Dog Treat Ingredients – Beware!

by Lindsay Stordahl of

Recent issues with dog treats made in China aside,
what is in your dog's treats?


Today, many owners appreciate the importance of quality food for their dogs. They know to read the list of ingredients. They often choose to feed grain-free, raw, or homemade dog food, in order to keep inferior or unhealthy ingredients out of their dogs' food bowls.

But what about treats and snacks for dogs?

In the past, I've thought of dog treats as "junk food" in moderation. I might eat a processed candy bar filled with high fructose corn syrup once or twice a week. Why is it so bad if my dog has a few unhealthy treats as well? My dog and I live active lifestyles, neither of us is fat and overall we eat a healthy diet.

Will a few "bad" treats hurt us? 

Well, probably not. But a "few" unhealthy treats here and there add up over time.

Why eat such unhealthy treats when there are healthier, tastier options out there (for dogs and humans)?
After taking the time to actually read some of the ingredients in popular dog treats on the market, I now think twice about the kind of treats I give my dog.

Reasons to avoid many
commercial dog treats

glazed, with weimaraner bokeh 1. Many commercial dog treats contain sugar or corn syrup

It never occurred to me that dog treat companies would actually put sugar or corn syrup in dogs treats! I assumed there were regulations against this. Boy, was I wrong! I started reading the labels of popular, commercial dog treats. It turns out many of the companies list sugar or corn syrup among the top ingredients!

Sugar has many of the same negative effects on dogs as it does on people. Consuming sugar can increase a dog's risk of developing health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and dental disease.

Do read the labels on the treats you buy for your dog as you would on your dog's food.

2. Commercial dog treats often contain chemical preservatives

Unfortunately, it's common for commercial dog treats to be loaded with chemical preservatives and dyes. These ingredients provide no nutritional value to the dogs but help make the food look more appealing to people.

Potential carcinogens such as ethoxyquin, BHT and BHA are permitted in U.S. pet foods as preservatives, according to the animal advocacy organization, Born Free USA.

Reading the ingredients on many commercial treats and I was not surprised to see these chemicals listed. Dog owners should make sure to shop for natural dog treats made with wholesome ingredients such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin or natural, sugar-free peanut butter.

Semi-moist dog treats will also likely contain propylene glycol, generally recognized as safe within certain levels, yet prohibited in cat food formulations. Think about it, do you really want to feed your dog these things?

3. Many dog treats contain corn and other cheap fillers

Corn is a cheap filler with little or no nutritional value to a dog, yet many commercial dog food companies use some form of corn (corn gluten meal, ground corn, etc.) as the top ingredient in their food and treats. That's because corn is cheap.

On top of that, many dogs are actually allergic to corn. Some potential allergy symptoms in your dog could include itchy skin, an upset stomach or ear infections.

Many veterinarians suggest that dogs do not need grain in their diets at all. I feed my own dog Ace a grain-free dry food. If you do decide to feed your dog grain, make sure it's high-quality grain such as whole brown rice. Avoid cheap grains such as soy and brewer's rice.

Image: ToadMama's Interstitial Space

Brewer's rice is a cheap rice by-product that provides zero nutritional value, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The AAFCO establishes nutritional standards for pet foods but does not regulate pet foods.

Editor's note: While I don't believe that the issue of corn and grains in dog food and dog treats is as simple as that, I do agree that they are used in much higher amounts than what would serve our dogs' best interest. For example, I believe that healthy dog's diet should not contain more than 20% of carbohydrates. Yet, most dog food products derive at least 50% of the calories from carbohydrates. That is so partially because these ingredients are cheap and partially because certain levels of starch are needed for processing of many of these products. Certainly, grains contain protein also—that is the other reason they are used in high quantities—but that is a source of a whole other set of issues. I won't argue that quality grains in reasonable quantities can be of benefit. Overloading dog food and dog treats with grains, or worse, grain products such as gluten meal, does not a healthy dog make.

Here is an example of ingredients on one of the popular dog treats:
Ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, ground yellow corn, water, sugar, glycerin, soybean meal, meat, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, bacon fat (preserved with BHA), salt, phosphoric acid, sorbic acid (a preservative), calcium propionate (a preservative), natural and artificial smoke flavors, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6), choline chloride.

So how can I make sure my dog's treats
are healthy?

Before you buy any commercial dog treats for your dog, make sure to read the list of ingredients!

Avoid treats that list any of the above things such as sugar, corn syrup, cheap grains, chemical preservatives and other inferior or potentially harmful ingredients.

I like to shop at local dog bakeries where they make homemade natural dog treats that are safe for my dog. I would rather buy treats from an individual or a small business rather than a larger pet-food company.

I also prefer to shop at our natural pet food store where all the dog treats, chews and food are safe for my dog. The owners and staff members are knowledgeable about canine nutrition and are happy to answer my questions and address any concerns. I notice the employees at larger pet food chains typically know very little about canine nutrition and show little interest in my dog's health.

Another option is to make the dog treats yourself! 

I like to make peanut butter treats for Ace using a simple recipe of whole grain brown flour, peanut butter, and water. Unfortunately, most brands of peanut butter contain sugar, but if you shop in the organic section you should be able to find sugar-free peanut butter. It's healthier for you and your dog!

