Dog treats: So many — how do I choose?

Date Published: 
July 11, 2014

Have you been in a pet store lately? Have you seen how many different kinds of treats there are for dogs these days? How do you decide which ones are right for your dog?

First off, there are no right treats for every dog. What works for one dog may not work with another. So, how do you decide which ones to try?

Let’s look at the different kinds of treats in generalized groups. There are quick edible treats, longer edible treats, real bones (edible, but not usually completely eaten), chew-only treats, toys that dispense edible treats…

First, the quick edible treats. These are items like biscuits, liver treats, jerky treats and more — any item that is small, pretty easy to chew up and is made from completely edible material. These type items are often used for training or just a simple reward treat. Some people even use them sprinkled in with their dog’s daily meals. These are also the treats generally used in treat-dispensing toys. Your dog’s kibble can also be used as treats.

Next are the slowly edible treats. Many of these items are made from other animals’ parts, including pig, cow and lamb ears. There are regular and flavored rawhide, bully sticks, tendons, straps, puffed pig ears, pressed rawhide, hooves, tracheas and more. These types of items are completely edible but are definitely not designed for all dogs.

This is where the rawhide scares came from. It is not because these items are not safe — it is because people didn’t know their own animals and because often these treats were left with an unattended/unmonitored pet. Some dogs will chew them until they become mushy/slimy and then chew off a large chunk and ingest it. This large item swells even more when it becomes wet, which can cause a large blockage inside of the animal. However, not all dogs are the same. Some dogs chew them into tiny pieces that they swallow.

Dogs should be monitored while chewing treats, especially if it is a new item to the dog, or if the dog has shown problems with similar types of items in the past. Aggressive chewers, young puppies and overly excited chewers are more prone to these types of accidents; however, it can happen to any dog. If your dog is showing signs of a problem, take the item away from the dog and do not use similar types of treats in the future.

I admit that I do leave some of these types of treats with my dogs unmonitored, and even though they have never had problems/issues with them in the past, there is a chance of a problem in the future. I would never leave them with a new style of treat though. And I would not leave a new dog with a treat without first monitoring it with similar treats several times.

Most of these treats will last the average dog several hours of chewing pleasure. They are great to give to dogs when you have company and want the dog to be otherwise occupied, or if you need to get some stuff done around the house and don’t wish to be “supervised” by your faithful companion.

Next: the bones. First rule: Never give your dog any cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter and cut your dog’s internal organs, resulting in bleeding and surgery. You can buy bones of many different types of animals, including beef cows, venison, bison, lamb and more.

I personally like raw meaty bones that we used to call “soup bones,” which I purchase at the grocery store or butcher. A few pet stores carry them, and so do some grocery stores. Some grocery stores (Hocker’s for one) will even cut these bones to your specified size. The problem with these bones is they are raw and still have pieces of meat attached to them, thus the raw meat can stain your carpet and furniture.

You can buy smoked bones at most pet stores and a few grocery stores. These bones can stain some carpets and furniture also. Both of these types of bones are often great for long-lasting chew treats for your dog.

Antlers can be included in the bone section. Deer and moose antlers are readily available for sale at your local pet stores. They are completely natural, and many dogs love them. Make sure, with bones or antlers, you always buy a size that is appropriate for your dog. For example, do not buy a small antler for your Great Dane. If you buy too small of a chew treat for your dog, your dog can swallow it and cause a blockage resulting in emergency surgery.

This goes for all types of treats. Always buy a size appropriate treat for your dog. I know all too well that the larger the item, the higher the price. (Bloodhounds are considered giant breeds and they weigh about 120 pounds, so they need large treats.) However, if you have to have surgery performed on your pet, it costs a lot more and it could result in death. Why take the chance?

There are also items like Kongs, toy puzzles, treat-dispensing toys and more. Some of these items can be given to your dog while you want them to be occupied, either while you are out or just when you want your own time. Kongs and similar types of items can be filled with items and either used fresh or frozen and then given to your pet. They are long-lasting and help to keep your dog occupied sometimes for several hours.

Treat -dispensing toys can also be given to your dog for long-lasting pleasure. Some people even feed their dogs meals from these toys. They fill the toy with the dog’s measured amount of kibble and then the dog must “play with the toy” to receive its food. This stimulates the dog’s mind and exercises the dog physically, thus making the dog a calmer dog than it was before. It can also keep the dog occupied for anywhere from minutes to hours, depending on the toy and the dog.

Other items you can use as treats for your pet can come right out of your fridge or freezer. Frozen mixed vegetables, carrots, squash, green beans, zucchini, small pieces of cheese occasionally, small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey, cooked lean ground beef and more —these are all healthy and natural and good for your pet. The vegetables can also be mixed into your pet’s regular meals, and you can reduce part of their regular food, thus helping with weight loss.

Most dogs love these items and they are healthy and natural and more pure, and less chance of recalls and dangerous items for your pet. Some people will actually put a small bowl of defrosted mixed vegetables out daily for their dog. I do not recommend using canned vegetables; however, if you do, always rinse them to reduce the salt. Also, when you cook stuff for your pet, do not use seasonings and salt.

A few last things to consider when buying your dog treats: Always read the label. Read the ingredients and pay attention to them. I recommend you avoid items with sugar and other sweeteners, especially if high on the ingredient list. Occasionally, it is OK to give your pet a little bit of sweetness, but it should not be on a daily basis. Treats should be healthy, not just “garbage ingredients.”

I also recommend you avoid items made in China. In my personal opinion, there have been too many recalls of items made in China. I personally avoid all of them anymore. Why take a chance of killing my pet from a treat simply because it is a little cheaper? (Cheaper often means lower-quality ingredients and less control over monitoring the production of the products.) Some of the recalls have been for antibiotics in the treat, foreign objects in the treats and more.

Additionally, always wash your hands after handling your pet’s food or treats.

Giving your pets treats is fun for us and them, but care should be taken in how many and what we give them. Consider how much you have given to your pet in treats each day and adjust their regular food in accordance with that. Some days you may be giving your pet more treats than others, like when doing training classes. On those days, reduce your pet’s regular meal accordingly.

If you have questions, stop by your local independently owned pet store. (I support buying local.) Ask them questions. Explain what you are looking for. Tell them about your dog and your lifestyle. Let them know about your individual dog’s personality, such as if it is excitable, an aggressive chewer, puppy, older dog, skinny dog, fat dog, indoor dog, outside-only dog, etc.

Explain if your want a small reward treat or a long-term occupier treat. Tell them if you want American-made and -sourced treats only, etc. Also, advise them of any food allergies or sensitivities your dog may have. The more information you give them, the better they can advise you on selecting the perfect treat for your dog.

Cheryl Loveland is a dog groomer, pet-sitter, dog trainer and fosterer for many unwanted animals. She does rescue work for all types of animals and has owned or fostered most types of domestic animals and many wild ones. She currently resides with her bloodhound, which she has shown in conformation and is currently training for search-and-rescue work. Also residing with her are a bichon frisée, two cats and two birds. She welcomes comments, questions and suggestions for future articles at Remember, she is not an expert: she offers her opinions and suggestions from her experience and research.