Top tips for feeding treats — which to choose and which to avoid

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Cindy Feng
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Treats can be a great way to strengthen your bond with your dog. They’re handy for training and enrichment, and wellbeing — if fed correctly. The last thing you want is to spoil their healthy diet with unhealthy treats. So, which treats are good for your dog and which should you avoid?

We’ll dive into this topic to give you the full scoop, including how many treats your pup should get each day (hint: it’s not as many as your dog would like you to think!).

Why you should feed your pup treats

Whether a tasty tidbit is your canine love language, or you use them as part of their training, treats have specific purposes:

  1. Positive reinforcement: small, high-value treats can be a great way to reward your dog or puppy for good behaviour — especially when combined with positive reinforcement.

  2. Functional treats: some treats have a functional aspect to them, like long-lasting chews that keep our pups occupied with instinctive gnawing. The act of chewing or gnawing has a self-soothing effect on dogs that releases serotonin. It’s also a way for puppies to relieve the pain of teething, just like a baby might chew on a teething toy.

  3. Enrichment and engagement: puzzles like snuffle mats, interactive feeders and treat balls are a great way to engage your dog’s brain and keep them happy and entertained.

  4. Health benefits: some treats can be used as a nutritional topper for their food or as a separate snack to support targeted or preventative healthcare.

  5. Bonding: dog treats can be given in moderation to show love and strengthen the bond between you and your dog. After all, who can resist those eyes?

How many treats can I feed my dog?

Canine obesity is on the rise in Australia and overfeeding low-quality treats could be part of the problem.

Before you pay the cheese tax again, remember your dog should only be fed a maximum of 10% of their daily caloric intake in treats. A 1 cm cube of cheese contains about 30 calories!

If you’re training your dog and using a lot of treats, consider lower calorie bites like cooked turkey breast and adjust their meal portions to compensate.

How to choose the best treats

All dogs need healthy food for their daily nutritional requirements. Treats are optional extras, but they should still be made from high-quality ingredients, so they contribute to their nutrition rather than triggering health issues.

So, how do you know which treats are the best for your dog? Let’s explore the main options on the shelves:

Single protein treats

When buying treats, try to find ones that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Air-dried or freeze-dried single protein treats are minimally processed to retain most of their nutritional value. You can often find these types of treats as training nibbles, jerky strips, tracheas or tendons (paddywack).

They usually don’t require any additional binding agents, flavours or preservatives, but always double-check the ingredients.

Even better: try out single protein treats from high-quality proteins such as locally sourced grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and wild-caught fish!

Dog biscuits or cookies

Dog biscuits are a crunchy treat available in different flavours, usually shaped like bones.

They’re often marketed as a dental aid because of their hard texture. However, they’re often high in carbohydrates like wheat flour and sugar — ingredients that promote tooth decay.

Some biscuits are brightly coloured and coated with sweetened yoghurt icing and sprinkles. They might look pretty but they’re pretty unhealthy!

Grain-free alternatives swap grains for legumes, but these can promote digestive issues and more serious problems like dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

If your dog’s diet is predominantly carb-heavy dry food, additional carbohydrates and low-optimal ingredients in dog biscuits are not the healthiest combination.

Try this instead:

If you’re looking for a dental aid or a long-lasting chew, try Lyka’s Pig Twigs. They’re made from pizzle and are air-dried, single protein treats, so no need for added carbohydrates, preservatives, colours or legumes! Bully sticks are similar and come in different sizes, some are twisted into bigger chews. They can be a choking hazard so choose a stick that’s an appropriate size for your dog and always supervise them.

Training treats and meaty chews

One of the most popular types are bite-sized training treats or longer straps that look meaty and chewy. They’re sometimes shaped into balls, bones or cubes.

treats-quote

High GI carbohydrates like rice, potato starch, wheat or unspecified cerealsbind the ingredients together. You might spot cellulose fibre in the list, which is a polite term for ground tree bark, leaves or nut shells.

These treats are often cooked at high temperatures which reduces the nutritional value of these ingredients, which often have limited or no nutritional value to begin with.

The size and shape of these treats make them easy to use, but the ingredient quality and high calorie content of many of these types of chews make them a questionable choice.

Try this instead:

Diced, cooked chicken is a high-value reward that your dog would do anything for, including recall at the park! Our Chicky Chews can be broken into smaller bites — perfect for training.

