be considered officially human edible or human-grade. A pet food that met these standards would be expensive. While pet owners can buy what they feel is best for their pet, they should understand the definitions and the odds... A product might claim to be human-grade because its ingredients “came from a USDA meat-packing plant.” But materials leaving a USDA meatpacking plant may be either edible or inedible.” – Association of American Feed Control Officials
Think of the AAFCO statement above for a minute.
How many dog treats can you think of that make this type of statement? The scary truth is, almost every other dog treat/food makes this claim today!
Here is one thing you can do before you buy any dog treat that makes such statement: submit the treat to the toddler test. I’m not asking you to give it to your toddler, not at all.
What I’m asking is that you post the following yes/no question(s) on the Ecommerce platform where the treat is being sold. Basically post it publicly so everybody can see it.
“Given these treats are human grade, do I need to keep them out of reach from my small children?”
Alternatively, you could also ask:
“Given these are human grade, is it safe to keep these treats within reach of my small children or should I keep them in a high cabinet?”
As you can see, the questions about are simply yes/no questions as opposed to open ended questions and so the answers should include at a minimum a yes or a no in the opening statement.
Assuming the “human grade” claim is 100% true, you should have a resounding “no need” for the first question and a “yes” for the second.
If on the contrary the answer you get does not conclusively address your concern, but rather you notice that the manufacturer rambles around and talks about stuff you did not ask about, then you are free to draw your own conclusions on whether you should purchase or not.
Of course, our recommendation will always be a resounding “stay away from products with dubious claims. Dubious claims are always used to cover something up”.
It will always come down to the one simple question you should always ask yourself before buying anything edible for your dog:
“Based on the information provided on the product listing and the product package, can I rest assured no ingredients in this product will harm my dog?”
This tactic raises two critical questions:
The first one is, what compels a dog treat manufacturer to make such a claim on a product? And the second one, what is a manufacturer that uses such claims trying to distract pet parents from?
USDA organic is by default non-GMO but Non-GMO is not USDA organic
The non-GMO certification is only truly safe when it comes together with the USDA organic certification.
Product review manipulation is a real thing
Shocked? Don’t be, just make sure to disregard popular product reviews that go into such detail describing their dogs body language after eating them.
I’m sure all of us have run into the popular “Fido loves these treats…” or "My pup runs to me just by hearing the sound of the bag" types of reviews.
This is perhaps the one type of reviews that tends to be the most successful in distracting pet parents from what’s really important at the moment of purchase:
determining whether the ingredients in the product are 100% safe for their dogs.
The one thing we highly advise you should always keep in mind when you run into these types of reviews is that neither you, nor your dog, can detect (through smell or taste) that their treat is safe or, it’s contaminated with salmonella, or contains pesticides, heavy metals, any poisonous “natural” ingredients, or even anything that can harm them.
Bottom line here is that relying on dog treat reviews as a purchase criteria alone might be a dangerous proposition.
A dog treat with zero reviews that provides verifiable information to help you conclusively ascertain the safety of its ingredients may be much better option than one with hundreds or even thousands of reviews but with a package and listing information that makes you go hmmm.
Only buy USDA certified organic dog treats
In a world where there is almost no accountability for what people sell online, your safest bet is to buy USDA certified organic dog treats.
Dog treats that bear the USDA certified organic seal are certified to have been made with ingredients that were either produced or grown with no prohibited substances or dangerous toxic chemicals. The USDA organic seal is protected by federal regulation.
But before you jump on your computer to buy the first dog treat you find with the USDA certified organic seal on it, I should warn you that even in this space there are a ton of scammers out there.
Watch out for fake organic products. There are many unscrupulous sellers that will misrepresent their products by unlawfully slapping the USDA organic seal on their products.
Marketplaces such as AMZ have made it so easy for anybody around the world to sell anything to the US consumer.
As a consequence, cyber sellers around the world that use reputable platforms in the US can easily break any US rules and get away with it as they are nowhere to be found.
So, to make sure you are actually buying a truly USDA certified organic dog treat, here are a few things you want to look for on the product listing:
The USDA certified organic seal should be prominently visible on the package.
The listing title should also say the word organic.
The name of the organic certifier should be visible on the product package. Some sellers will even dedicate a full image to this. You should be able to spot text similar to this: “Certified organic by PCO” for example. BTW, PCO is our certifying body.
Read the ingredients. Almost all if not all MUST be organic ingredients.
While I’m unable to protect every pet parent from all pitfalls and gimmicks out there, I hope these considerations will hep you make better informed decisions when it comes to buying truly safe dog treats for your pup.
Just as with us humans, in most cases the quality and length of your pup's life and health will be a function of the quality of what you feed them.
Choosing high quality treats and food for your dog requires, time, patience, skill and love. The more you educate yourself about it the higher the odds for a happier and longer-living pup.
Feed them the first cheap food or treat your run into and you will most likely have a short-lived and sickly pup. Feed them quality food and the odds are pretty good that your pup will live as much as nature intended.
So, what's your dog's favorite kind of treat? Do you prefer to make your own, buy them, or do both when the mood strikes? If you weren't making your own previously, are you inspired to try it out now? Do any of the options on this list stick out to you? If so, which one, and why?
Additionally, if you have any healthy, organic treat options not on this list, please feel free to share them! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).