Pinscher puppy being fed a treat.

Are Dog Treats Healthy? Fact Checked By Our Vet

Written By Vedrana Nikolic | Canine Coach, B.A Ethnology & Anthropology, M.A Semiotics.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 18th January 2024

The market for dog treats has expanded exponentially in recent years, reflecting the growing trend of pet ownership and our desire to pamper our furry friends. But amidst the plethora of options, the question arises: Are these treats truly healthy for our dogs? And is there too much of a good thing?

The truth is - yes, dog treats can be completely healthy and good for your dog. But that’s not always the case. So let’s talk about the difference between dog treats that are healthy and those that aren’t.

The Difference Between Good Treats and Bad Treats

Nowhere are various suspicious additives so pervasive as in dog treats. Flavours, colours, preservatives, sweeteners, filler ingredients… you name it.

Related: The Best Dog Treats.

To show you what we mean, here are two ingredient lists as an example:

  • Greenies: Wheat flour, glycerin, wheat gluten, gelatine, water, powdered cellulose, lecithin, minerals, natural poultry flavour, choline chloride, fruit juice colour, vitamins, turmeric colour.
  • Pedigree Dentastix: Cereal, starch, humectant, cereal protein, vegetable gum, minerals, sodium tripolyphosphate, meat and meat by-products (derived from poultry and pork), cellulose fibre, flavours, preservative, zinc sulphate and vegetable oil.

Both of these ubiquitous treats are meant to help with dental health, but their main ingredient is wheat. Is that really necessary? And then there is the rest of the list. Dentastix, for example, features a mystery humectant and a mystery preservative coupled with meat by-products. The Greenies ingredient list reads a bit better because it states the poultry flavour is “natural” and it features a vitamin cocktail, but the point still remains: while these ingredients might not necessarily do any harm, they also aren’t a healthy addition to a dog’s diet.

“It’s simply pointless to spend so much time and energy finding the best healthy foods for your dog if you are going to subvert your own efforts at health-building with low-quality, additive-filled garbage. Nowhere are these deleterious junk foods more prevalent than at your local grocery store.” - Nancy Kerns, Whole Dog Journal (1)

However, the good news is that healthy treats do exist in the market. While they might not be your grocery store's front-and-centre display, specialised pet stores often carry a selection of wholesome options.

Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food?
Related: How Is Australia’s Dog Food Industry Regulated?
Related: What is AAFCO? The Association of American Feed Control Officials
Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia

Choosing Healthy Treats

In my opinion, the best treats are those that have actual nutritional value for your dog. They are not just a guilty pleasure and actually add a bit extra to your dog’s diet. These treats do exist, and they often come in the shape of simple chunks of meat, fish, or offal in dried or freeze-dried form. These are things you want to see in your dog's diet, and they naturally smell very attractive to dogs, so there is no need for extra flavourings and aromas. Is that not a win-win situation?

Related: Help! My Dog Won't Eat Their Food But Will Eat Treats.

In general, it’s best to look for treats that have short ingredient lists. And just like with dog food, we want the first ingredient to be protein and we want all ingredients on the list to be clearly identified.

There are some really awesome treats out there, but those do often come with a hefty price. If you are on a budget (and even if you are not), making your own dog treats can be a good idea.

And this doesn’t have to involve whipping up a complicated dog biscuit recipe from scratch. There are plenty of simple recipes you can find, but there are also many single-ingredient options you can try: little pieces of cooked meat or fish, cheese if your dog tolerates it, and even small pieces of fruits or veggies if that’s what gets your pooch excited.

Related: Understanding Guaranteed Analysis Levels in Dog Food

How Many Treats Should a Dog Have a Day?

A commonly cited rule is “the 10% rule”. That is, treats should not make up more than 10% of your dog’s diet. More precisely, no more than 10% of calories which your dog eats should come from treats (2).

Related: How To Make 3 Ingredient Dog Treats.

The main concern here is that your dog’s diet will be out of balance if you overdo it with treats (3).

If you’d like to be precise, you can go ahead and calculate the exact “calorie budget” for treats. You can do that by finding out the number of kcal your dog gets per day from their main diet (usually listed as metabolisable energy (ME) in kcal/100g) and then divide that by 10.

Related: The Best High-Value Treats for Puppy Training.

However, for most healthy dogs this is absolutely not necessary.  It is important to have a rough idea of how many treats you are feeding in a day and then make sure to reduce the amount of regular food to compensate (especially if your dog is prone to getting overweight).

Related: The Best Dog Treat Toys.

“If you’re not careful, treats can add a substantial amount of calories to your dog’s otherwise normal, healthy diet” - Tami Pierce, DVM, clinical veterinarian at the University of California, Davis (4)

However, all of this is mostly a concern when you are feeding junk food treats. If you choose a healthy option, you’ll have much less to worry about!

Related: The Best Dog Treat Ball.

My Final Thoughts

When it comes to dog treats, health-conscious decisions are essential. The line between good and bad treats isn't blurry—it's drawn by the quality of ingredients and your commitment to making informed choices.

By understanding nutritional considerations, reading labels, and choosing treats wisely, you can offer your dog rewards that are both delightful and healthy.

Related: The Best Dog Treat Pouch.


  1. Kerns, N. May 12, 2004. “Best Dog Treats”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  2. Linder, D.E. October 21, 2021. “Treat Options for Dogs and Cats Without Unbalancing Their Diet”. TUFTS Petfoodology. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  3. Baltazar, A. January 4, 2013. “ Healthy Ways to Treat Your Dog”. PetMD. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  4. Redfearn, S. May 26, 2014. “Healthy Treats for Your Dog”. Fetch by WebMD. Retrieved August 15, 2023.

Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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