Dog treats and a Study about the ingredients and nutrient composition. And why what’s in them is as important as the packaging.
In 2017 there was an exciting (as far as dog nutrition goes) paper produces on a “Study of ingredients and nutrient composition of commercially available treats for dogs”
We will look at the abstract of this paper and its implications for dog treats in Australia in 2024.
Namely we will look at:
1 What treats the scientists decided to review (and why)
2 What the supposed most popular treats were composed of (and their value to your dog)
3 How single ingredient meat treats differ so radically from most of the treats tested, and their true benefit to dogs.
Firstly, this test was performed on a small sample of 41 dogs with the authors “aim of providing more insight into supplemental pet food composition” ref 1
These treats are said to be selected from “the market” suggesting that the authors took a scatter gun approach to selection, but most likely did so on the number of brands available in each category.
Noting that like dog food, there are far more low quality packs just meeting the minimum nutrition requirements (on paper, not actually bio available) – than there are quality high meat based dog foods.
The authors selected “Thirty-two products (four biscuits, nine tender treats, two meat-based strips, five rawhides, eight chewable sticks, four dental care sticks).”
They were “analysed for proximate nutrient composition and quantification of minerals, hydroxyproline (Hyp), starch, glucose, fructose and sucrose.” ref 1
The first thing we noticed is that out of the 32 products only NINE had a chance of being high meat content, the “nine tender treats”. Though as you might have guessed, a “tender” is often far removed from a single ingredient meat treat. For instance most chicken breast and duck treats in Australia have a small percentage of soy to make the product less likely to fall apart, and colouring – as most owners wouldn’t trust chicken that looked white – they require it a certain orange colour.
A – “meat-based strips” probably means that these had meat as the FIRST ingredient on the packaging. But the very popular deceptive technique of ingredient splitting can mean that the first ingredient only comprises 20% of the total product or less.
B – “five rawhides” can mean anything from pure leather, to skins glued together with questionable substances. This is the reason that the straight raw hide product has such a bad reputation in Australia.
C – “eight chewable sticks, four dental care sticks”
We have put these two categories together, as they are often essentially the same nutritionally. Geometrically they might have more imaginative shapes (like tooth brushes) that often do very little genuine cleaning for dogs teeth. The companies that make dental sticks (a product typically best selling in Australia due to very high advertising rates) are usually made by the companies that make kibble that disintegrates for fast eating, depositing grains of carbs on your dogs teeth leading to cavities, and the need to have their teeth cleaned more regularly.
THIS unnatural product typically has very little positive nutritional value, just empty calories. Hence why we have created a DENTAL category on our site, where you can buy actual single ingredient dog treats with NO carbs, that do a much better, and much more natural job at cleaning dog teeth !
Why single ingredient treats matter?
Because the bare minimum protein level of 19% for general dogs (from any source including low bio available plant matter) means that most dogs require more MEAT protein to be healthy and happy.
If you are providing functional treats for heath (clean teeth or a proper protein boost) single ingredient meat based treats are the only answer. We have provided many reasons in previous posts, but the next paragraph by them should give a clue.
“Labelled ingredients were often expressed as non-specific categories. A treat supplied a mean of 332.0±39.2 kcal metabolisable energy (ME)/100 g, and the most energy-dense product was a tender treat (475.0 kcal ME/100 g).” REF 1
The authors are saying that labelling is often so vague that it becomes irrelevant – besides seeing a picture on the front of the pack, that is often misleading, you often don’t even know if you are getting any quality meat in any meaningful amounts for your money.
If you are getting mainly vegetable gum or other cheap plant matter (such as in ‘veggie teeth cleaners’) then that energy value – the “metabolisable energy” used should be removed by an equal amount of kibble. But because you will want to keep a dogs energy intake constant to avoid obesity, it means your dog can be getting even less overall protein than the bare minimum aafco suggests.
Some grains can be low in protein and middle level carbs resulting in the mean energy level of 332 kcal above. Basically, a rubbish treat.
The tenders are classed as energy dense at 475.0 kcal ME/100 g. Dried beef has a maximum energy level of near 550 kcal ME/100 g – so these tenders they bought seem acceptable. But you will find that 100g retail packs of beef jerky are often much more expensive than our 500g or 1 Kg packs.’
