How to Read Dog Treat Labels

November 30, 2018

My dogs have had their share of unhealthy treats the last 20+ years. It all began when my first dog came into my life when I was 6, and I was notorious for overfeeding my dog the infamous Milk Bone treats. Recently, I saw a few famous instagram dogs advertising Milk Bone products on their feed (tsk! tsk!). I'm not sure if their treats have improved, but the photo to my right shows the treat we fed my first dog until his passing in 2003. His siblings outlived him by many years. Good ol' Roscoe had several health conditions that I won't get into...I think his conditions could have been avoided, or even delayed, if we fed him a healthy, balanced diet. BTW during the 90s, this box of treats also contained green and bright orange colored biscuits. It was referred to as the "healthier" or "veggie" flavors...not sure why they discontinued those colors  (But if you google 'Milk Bone''ll see 'Milk Bone Recall' and 'Milk Bone Cancer') 


This is classic example of a marketing gimmick - cute dog, colorful packaging, and the word "flavor" on the box. I have a few issues with this treat and I'll list a few of them below: 


1) "FLAVOR".

Anytime you see it on a pet's a red flag! Flavor = FAKE. Under the "flavor" rule (FDA regulations for feeds), a specific percentage is not required, but a product must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected. So the ingredient can be a substance that give the characterizing flavor, such as chicken meal or chicken by-products. Remember our first blog post? By-products mean the scraps of the animal that are deemed inedible AND for dogs it also means ANY type of meat (4Ds- dead, disabled, diseased, or dying). With respect to flavors, pet foods often uses high heat, enzymes and acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of chicken by-products is needed to produce a "Chicken Flavored Treats" even though no actual chicken is added. 


Ok, so let's look at the back of this box. Meat should be the first few ingredients on the label. This is a MUST for healthy dogs (not dogs with liver failure or some health issues that require additional ingredients to offset the protein, such as carbohydrate). As you can see wheat flour and wheat bran are the first two ingredients, which indicates that this product contains these two ingredients the most. Ingredients are labeled in descending order of predominance by weight. This means that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. I hope none of my readers feed this product. They use by-products, food coloring, bacon fat, a lot of synthetic vitamins... It's not even cheap. This was $6! Here are a few more treats and ingredients for you to try out.


<Click Right Below> Let me know if you would feed these to your pup.  


(These treats are commonly found in major supermarket chains: Costco, Walmart, PetSmart and Petco).


Now we come to treats in the boutique/speciality pet stores. This is where I find myself questioning if I am providing the correct treats. Most of these are trusted brands with the following:


1) Made in the USA (or from a trusted source)

2) Grain-Free

3) Hormone-Free

4) Excellent brand reputation


It really comes down to what you are OK feeding your pup. For instance, I try to avoid salt in Anmitsu's treats. She gets a good dose of salt in her daily meals. Sodium can lead to congenital heart failure, which my last dog, Thunder, died from. Animals (including humans) with sufficiently severe heart disease lose the ability to adequately excrete sodium (salt) from the body. While it isn't the only issue, a large part of formulating a diet suitable for a heart patient revolves around the sodium content.



These treats all contains SALT. Some are at the bottom of the label. It's important to take note of where it's located on the label.  Another thing is to see what type of antioxidants are listed. Often times we can overfeed our dogs treats, especially during training. It's good to know what natural preservatives are used.


-Vitamin E, vitamin C, citric acid, and rosemary are among the most commonly used natural antioxidants.

-Mixed tocopherols are a common source of vitamin E in pet foods. The ONLY thing with mixed tocopherols is, unfortunately, in supplements and processed foods, it's usually sourced from soy.


I couldn't find any research studies on dog and soy, but soy is listed as a common allergen in dogs! If your dog has allergies, I would be cautious of mixed tocopherols. 




The photos below are Anmitsu's treats (she also gets a good dose of blackberries, blueberries, banana, carrots and apples). I tend to gravitate toward treats with ONLY 1 ingredient. However, one ingredient also means it's a high protein snack. So mix it up with fresh fruits. Variety is key! And treats should be fun! They should be mixed up!





Currently, Anmitsu is in love with these two items. They are SINGLE Ingredient, which is extremely important! Tylee's is amazing! Made in the USA and Human-grade! Anmitsu loves its freshness and its also great for training!


Honest Fish Filets is another treat shes obsessed with! Our dogs rarely get fish, and so these are easy healthy snacks for her! I have NOT found a better fish treat than Honest's Fish! They also smell like fish, so you know it's not some fake ingredient! 


I really like providing fish snacks to our pets! It's such a great way for them to get a variety of nutrition! Variety is key! 





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