Ears

Dehydrated ears are mostly skin and cartilage. They contain protein and chondroitin which is a building block of your dog’s own cartilage and connective tissue. You can usually buy three different types of ears: pig, lamb, or cow.

  • At approximately 100-200 calories a pop, pig ears are potentially fattening.

  • Lamb ears are smaller and contain between 30-90 calories each.

  • Cow ears are larger but lower in fat at around 30-40 calories each.

All ears can be difficult to chew and are a potential choking hazard, especially if you have a guzzle guts! They’re also not recommended for puppies, and dogs with pancreatitis or sensitive stomachs.

As they’re often purchased in single unwrapped units, it’s worth considering the risk of contamination by exposure to the air, curious dogs, or even human hands.

Try this instead:

Long-lasting chews like tracheas are full of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. Our Lamb Straws are whole tracheas that can be stuffed with Lyka food and munched at room temperature, or frozen for a longer engagement.

Horns, hooves and antlers

These rock-hard products come with a warning: they’re notorious for breaking teeth. Ironically, they’re often promoted as nature’s toothbrushes.

If your dog has dental issues, there are plenty of safer options to choose from.

They’re also known to break into large chunks that are a potential choking hazard or could cause an obstruction in their digestive tract.

Try this instead:

If you’re looking for an occupier, consider a durable chew toy. They often have textured surfaces that can help to clean teeth and satisfy your dog’s natural gnawing tendencies.

Rawhide

These chews are made from the inner layers of cow or horse hide and processed using chemicals, preservatives and sometimes glued together.

They can cause digestive problems including vomiting, diarrhoea, pancreatitis, or blockages in the digestive tract. They’re also a choking hazard because they’re not easily broken down by chewing.

We don’t recommend rawhide.

Try this instead:

If you want a chew with more chomp, try Lyka’s Lamb Bark. Made from 100% Australian lamb lung, they're easy to snap and perfect for training on-the-go.

Bones

Raw bones can be a great boredom buster for dogs, and they’re good for dental health! Your pups’ bones and joints will benefit, with bones being a rich source of calcium, glucosamine, chondroitin, vitamin C and bone marrow.

Weight-bearing bones are often very strong and can crack teeth. Non-weight-bearing bones are softer but still provide enough resistance for your pup to gnaw on without as much risk.

All bones come with a warning: never feed your dog cooked bones that can break into sharp splinters and be wary of smoked bones that can do the same.

Raw bones should be fresh from your local butcher to be assured of their human-grade quality. Always supervise your dog when they’re gnawing on a bone and be mindful of the increased risk of pathogen contamination of raw bones. Not all dogs can eat raw food and it can trigger sensitive stomachs.

The use of raw meaty bones should always be discussed with your veterinarian first.

Try this instead:

Sardines and other small whole fish are a great source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. Try Lyka’s air-dried Sardine Snaps — whole sardines that can be eaten as a large treat or broken into mini bites for rewards on the go. If you’re looking for something to support your pup’s dental health, our Lamb Straws are a great choice!

Carob or yoghurt drops

Raw carob is a nutritious source of fibre and antioxidants, and natural yoghurt is calcium rich.

Unfortunately, most carob and yoghurt drops are often chock-full of sugar, fats, flavours and colourings, and not all dogs can tolerate the lactose in dairy products.

These treats are of limited nutritional value and may contribute to diseases like diabetes or digestive issues like diarrhoea.

Try this instead:

If you want to give your pup a sweet treat, blueberries and raspberries are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins and dietary fibre. You can feed them fresh, or frozen for a nice icy bite in the warmer months. You’ll also find these berries in our Lamb and Kangaroo Bowls.

Dental chews

Dental chews are one of the most popular functional treats on the market. They’re hard with a textured surface designed to reduce plaque and tartar.

However, the main ingredients in many of these treats are carbohydrates: potato starch, wheat flour, cereals and glycerine (which has more calories than sugar). We know from human studies that carbohydrates are known to generate acid which can promote tooth decay.

They’re also relatively calorific. Even the little treats designed for the smallest breeds can be up to 60 calories each, which are likely to be above their 10% limit!

Try this instead:

Oral hygiene is important for all dogs. Instead of giving them a carb-rich treat, give your pup’s teeth a brush before bed, just like you do. Choose a dog-friendly paste and brush for nice gnashers!

Meat isn’t the only treat

We know that dogs are omni-carnivores, which means their diet should be predominantly based on animal proteins. But they can also benefit from phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables.

