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Healthy dog treats

Healthy dog treats in The Lab

Whether you’re training Fido to sit or want to reward them for not jumping on a houseguest, treats are a vital part of pet ownership. But when your pup is always on their best behavior, you might wonder if the amount of treats you’re giving out is going to make them sick. Don’t worry, healthy dog treats are out there! They include wholesome ingredients and low caloric counts, so you can rest easy when giving your doggie several treats in a row.

The betterpet team reviewed and tested some of the top healthy dog treats on the market. We considered each treat for safe ingredients, smell, taste, calories, texture, consistency, and packaging. Here are the best healthy dog treats based on our veterinarian’s opinion and in-person testing.

Healthy dog treats we loved

Our top pick

We love that these treats work for dogs with sensitive stomachs. While they aren’t labeled as “natural” or “organic”, the Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Gentle Snackers are made by veterinary nutritionists and also received our vet’s stamp of approval. Though we didn’t quite love the earthy smell of these treats, our dog liked their lightweight, crunchy texture.

  • Safe ingredients. The Gentle Snackers are made with hydrolyzed ingredients, meaning they’re gentle on dogs with sensitive GI tracts.
  • Smell. The treats have an earthy, somewhat grassy scent. It’s not the most pleasant for human noses, but it’s not the worst. But, our dog didn’t seem to mind the smell.
  • The “taste” test. Our dog licked this treat several times before eating it. We believe these treats would be palatable for most dogs.
  • Calories. There are 14 calories per treat. Our editor noted that pet owners could break the snackers in half or quarters for training sessions.
  • Texture and consistency. These light tan treats are lightweight and crunchy, but not too hard. They’re about 1 inch in diameter.
  • Packaging. The treats come in a bag that’s easy to open and reseal.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish noted that the animal hospital where she works prescribes these treats for dogs with food allergies or protein-losing enteropathies. She likes that Purina has veterinary nutritionists on staff, and the Pro Plan products have a great track record with vets and pet parents alike. These healthy treats were her top pick.

Our vegan pick

Looking for plant-based treats? These Spirulina Dailies are a safe bet. These, too, have a grassy smell, but we were impressed with the vegan ingredients list. These are a little higher in calories compared to some other picks on our list, but our dog couldn’t wait to indulge in these crunchy treats. One thing our expert product reviewer noted is the inclusion of spirulina. While this ingredient is generally considered safe, it isn’t suitable for dogs with some health conditions, like liver disease or autoimmune disorders.

  • Safe ingredients. The ingredients in these vegan treats are oat, kale, flaxseed, carrot, parsley, sunflower oil, spirulina, and rosemary extract. These are pesticide-free ingredients as well. The only concern here is that spirulina isn’t suitable for some dogs.
  • Smell. The Chippin treats have an earthy scent.
  • The “taste” test. There was no hesitation from our dog, she went straight for the treat and ate it quickly, and she smelled the bag.
  • Calories. These treats contain 20 calories each.
  • Texture and consistency. These crunchy, round treats are all the same size, but because the ingredients aren’t ground up finely, they do have slightly varying colors. There are visible pieces of oats and carrots.
  • Packaging. The treat bag is made from post-consumer recycled content, so it’s a little more eco-friendly than some of the other plastic packages on this list. It was still easy to open and reseal to keep the treats fresh. The bag also has a vet-approved feeding chart to show pet parents how many treats to give based on a dog’s size.

What our vet thinks

Our vet liked the more sustainable packaging for these treats, and she’s happy to see that the product is formulated by a boarded vet nutritionist.

Best for large dogs

Native Pet’s Yak Chews are a great choice for large adult dogs with healthy teeth. We love that they’re made with only four ingredients (and are lactose-free)! Just don’t let your dog chew on these for a super long time in one sitting — they’re one of the harder bones that we tested. For this reason, older dogs or dogs with gingivitis should avoid yak chews.  

