A-Z of dog wellbeing: Treats

If you choose to feed your dog only the highest quality foods to optimum health and wellbeing, then the same should hold true for their treats. If your dog frequently gets treats that are the equivalent of canine candy, then you undo some of the good work you do with their diet.

Some shop-bought treats are surprisingly bad for your dog!

There is almost nothing beneficial to your dog in these treats which are an example of similar products commonly available from supermarkets and pet food stores:

Bakers Allsorts
Nutritional rating 10%
  • Meat and Animal Derivatives – carcass leftovers from unidentified animals
  • Cereals – cheap unidentified filler, not part of a natural canine diet
  • Vegetable Protein Extracts – a cheap way to add protein
  • Glycerol – adds a sweet taste and keeps treats moist
  • Various Sugars, Oils and Fats – sugar to make the treats taste sweet
  • Minerals – probably artificially produced
  • Preservatives – to slow spoilage. The two most common are BHA and BHT, both of which are linked to an increase in tumour growth.

These treats may trigger allergies because the meats, cereals and proteins are all undisclosed meaning the manufacturer can change them to whatever they like that’s cheap and available at the time, so you may be OK with one batch but get allergies from the next batch.

Cancer feeds on sugar and these treats provide lots of it, but they may also help promote tumour growth by using artificial antioxidants that have worrying side effects.

Want to see what’s in your dog’s treats?

Check out the score for your treats on the All About Dog Food website.  Most main brand treats are listed and you can see the ingredients colour coded for ease of understanding.  Bold red is very bad, red is bad, black is ok and green is good!  You can even click on each ingredient to learn all about it and what benefits (or risks!) it brings.

You can find some good treats on the shop shelves if you look carefully at the ingredients:

Country Hunter Freeze Dried Snacks Nutritional rating 100%

Venison (60%), Peas (10%), Swede (10%), Carrots (7%), Apples (5%), Blueberries (4%), Seaweed (1%), Spinach (1%), Yucca Extract, Green Tea Extract, Grape Seed Extract, Yeast Extract, Dicalcium Phosphate (cow’s milk calcium source), Calcium Carbonate (calcium supplement).

Most of these ingredients need no explanation – everyone knows what a pea is!  As a good rule of thumb, if the first three ingredients aren’t recognisable, give it a miss!

These treats can work out quite expensive over time, so read on to find out how to make your own.

Benefits of feeding natural treats

No nasty ingredients – if you make or buy treats that contain only natural ingredients, you’ll be contributing to your dog’s overall wellbeing, and helping to avoid nasty chemicals that may cause cancer or other illnesses in the longer term.

Food allergies in dogs often manifest themselves as severe skin issues. If you’ve ever had a pet suffering from a food allergy, you know it’s difficult to find the cause and sometimes treats can contribute to the problem as they often contain chicken, beef, wheat, corn  and soy which are frequent allergy triggers for dogs.

Less fattening – When given in moderation, natural or raw treats shouldn’t cause your dog to gain weight because treats with healthy ingredients provide fewer calories than standard dog treats which often contain grains along with additives and fillers, all of which boost the calorie count. It’s the difference between a person snacking on a piece of fruit versus packets of crisps.

Focus when training – Treats are an ideal reward for any type of training, whether your dog is learning obedience skills or still mastering the concept of peeing outdoors. For obedience, tricks and other more intense training, your dog might receive a fair number of treats in each session, so it’s important that they aren’t doing any harm.

While a nibble of holistic kibble is ‘low value’ – tasty, but not exciting. A high value treat is an item your dog really loves, and will focus on whatever you want him to do to get his reward. Raw treats usually fall into this category. If it’s possible for your dog to want to be with you even more than they already do, high value treats will usually do the trick!

How to make your own natural treats

Dehydrated treats

The best treats are simply dried meats, and while you can buy them in the shops, it’s really simple to do this yourself.  Buy your meat of choice from the butchers and cut it up into small thin strips (about 1/8 inch) and place on a lined oven tray, ensuring they aren’t touching.

Heat for around 8-10 hours at 70OC until the meat is hard all the way through and it cracks without breaking if you bend it.   Remove the meat from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 150OC and return the meat to the hotter oven for 10 minutes to ensure that Salmonella and E. Coli bacteria are destroyed.

Allow to cool, chop into small pieces and store in a cool, dry place. Remember that this is now a ‘more intense’ treat so you don’t need a lot of it.

Liver cake

Here’s my simple recipe for home-made liver cake, ideal for most dogs.  If your dog is known to be gluten intolerant then get oats that are gluten free.  If your dog must avoid high-taurine foods such as organ meat (Dalmations), then use a muscle meat that they can eat such as lamb.

450g (1lb) liver
450g organic oats
1 tbsp water

Place the liver and water in a blender and blitz until it becomes a smooth puree.  Add this to a bowl with the oats and stir well. It should be a fairly stiff consistency.  Pour 1/3 of the mix into a lined loaf tin and bake at 180OC for 25 – 35 minutes, until springy when pressed. If you stick a knife in the centre it will come out clean when fully cooked. Turn out this loaf and repeat for the other 2 batches or bake them all together if you have 3 loaf tins.

Allow to cool slightly and then slice the loaf into 6-10mm slices, depending on the size of your dog, and then chop each slice into cubes.  If you don’t mind slightly sticky liver fingers then you can simply freeze the treats like this, but I prefer to return the chopped cubes to the oven for a further 5-8 minutes just to bake the edges of each treat so they aren’t so messy to handle.

Allow to cool completely and then freeze, taking out as many treats as you need for a training session or walk.  This batch makes enough to last me a month or so.

Treats for teeth cleaning

Some treats are sold as a ‘toothbrush’ for your dog, but while their pointy shape may tickle your dog’s molars, the ingredients are dubious at best.  With a nutritional rating of around 10%, these highly processed treats such as Pedigree Dentastix may provide the same allergy inducing and cancer promoting risks as the earlier treats, but they are larger and promoted for daily use.

Try a raw chicken wing or ribs instead – they are much tastier and chewing the edible soft bones will do a much better job of cleaning your dog’s teeth!


If you are bamboozled by the variety of treats and foods on offer to your dog and would appreciate some help unpicking all the options, then please get in touch about a nutrition review that can help to clarify your options.