Finding the best low-fat treats for your dog can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task. Fortunately, it is less complicated than it may appear at first sight. This guide will help you make the right choices.
The 3 Elements of Low-fat Treats Best for Your Dog
When selecting dog treats, there are three elements to consider:
Your dog’s needs
The purpose you need the treats for
The characteristics of the teats
The intersection of these three elements represents the ideal low-fat dog treats for your dog, and the purpose you need the treats for.
The 3 Elements of an Ideal Dog Treat
Let's look at these elements step-by-step.
Step #1: Your Dog’s Needs
The needs of your dog form the starting point for the selection of the right treats.
Does Your Dog Have any Health Issues?
First and foremost, the health of your dog is most important. In case your dog suffers from any health-related issues, it is important that you consult your veterinarian to ensure that your canine receives the right diet given their medical circumstances. This also includes treats and snacks, in addition to regular meals.
Consider your veterinarian’s recommendations when moving on to the next question.
Does Your Dog Have any Food Related Sensitivities or Allergies?
In case your dog is struggling with sensitivities and/or allergies towards specific ingredients, avoid these ingredients in dog treats as well. Even the tiniest amounts of a substance can be enough to trigger an adverse reaction in your dog’s body.
How big is Your Dog?
It is important that a treat is the right size for your dog. While a treat (other than a dog chew) cannot be too small, it may be too large for your furry friend. Especially if you own a (very) small dog, always ensure that you only select treats, which can easily be eaten by your dog.
Step #2: The Purpose you Need the Treats for
Are you looking for a healthy, low-fat in-between snack, or do you need the treat as a reward for your pup to learn a new trick?
If you just want to spoil your canine companion with a healthy low-fat snack, you can skip this step.
For dog training, there is one more thing to consider.
When selecting a dog training treat, it is important to make sure that the treat itself does not distract your dog from what you want to teach them.
Let me explain this using two examples:
In the case that you would like to get your dog comfortable with a new crate, you may want to give your pup a slice of dehydrated beef liver every time you ask your dog to get into the crate. Depending on the size of the treat and the size of your dog, your dog might happily chew on the treat between a few seconds, or maybe a minute or two. Your dog will learn, whenever mom or dad asks me to get into my crate, I’ll get a treat. Getting into the crate is great! It will not take long before the crate becomes a happy place for your dog.
Let’s assume you would like to teach your dog to sit on command and stay in this position until you give a release signal. A slice of beef liver, which works well for crate training, might not be the best choice. Why? The answer is simple. If the slice of liver is too big for your dog to swallow right away, he or she might stand up or lay down to get in a better position to chew on it. This defeats the purpose. The treat being too big, “forces” your dog out of a position you want them to get into and stay in. For this kind of training, you want to select a dog treat that is small, and can be swallowed in one gulp without any effort and distraction.
Step #3: The Characteristics of the Teats
After having considered the needs of your dog, and you are clear what you want to use the treats for, it’s time to have a look at the treats themselves.
The differences between premium treats and poor dog treats are found in the quality and the source of the ingredients. The challenge is that both treats may have identical values for protein and fat printed on the label. Consequently, both treats may appear equally good at first sight. But in reality, one treat might be made of highly nutritious and easily digestible ingredients, while the other treat may contain additives, fillers, preservatives and little to none digestible nutrients.
“The differences between premium and poor dog treats are found in the quality and source of the ingredients.”
To truly understand what is in a dog treat, you need to evaluate the information provided on different sections of the label.
Information Provided on a Dog Treat Label
List of ingredients
A so called “guaranteed analysis”
Basic information about the manufacturer or distributor¹
Some manufacturers might voluntarily provide additional information to help their customers better understand their products.
The ingredients in dog food and treats are listed in descending order by weight, starting with the ingredient which makes up the largest amount.
Look to select treats with real, recognizable, whole-food ingredients such as beef muscle meat, chicken breast, etc. Treats, like dog food, should not contain any additives, fillers or preservatives, nor should they contain salt, sugar or other spices. These substances are not contributing to the health of your dog, and worse, can negatively affect their wellbeing. If the listed ingredients are unfamiliar to you, or even worse, read like an excerpt from a science book, find another treat.
Because dogs cannot digest all carbohydrates equally well, poultry, meat or fish are preferable over plant-based ingredients.
Another indicator for quality is the number of ingredients. Typically, better treats have less ingredients. The best dog treats are made of just one single ingredient: premium quality poultry, meat or fish.