  • Safe ingredients. These yak chews are made with only four ingredients. They’re also lactose-free, making them a good choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
  • Smell. These treats have a very low odor.
  • The “taste” test. Our English cream golden retriever has had these treats in the past and usually likes them, but she wasn’t keen on them after having some of the other treats on this list. In fact, while she did come around for the yak chews during the testing process, she was actually whining for the Virbac chews instead. But, she regularly eats Virbac chews, so we think she wanted the chew she’s used to.
  • Calories. The calorie content isn’t listed on the company website or even on the product packaging. This is concerning for pet owners who need to track their pup’s caloric intake.
  • Texture and consistency. The Native Pet yak chews are tough. A human fingernail barely leaves a dent. So, these treats aren’t the best choice for dogs with gingivitis or senior pets. The treats are about 6 inches long and 1 inch wide with a light yellow color. There’s a slight variation in shape from treat to treat.
  • Packaging. Native Pet’s packaging is simple, and the bag is easy to open and reseal.

What our vet thinks

Of all the treats on this list, Dr. Irish was hesitant on these. Not that she wouldn’t recommend them, but she warns that dog owners should keep an eye on their dogs when these treats are around. Because the treats are so tough, they pose a danger of fracturing dog teeth. If a treat is hard enough to hurt you when thrown, it’s hard enough to hurt your pup’s teeth.

Best for small dogs

Some treats are just too overwhelming or high in calories for small dogs, but these pumpkin treats are just right for them. The treats are organic and free of added sugar, salt, additives, or artificial ingredients. What we loved most is that for every purchase of this product, Riley’s provides five meals for shelter dogs.

  • Safe ingredients. The ingredients are considered 100% human-grade and vegan, and the treats consist of organic pumpkin, oat flour, oats, rye flour, peanut flour, and coconut oil.
  • Smell. Like your favorite fall candle, these treats have a lovely, pumpkin scent.
  • The “taste” test. Our betterpet taste-testing pup loved the smell and taste of these organic treats and ate the treat quickly.
  • Calories. There are just 7 calories per treat.
  • Texture and consistency. These treats are shaped like bones, but they vary in size with an average size of about ¾” long and ½” wide. These orange dog snacks have a crunchy texture.
  • Packaging. We received two 5-ounce resealable bags.

What our vet thinks

Dr. Irish strongly approves of pumpkin as a dog treat ingredient, but she notes that the ingredients list isn’t as thorough as it could be. She is curious about the shelf-life of these treats, and she’s not keen on “100% human-grade” ingredients for dogs.

Our natural pick

To start our testing, we laid out the dog treats in a row and let our tester pup choose her favorites. Zuke’s is the first one she ran for and enjoyed. Is it the enticing, sweet scent, which our human noses also enjoyed? Or perhaps this pup could sense the natural ingredients in these treats. Either way, this was a favorite choice. We also like that these are made in the U.S.

  • Safe ingredients. These treats are made with safe ingredients, including mixed tocopherols, which are a safe preservative to keep the treats fresh. They also include low amounts of coconut oil, which just in these treats is fine. But if your dog is consuming coconut oil from other diet sources, excess coconut oil can cause diarrhea or even pancreatitis in dogs.
  • Smell. Human and dog noses love the scent of the Zuke’s treats. They have a light scent of pumpkin and/or sweet potato. Our dog loved the scent so much she stuck her nose right in the bag of treats.
  • The “taste” test. Our tester dog ran for this treat first, stuck her head in the bag, and ate her treat quickly. It’s safe to say these are highly palatable.
  • Calories. These treats have 8.9 calories each.
  • Texture and consistency. The Zuke’s treats are about 1 ¼-inch long and narrow, with uniform size and color, which is light tan. They’re crunchy.
  • Packaging. We found this treat bag to be easy to open and seal back up for freshness.

What our vet thinks

Again, Dr. Irish likes that the ingredients include pumpkin, which is good for fiber supplementation. Her only concern with these treats is the inclusion of coconut oil. The treats alone are fine, but if dogs are consuming coconut oil in other treats or their food, too much coconut oil acts as a laxative or may even lead to pancreatitis in dogs.

Our low-calorie pick

Do we love the smell of bacon dog treats? Not necessarily, but our doggie taste-tester was a fan; she ran for these treats second, after the Zuke’s treats. These Pet Botanics treats are very low in calories, so they make for a great training treat option. We like that these are made in the U.S. and don’t have artificial flavors, and they’re nice and soft, so they’re easy for chewing.

