Diet and nutrition has always been important to me with my pets. Unfortuantely, like many, I used to think that premium brands were healthier and that grain free meant healthy. Over time I learned that isn’t always the case, especially in dry pet food and with many treats. The problem is that dry pet foods, plenty of other commercial foods, and many pet treats, either contain sugar or contain high levels of starchy items such as potatoes and peas flour that convert to sugar. See this article from Dr. Karen Becker for more on why that is often the case. Sugar intake can then lead to a variety of health problems such as diabetes and inflammation. In my case, where I have a dog with cancer, it could be deadly, as sugar promotes cancer growth. So, when Ty was first diagnosed with lymphoma, I began looking for convenient diet options that were sugar free, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. It wasn’t easy. I settled on Primal Dehydrated Raw Turkey and Sardine. You can read more about Ty’s cancer diet here. Then I began reading treat labels, and boy was that ever an eye opener. Many, heck even most, treats not only contain starchy ingredients, they often contain pure sugar outright. When I attended the Blogpaws conference last year, nearly every single treat item I was given had sugar in it. I came home with bags full of items from the exhibit hall and found only two packaged treat products that I could actually give to Ty. Just Two! I won’t feed items with sugar to Eve either. So needless to say, I unwittingly brought home a lot of useless items.
Here is a look at a few that I grabbed at random. My point with this is not to call out any specific brand so much as it is to show how marketing often does not jive with reality.
This package advertises that is 85% beef and 15% “good stuff.”
That “good stuff?” It includes brown sugar, which is also the second ingredient in the list. Note the references to “healthy” above the ingredient list. I don’t consider any treat containing brown sugar to be healthy.
This is another item from the same brand. I was a bit perplexed by “nutritious superfood carbs.” Really higher protein is better.
The marketing on the back states that the treats are crafted to be “amazingly healthy.” But in this case, the treats include maple syrup, which is a sugar. It also has grains and starchy items that convert to sugar. The choices of “superfoods,” which I am assuming are the fruits and vegetables, also happen to include sweet potatoes and carrots. Those are starchier choices that convert more readily to sugar. But it was the maple syrup that really bothered me.
This brand advertises on their treats that “Every Ingredient Counts.”
Sugar is the third ingredient on the list. I am not thrilled with the soy and potatoes either.
Here are treats advertised as “healthy.”
A look at the back of the package reveals sugar in the ingredients. I am suspicious of the rice protein as well. To be fair, this brand did give me another product though that was sugar-free and was one of the two products that I could give to Ty.
I could have provided many more examples since I came home with bags of full of items with similar ingredient profiles. It is also easy to see this for yourself. Just take a field trip to your local pet store and start reading packages. Challenge yourself to find something without sugar (or maple syrup or honey). Then, when you do find something, make the challenge harder by trying to find something without sugar that is also free of grains, potatoes, and starchy vegetables. It won’t be easy.
The Good Guys
So, who were the two that gave me items that Ty could eat? (Disclosure, these recommendations include affiliate links).
The first was Red Barn Pet Products Bully Nuggets. Below are the ingredients.
The second was Rocco and Roxie Liver Treats. The only ingredient listed in that product was beef liver.
Finally, I was also given a Beef Trachea from Jones Natural Pet Chews. I didn’t count that as a “treat” for purposes of this article since since I was focusing on packaged treats over things like chews and rawhides. But that was a third item that I could give to Ty. I also was provided with various samples of dehydrated raw pet food, some of which could be used as treats.
Some Other Options
Here are a few additional sugar-free dog treat options. I often give my dogs pieces of grain-free and sugar-free freeze dried raw food as treats. Freeze dried meal toppers have become popular and they are a good training treat size. Some brands include starchy vegetables in the ingredients, but most do not add sugar, and often the starchy items are further down the list of ingredients. Stella and Chewy Meal Mixers is a good example.
If you have a dehydrator, dehydrated green beans and other dehydrated vegetables are good treats. Learn how to dehydrate your own treats here.
Finally, I give Ty and Eve bits of raw vegetables when I am cooking. They especially love raw kale, which is a good antioxidant, and I often give them a cherry tomato on their breakfast. One caution: green tomatoes can make a dog sick, so please only give ripe ones. One study found that the consumption of leafy green and yellow-orange vegetables lessened the occurrence of bladder cancer in dogs. So, I am glad that my dogs like kale!
Go take a look at your pet treats. The ingredients might surprise you.