Many grains are low in protein (much less than the 19% protein required for dog food aafco rules, but can have high levels of carbs (sugars).
Protein and carbs have approximately the same amount of energy in them, so if you add more carbs via a dental chew or meat like treat, you are sacrificing the protein that you can give them. If a dog is protein deficient, it will use the meat protein first, and left over amounts can be used as energy like sugars. BUT carbs (sugars can only be used for energy purposes, they can not add essential amino acids (from protein) that your dog can really use !
A Cautionary tale about carbs:
“Simple sugars were identified in most treats, and sucrose was the most prevalent. Results of the study suggest treat labelling should include more information on the ingredients used, and the varying nutrient and caloric density of treats should be considered.” REF 1
If you are buying 100% single ingredient meat treats you are getting NO carbs, no filler, now waster value.
Some owners believe their dogs NEED sugar. But this is a nice succinct summary from Google AI:
“While dogs can technically digest and metabolize sucrose, it offers no essential nutrients and can even be detrimental to their health in large amounts. Here’s why:
“Reasons why sucrose is not necessary for dog nutrition:
- Dogs are primarily carnivores: Their digestive system is adapted to efficiently process animal protein and fats, not carbohydrates like sugar. While they can utilize some carbohydrates for energy, their needs are much lower than humans or other omnivores.
- No essential nutrients: Sucrose does not provide any essential vitamins, minerals, or amino acids that dogs can’t get from other sources in their diet.
- Potential health risks: Excessive sugar intake can contribute to various health problems in dogs, including:
- Weight gain and obesity: Sugar is a concentrated source of calories, and overfeeding can lead to weight gain and associated health issues like diabetes and joint problems.
- Digestive upset: Too much sugar can cause abdominal discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Dental problems: Sugar promotes the growth of bacteria in the mouth, which can lead to plaque, tartar, and cavities.
- Metabolic issues: In some cases, excess sugar intake may contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes.”
The vast majority of treat sales for dogs are based on advertising and packaging, NOT what’s inside the pack. Much of these treats, even the ones that claim to be functional have low meat protein levels, and high carbs that your dog doesn’t need.
The best way to look at this phenomenon is to liken it to when you go shopping for yourself when you are hungry. You know that (if you are a meat eater), that steak is both the tastiest and highest nutrition item for your cart. I am talking about pure 100% meats, NOT the smoked and composite meats. But in the moment of hunger, you might just decide to buy a lot from the confectionary isle or fast food isle instead.
You will find plenty of health professionals telling you that just because it tastes good (because of the high fat and spices factor), it doesn’t mean that its good for you. Such as steak V highly processed meats.
As a human they might also say to restrict meat to 3 to 5 times per week for main meals, but you are a true omnivore. DOGS NEED meat for every meal.
Here is the analogy to dog treats. It is not ideal to go shopping, just after you have seen a bunch of animated or fancy TV ads, or glossy full page spreads in your favourite magazine, for the fake composite treats with very low nutritional value. Emotion will overide logic, and whats best for your dog.
You have to use logic on this one for yourself and your dog. Ask if you would or should pay anywhere near the same price for a hamburger instead of quality steak (100% meat) for yourself. Because many times that is what you are doing when you buy veggie treats. If you had a choice, and the tricks that the smallgoods makers put into their meat didn’t fool your taste-buds into eat NON natural food, would you want to do the same for your dog?
Consider that if you feed them a commercial diet of kibble, wet food or rolls, that they are likely to get only 30% meat, and not necessarily the good stuff. They already get all the carbs they don’t need. That if you buy anything other than 100% meat products, you are just loading more sugars into their essentially carnivore bodies, instead of the essential amino acids, from meat that they need.
Your dogs most eat what you buy and feed them. Your choices directly input to their health. Protein plays a massive role in growth, maintenance and general well being of your dog – and meat is the main bio-available option. If you would like a technical reminder, we have already compared all of the major meats and grains and vegetables here. The ultimate dog protein guide
Study of ingredients and nutrient composition of commercially available treats for dogs. Morelli G 1, Fusi E 2, Tenti S 1, et al,. The Veterinary Record, 20 Dec 2017, 182(12):351