  • Safe ingredients. The Pet Botanics treats are made with safe ingredients like pork liver, potatoes, and brown rice. They don’t contain corn, BHAs, BHTs, or artificial flavors (though corn is safe for dogs).
  • Smell. We didn’t love the strong meaty smell of these treats, but our dog did. She went for these treats second in a lineup of seven different products.
  • The “taste” test. While she didn’t stick her head in the bag as she did for some other treats, our taste-testing dog did take and eat these treats without hesitation.
  • Calories. These training-friendly treats have just 3 calories each. They’re also big enough to break into smaller pieces if you’d like.
  • Texture and consistency. The treats are about ½-inch long and ¼-inch wide with the same size, round shape, and dark brown color.
  • Packaging. Thankfully, the packaging is easy to open and reseal, so we could banish the lingering bacon scent by closing up the bag. The packaging also has a clear front, so you can see the treats inside.

What our vet thinks

Our vet had no complaints about these treats and would recommend them for training purposes. Dr. Irish likes the ingredients, fair pricing, and calorie count per treat for this product.

Best for clean teeth

One of our reviewer’s and vet’s favorite things about this product is that it has the rare Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, so these treats are clinically proven to prevent plaque, tartar, and gum disease. One note of concern is the high calorie count, making these better as an occasional treat rather than for training. However, these treats are proven to help dogs’ oral health.

  • Safe ingredients. The ingredients are vegetarian and generally safe, but they do include some sugars. You should consult with your dog’s vet to determine how often to incorporate these into your pet’s diet.
  • Smell. These treats smell lightly sweet and of vegetables.
  • The “taste” test. These weren’t our pup’s top pick, but she did start chewing the chew after we set it on the ground. It took a while for her to finally finish this treat.
  • Calories. Each treat has 48 calories, so pups should enjoy these in moderation.
  • Texture and consistency. These treats are hard, but not quite as hard as the Native Pet yak chews. They’re very consistent in shape and color. They’re dark brown with white specks and are about 4 inches long.
  • Packaging. This bag offers a clear panel, so you can see the treats inside. It’s easy to open and close, and, of course, it has the coveted VOHC seal.

What our vet thinks

As any vet would be, Dr. Irish is all about the clinical trials, and these treats have the VOHC seal of approval, meaning the treats underwent at least two clinical trials. The treats are proven to prevent plaque and tartar, plus Dr. Irish likes the ingredients and brand reputation.

Our research process 

Why you should trust our reviews 

  • Dr. Erica Irish helped us formulate this list — Dr. Erica Irish reviewed all of the products on our healthy dog treats list to weed out any treats that aren’t up to snuff. Dr. Irish ranked her favorite healthy treats for pups and offered insight into why she liked or disliked each product.
  • We ordered and paid for these products — There’s no sponsored content here, nor were any of these treats gifted to us. We used our own resources to purchase these treats, so we could review each one without bias.
  • We tried and tested these products — The betterpet editorial team reviewed and tested each product in The Lab, with a little help from a betterpet doggie to get a sense of how they tasted. We only recommend treats we’d give to our own furry friends.

How we picked

Golden Retriever trying treats

Our dog sitting for a Zuke’s treat.

To start with our reviews and testing of healthy dog treats, we searched online for the best-selling and highest-rated dog treats. We wanted to find dog treats that promised healthy, safe ingredients. We steered clear of any treats with toxic or even questionable ingredients and artificial colors or dyes. We also avoided rawhides, animal bones, and jerky-type treats, which can pose choking hazards for dogs.

Once we found the top contenders, Dr. Irish narrowed down our list. She ranked her top picks along with what she liked and disliked, if anything, about each product. Once we had a short list, our editorial team tested the treats, then chose the best-performing treat based on our criteria.

At first glance

Aside from our team reviews, this is how each product compares based on price, size (in ounces), and price per ounce.