Certain fruits and veggies also make healthy treats for dogs, but not all fruits and veggies are safe for dogs. Just make sure to ask your dog's vet if you are unsure if a certain food is safe for your dog. Ace loves apples, carrots, bananas, asparagus and green beans.

What kind of treats do you give your dog?


Lindsay Stordahl maintains the blog and dog training forum at is a dog blog dedicated to everything about dogs - dog training, dog rescue, dog behavior, dog health and much more!

Related articles:
Chicken Jerky Anyone? Not When It's From China! 

Articles by Lindsay:
Knowledge Is Your Friend: Brittni's ACL Injury 
How To Help Your Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety


  1. Hi There,

    Cool post - I had no idea some Dog Treats could be SO unhealthy!!

    Did you know you can get totally pure Peanut Butter at some Safeway stores, my Mum saw it, they have the Peanuts there and they will make them into the butter for you, nothing added - yum yum! :)

    Also, one of my favorite treats is Carrots - my Mum loves this as she knows it's all just Carrot and I know they're super yummy!! :)

    Hope you're having a fun day :)

    Your pal Snoopy :)

    1. Well, there are a number of issues with dog treats:

      1. it appears that unlike dog food, dog treats are not regulated in a sense they they should provide complete and balanced nutrition. So anything the manufacture chooses to throw in, goes.

      2. I'd actually much rather see corn syrup in a product, here is why: corn syrup is likely used as a humectant; other choices of humectants would be things such as propylene glycol

      3. the very sad part is, that treats, such as chicken jerky, should be just about ideal, but come with their own set of problems

      I'd particularly stay away from treats that feature fancy colors and shapes, such as the Beggin' Strips. Looks like bacon, right? Here is what's in those:

      Ground wheat, corn gluten meal, wheat flour, ground yellow corn, water, sugar, glycerin, soybean meal, meat, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, bacon fat (preserved with BHA), salt, phosphoric acid, sorbic acid (a preservative), calcium propionate (a preservative), natural and artificial smoke flavors, added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6), choline chloride.

  2. I get her cookies from a local barkery that uses human grade ingredients and bakes them in the shop. I get her chicken jerky and other jerky treats from Dog Pack Snacks - human grade ingredients(made in USA from USA meat). I order Whole Life freeze dried treats from Nip and Bones, they are Made in the USA from USA meat.

    For store bought soft/chewy treats I try to stick with healthy treats like Zuke's mini naturals.
    chicken,ground rice,ground barley,malted barley,gelatin,vegetable glycerin, tapioca, brewers yeast, natural flavors, fish oil, lecithin, salt, phosphoric acid, sorbic acid, mixed tocopherols, ascorbic acid

    granted not all the ingredients are healthy (salt), but as far as I can tell, they aren't harmful like BHA and fake colors. They are treats, not her food. Her treats are probably healthier than the candy and chips I eat. LOL!

    If treats are from China or have BHA, I won't buy them and toss free samples in the trash.

  3. We were just planning a post on a similar topic for K9 Kamp!

  4. My dog was very sick this summer, after being given a couple of treats that were made by a reputable (or so I thought) company. That was enough for me, seeing his ears bleeding and him just not his usually goofy self. I decided to make his treats from scratch, from stuff that I can eat myself (I've researched the ingredients). Since I have to cook from scratch for myself, it wasn't a big step to make cookies ^_^ I've decided to sell these as well (after a loooong discussion with The Dew about sharing!) and so far, the feedback I've gotten is amazing! I've even shipped treats out to Texas (I'm in Northern Ontario ^_^). The way I look at it is, my dog is a member of my family, very much like the child I never had (plus the cats ;) and I want him around, healthy, happy, goofy for many years yet, so, its worth the time, money, effort to bake/cook for my pup, and others too. The latest ones I made are called Fall Harvest, basically pretty much ONLY veggies/fruits that are harvested in the fall, combined with seasonings that are helpful to pups. I've caught myself munching on them once or twice lol! hey, someone has to taste them right? ;) Now, to find gluten free "dry" "flour", to use as opposed to just corn flour (for these as I was asked for gluten free cookies). God Bless :)

    1. Hi Cynthia, wow, ears bleeding? We haven't bought any treats for over 6 years now ... we make home-made jerky treats for our guys.

      Never tried dog cookies, don't really like the idea of additional carbohydrates, but the fruit/veggie cookies do sound interesting.

  5. I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post.

  6. Wholesome pet snacks really are a prerequisite for just about any special pup however precisely what should many of us be searching for in a healthful pet handle Dog Treat

  7. As a huge-dog lover and after having done quite a bit of research, I could;t believe what ingredients, even the reputable dog food/treat companies were using. It's taken some time and a lot of work but just for this reason I am in the midst of starting my own doggie bakery. Wholesome. human-grade ingredients, baked with the knowledge of what is safe, healthy and tasty for dogs, and a whole lot of love. While I have high hopes that my bakery becomes something really special, I honestly hope it simply makes dog owners more aware of their dogs' treat choices.


Post a Comment