As you can see on the above label for dehydrated beef liver, the guaranteed analysis states information as either minimum or maximum percentages. This means that the actual content of protein and fat may be slightly higher, while the content of moisture and fiber may be slightly lower than printed on the label.
Nevertheless, the guaranteed analysis will provide you with a good orientation if a treat is low in fat.
The calorie count will not tell you if a treat is healthy for your dog or not. Nor will it provide you with any information on how much fat a treat contains.
The value of this statement is that it gives you a good orientation of how many treats you can give to your dog without adding too many calories to their diet.
The feeding instructions for dog treats are typically limited to statements like “feed as a treat” or “for supplemental or intermittent feeding only”. These statements will not provide you with any information about the quality of the dog treat itself.
Company Information and Other Voluntary Information
The product label will also tell you if a company actually makes the dog treats themselves, or if the treats are made by a third party for them. If the information on the label reads “manufactured for”, the treats are not manufactured by the company selling the product. This is not per se a sign of poor quality, but in case the company is otherwise talking about that they make the treats themselves, caution might be advised.
In case a treat is made in the USA, you would typically find “made in the USA” printed on the label. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the ingredients used are also coming from the United States. Should a treat be made from US sourced ingredients and manufactured in the United States, you would typically find “sourced and made in the USA” printed on the label. In case you can’t find the information on the label, reach out to the manufacturer and ask for further information.
It’s important to avoid dog treats made in China or low-cost countries with questionable quality standards. Between August 2007, and December 2015, more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats and three people became severely ill in what is now known as the “melamine scandal”. More than 1,140 of those dogs died. Even though the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never been able to fully identify the exact root-cause of the illnesses, it was highly associated with the consumption of pet jerky treats imported from China.²
“Avoid dog treats made in China.”
In addition to the country of origin, quality manufacturers often provide additional information about the treats they make. Examples may include “free of additives, fillers and preservatives”, “antibiotic-free”, “made in small batches” (as opposed to mass produced), and the like.
Characteristics of Premium Low-fat Dog Treats
In summary, you can identify premium low-fat dog treats by looking for the following characteristics:
Made of few (ideally just one), whole-food ingredients like e.g. chicken breast
Be high in protein and low in fat
Made of ingredients sourced in the USA
Made in the USA
Are supported by additional quality statements like “antibiotic-free”, “made from pasture-raised beef”, etc.
If you consider these three dimensions (your dog’s needs; the purpose you need the treats for; and the characteristics of the treats themselves), you will be able to select a healthy, low-fat treat that is perfect for your dog’s size and the purpose you need it for.
Recommended Premium, Low-fat Dog Treats
These treats are our top recommendations for premium quality low-fat dog treats.
Common to all treats is that they are:
Made of premium, USDA certified meat, poultry or wild-caught fish
Made of just one single ingredient (beef, poultry or fish)
All-natural and entirely free of additives, colors and preservatives
Sourced and made in the USA
Low-fat Jerky Treats for Dogs
Jerky dog treats are a great choice if you are looking for lean, high-protein snacks made from pure muscle meat. When you open a pack of these jerky treats, you will immediately notice the delicious smell of real, freshly made, premium jerky. Your dog will surely notice it as well, and remind you that these treats are for him (and not for you).
High in protein and only 3% fat
Free of any antibiotics, hormones, steroids, additives or preservatives
Organ meats are densely packed with vital nutrients. Besides high-quality protein, entrails are rich sources of multiple vitamins and directly bioavailable minerals like iron, phosphorous and selenium.
Dehydrated Beef Heart
A protein-rich, lean treat, containing only 5% fat
Rich in important minerals like iron, phosphorus, selenium and zinc
Suitable for dog of all sizes and life stages
Free of any additives, colors, fillers or preservatives
Selecting a truly healthy low-fat dog treat, which is just perfect for your canine, is not complicated. It just takes three elements to consider: (1) your dog’s needs; (2) the purpose you need the treats for; and (3) the characteristics of the treats themselves. If you include these criteria into your selection process, you’ll find it easy to pick the ideal low-fat treats for your canine companion.
Do you find this guide helpful for selecting the right low-fat treats for your dog? We’d love to hear from you! Please comment below.
¹ Association of American Feed Control Officials Inc.: AAFCO Pet Food and Speciality Pet Food Labeling Guide. Revised May 2016.