Treats ranked according to the price per ounce, from lowest to highest

Product Price* Ounces (oz) Price Per Ounce
Pet Botanics Training Reward $8.81 20 oz $0.44
Zuke’s Crunchy Naturals Dog Treats $7.49 12 oz $0.62
Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Gentle Snackers $9.99 8 oz $1.25
Riley’s Organic Dog Treats $16.99 10 oz $1.70
Chippin Spirulina Dailies Treats $19.99 10 oz $1.99
Native Pet Yak Chews $17.99 8 oz $2.25
Virbac C.E.T Chews $23.94 8 oz $2.99

*Price on Amazon, Chewy, or Chippin at the time of our review

How we tested these products

We take our product reviews seriously, and we only want to recommend the best for your pet. When it comes to treats, there are several things to keep in mind, so we worked with a veterinarian to choose the top criteria. Dog treats should be safe to eat in terms of both ingredients and size, as some treats can fracture and cause a choking hazard. We ranked and tested treats based on the following criteria:

Safe ingredients. First thing’s first: are the ingredients in these treats safe for dogs? We opted for products with ingredients that are safe for dogs. We also wanted to avoid harmful ingredients like additives or animal bones. Please note that while many of the treats we included market “natural” or “organic” ingredients, these terms don’t necessarily equate to health. Dog treats can also be healthy and safe for your furry friend without these labels, and we made sure to include only vet-approved options on our list.

Smell. No one wants to be left with the smell of salmon on their fingers after an afternoon of dog training. We tested treats based on how they smelled, both to human and dog noses.

The “taste” test. No, we didn’t taste a series of dog treats. We left that to the expert:  a 1-year-old, female English cream golden retriever that loves snacks. If she refused a treat, then we were concerned whether the treat was palatable for most dogs.

Calories. We noted the calorie count per treat for each product. It’s important to find low-calorie treats, especially if you use them for training because you could be offering up several treats at once.

Texture and consistency. Texture and consistency are important because treats that are too tough to chew might be a choking hazard. Some tougher treats might be better for super chewers or large dogs. We tested treats based on their texture and consistency, or whether the treats in the bag all look and feel the same, which could be an issue for pickier pups.

Packaging. Sure, your dog might eat a stale treat if it’s offered, but wouldn’t you prefer to give them something fresh? We evaluated products based on packaging, too, giving higher marks for brands that offer resealable packages that keep the treats fresh.

What else should pet parents consider?

Does your dog need treats?

Fortunately, many dog treats are nutritious, so dog treats can be part of a balanced diet for your pup. Dog treats are especially helpful when you are training your dog or rewarding them for good behavior. If your dog has food allergies, you’ll need to pay close attention to treat ingredients, and dogs that are overweight or with certain medical conditions should only follow a veterinarian-recommended diet and may not be allowed to have treats.

Choosing healthy treats for your doggie

When your best friend learns a new trick or behaves really well at the dog park, it’s tempting to reach for the first treats you can find to praise them. But not all treats are a good reward for good behavior. Unfortunately, some treats may have questionable ingredients or high-calorie counts that can be detrimental to your pup’s health. To keep your pup healthy and following good nutrition, opt for healthy treats instead.

What to look for in healthy dog treats

If you’re ready to start shopping for healthy dog treats for your best friend, there are several things to keep in mind. Take a close look at labels to evaluate the ingredients and calories, but also keep things like size and texture in mind.

Ingredients. One of the most important things to look for in healthy treats is the ingredients list. Stick to treats with an ingredients list of whole, natural foods. Many treats include healthy ingredients like meat, peanut butter, fruits, and vegetables. Our vets also recommend treats with fish or salmon, because omega-3 fatty acids can help with brain and eye development in puppies or boost cognitive function in older dogs.

Brand. Some brands offer higher quality dog treats than others. Our veterinary team trusts brands like Purina Pro Plan, Science Diet/Hills, and Royal Canin. They all avoid cross-contamination between foods and treats during manufacturing.

Calories. Generally, treats should be just that — treats! Treats should make up less than 10% of your dog’s daily calories, so read the label for the calorie amount per treat and stick to the correct portion sizes.

Texture. You want to choose treats that aren’t too hard, otherwise, they can pose a choking hazard. Hard treats are difficult for a dog to bite into, so they might only be able to bite them into large pieces, which are hard to swallow. Too-hard treats can also fracture your dog’s teeth.

