Which Treats are Right for Your Dog?

By Dr. Heidi Allen, DVN

Everyone likes to give their dog a treat. But, there are so many treats available and it can be hard to know what makes a good versus a bad treat.

And, is human food okay to give to your dog and, if so, what human foods are good to give?

Fortunately, there are only a few rules when it comes to treats:

  • Treats should only provide 10 percent of your dog’s daily calories. Treats are not a complete or balanced form of nutrition, so they should be considered “extras,” even if you give fruits or vegetables to your dog.
  • If your dog has a medical condition, be sure to provide treats that complement any special dietary requirements your dog may have. Your veterinarian can help with this.
  • Avoid foods that can be toxic to dogs, including chocolate, onion, garlic, black licorice, grapes, and raisins.

Otherwise, you can provide your dog with a variety of treats that fit your beliefs, from Milk-Bone® to Variety Snaps® Little Bites, to fruit, vegetables, pasta, breads, grains, and meats. Just watch those calories!

Though we know that the level of synthetic preservatives in diets and treats for dogs and cats is not high enough to affect them, I steer away from synthetic preservatives when feeding my dogs. Some people like to feed organic treats, but not all organic foods are the same. If I choose an organic treat, I look for the USDA organic symbol. There are other organizations that regulate organic foods, so if you feed organic treats, you may want to look into what organization is regulating the treats you feed.

I also stay away from freeze-dried treats, which are equivalent to raw food. Freeze drying does not kill microorganisms, but it does prevent them from reproducing. Once they are eaten, however, the food is rehydrated, and the microorganisms can reproduce again. A treat rarely contains enough microorganisms to make a dog sick, unless they have a medical problem, but, there are many other concerns regarding raw foods.

There are some human foods that one should limit, although they are not toxic:

  • Acidic foods – Most foods that are acidic do not cause problems in healthy or adult dogs. But in young (<1 yr) or geriatric dogs, acidic foods may increase the acidity in their blood, and in younger dogs, this may lead to problems with bone development. In older dogs, this can overwork their kidneys. Acidic foods include citrus, pomegranates, blueberries, tomato sauce and processed meats.
  • Dairy – Most dogs can handle some dairy, but similar to other mammals, the lactase enzyme decreases toward the end of nursing. If your dog has not been exposed to dairy items, especially milk, it is not recommended to start offering it later in life. Some animals, if fed dairy their entire lives, will retain a low level of lactase and will be able to digest lactose.
  • Foods with Vitamin C. – This includes bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, and citrus. Dogs manufacture their own vitamin C, though they may need some extra vitamin C during certain disease states. Vitamin C is well-known as an antioxidant, but too much can cause damage. And, more importantly, excessive vitamin C intake can be associated with bladder stones in dogs.