In addition to juicy berries for a burst of sweetness, you can give your pup sweet potato or pumpkin. These low-GI carbohydrates also have a natural sweetness and they’re packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

If your pup loves to chomp on something crunchy, vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots are a popular alternative to meat-based treats. They’re full of soluble and insoluble fibre, which is great for digestion — just don’t give them too much!

At Lyka, we use the ugly bunch fruit and vegetables in our recipes to nourish our pups with the freshest produce. They’re delicious, nutritious and reduce landfill!

Treats FAQs

Got more questions about treats? Check out our FAQs for more insight.

What are the healthiest dog treats?

Minimally processed, human-grade, single protein treats that offer nutritional benefits. High-quality proteins from local, responsible sources like grass-fed beef and lamb, free-range chicken, wild-caught fish and kangaroo and barn-raised turkey are even better!

When treats are as close to their natural state as possible and don’t contain any additives, there’s more peace of mind in knowing what’s in each mouthful. This is especially important if your dog has health issues or a sensitive stomach.

You can even select proteins that promote your dog’s health. For example, Lyka’s Mussel Munchies are a rich source of omega-3 and chondroitin which support joint and cartilage health — a great choice for stiff-jointed pups.

What ingredients should I look out for in treats?

The labels on the back of dog food and treat packaging can be like trying to translate a foreign language.

Here’s a quick rundown of ingredients to look out for:

  1. Meat meal — This is a by-product of the butchering process and is basically all the parts of the animal that are not fit for human consumption rendered and ground into a dry meal. It can include skin, hair, stomach contents, fatty tissue and organs. Unfortunately, it may also be made from 4D meat which is from dead, dying, diseased or down animals.

  2. ‘with chicken’ — Labels that state ‘with’ an animal protein must only include a 3% minimum content of the stated protein.

  3. Carbohydrates — High-GI carbohydrates like wheat, soy, corn, cereals (usually undisclosed), and starches can contribute to health issues like obesity.

  4. Sugar — Dogs don’t need to eat sugar, but it sneaks into treat ingredient lists more than you’d think! It can cause similar problems in their health as it does in ours: weight gain, diabetes, tooth decay and heart disease.

  5. Additives — Some treats are cooked at a high temperature which means the ingredients lose their natural nutritional value. Flavours, preservatives, vitamins and minerals are often added to replace those lost.

What’s the difference between air-dried and freeze-dried treats?

Both air-drying and freeze-drying are methods of preservation that also retain the majority of the food’s nutrients and taste. A far better way to process food than high temperatures and added preservatives!

Here are a few key differences.

Air-dried treats

Method: raw food is slowly dehydrated using low heat and airflow until most of the water content evaporates.

Key characteristics:

  • Removes enough water to inhibit bacterial growth

  • Smaller and condensed form

  • No refrigeration required

  • Can be broken into smaller training treats

Preparation at home:

  • Eat in its air-dried form

  • Can be rehydrated slowly with fresh water

  • Portion control required, easy to overfeed

Freeze-dried treats

Method: raw food is frozen then undergoes a vacuum process (sublimation) to remove water content.

Key characteristics:

  • Removes more water than air-dried food to further inhibit bacterial growth

  • Smaller and condensed form

  • No refrigeration required

  • Crumbly texture can be used as toppers and treats

Preparation at home:

  • Eat in its freeze-dried form

  • Can be rehydrated quickly or reconstituted with fresh water

  • Portion control required, easy to overfeed

Does it matter where the treats are made?

The simple answer to this is yes. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

For companies looking to cut costs, they’ll manufacture their products overseas using globally sourced ingredients that aren’t as nutrient dense as Australian produce.

When buying dog treats, choose a brand that is proud to call-out their high-quality ingredients and their top-notch manufacturing processes — transparency creates trust for pet parents.

Look for the following information on the packaging for more insight into the treat’s source:

  • Australian-sourced ingredients. Our soil quality, sunshine, clean water and regulated pesticide use means our fresh fruit and vegetables and meat are nutrient dense.

  • The Australian-owned green triangle means the company is Australian. It doesn’t mean the products are made in Australia.

  • The Australian-made green triangle means the products are made in Australia.

  • Made in ***. This will tell you where the product has been produced.

  • Human-grade ingredients which means they’re from sources that are fit for human consumption and have been tested for pathogens.

Lyka treats with the lick of approval

We believe dog treats should be delicious and nutritious, so we created our own range of air-dried, single protein treats, packed with health benefits.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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