Size. Treats can be a choking hazard if they are too large or too small for your dog. Opt for small treats for puppies or small dogs. Large dogs may enjoy large treats, but also make sure to keep an eye out. Even large dogs can choke on treats that are too big.

Labels. Treats labeled as all-natural can be misleading, as the treats may still be highly processed.

👉 If your dog is overweight or has dietary restrictions, you’ll need to scrutinize the treat labels very carefully.

Types of dog treats to avoid

There are many popular treats out there that aren’t good for any dogs. Here are some common treats to stay away from.

Rawhides. Rawhides are inexpensive treats with little nutritional value. Some rawhides are treated with toxins like formaldehyde and bleach. They also pose a huge choking risk as they break down into pieces over time. However, some rawhide-like products, such as Purina Pro Plan Dental Chewz, are VOHC-approved and safe for consumption.

Animal bones. Sure, bones are “all-natural” but they can be covered in pathogens, such as E. Coli and salmonella. Some people may suggest boiling the bones to sanitize them, but this process actually makes the bones brittle and more likely to splinter. This is a choking hazard for dogs, and splinters and sharp pieces can puncture the intestines.

Jerky-type treats. Since 2007, the FDA has received reports of sick pets after consuming jerky pet treats. Learn more about their ongoing investigation and how they’re testing treats to determine why some jerky treats are making pets sick. While these cases are rare, we recommend avoiding jerky-type treats — especially with so many other great options on the market.

Treats with additives. We like treats that don’t contain lots of additives or artificial colors. Some additives, such as Red#3, used for coloring or preservatives have been linked to cancer in animals .

Toxic human food. While dogs may love chicken and sweet potatoes as we do, there are many foods that humans eat that are not suitable for dogs. While you treat yourself with chocolate, you can’t do the same for your pup, because the chemicals in chocolate can cause seizures and increased heart rates in dogs. Instead, you can give your dog human food treats like some fresh fruits and vegetables (avoid grapes and items with seeds or pits), like watermelon, broccoli, green beans, bananas, or carrots.

Can you make DIY treats at home?

It’s easy to make DIY dog treats at home, and you might be surprised to find your mouth watering as the smell of our favorite peanut butter and oatmeal cookies (yes, these really are for your pup!) fills your kitchen. Making treats at home means you can customize the ingredients based on your dog’s dietary needs and flavor preferences. Try one of our tried-and-true all-natural pet treat recipes for your best friend.

Frequently asked questions

What are the healthiest treats for dogs?

The healthiest treats for dogs will be low in calories and made with whole ingredients like meats, fruits, and vegetables. Also opt for softer, chewier treats rather than options that are too hard, and always choose treats that are appropriately sized for your dog. Fruits and veggies like bananas, green beans, and carrots are also great low-calorie snacks for your pup!

What dog treats do vets recommend?

You can talk to your vet about the best treats for your dog based on the dog’s health, age, and breed. In general, our vets recommend dog biscuits with ingredients like salmon or other fish for the beneficial omega-3s.

What’s the best natural dog treat?

Many of our favorite healthy dog treats are made entirely with natural ingredients. Our top pick overall is Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Gentle Snackers, but the best natural dog treat really depends on your dog’s preferences.

Are milk bone dog treats healthy?

In moderation, milk bone dog treats are fine. But keep in mind that many milk bone treats can be high in sugar. Several milk bone options also contain artificial food dyes and BHA that have been linked to cancer in dogs.

How to make healthy dog treats?

You can make homemade healthy dog treats with just a few simple ingredients. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meats that your dog loves to make treats that are full of vitamins and minerals. Just avoid human foods that are unsafe for dogs, instead opting for vegetables and other foods that are safe for dogs. One of the easiest biscuit recipes to make is the one-ingredient sweet potato treats made with dehydrated sweet potatoes.

Which treats are best for dogs with allergies?

Many dogs may be allergic to animal proteins, wheat, gluten, or nuts. For pups who have wheat, gluten, or nut allergies, opt for treats made with either seafood, meat, or cheddar cheese. We also recommend Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Gentle Snackers as a hypoallergenic option, just be sure to check the ingredients list of any treats for allergens before feeding them to your dog.