I’ve been trying to make healthy choices for my dogs as much as possible, and while I can’t afford to feed a raw diet, I can pay more attention to the treats I’m giving them. Now, store-bought treats aren’t always unhealthy, and they aren’t harmful either. But a lot of them tend to be akin to junk food for your dog, especially those with cheaper price tags. Recently, I have seen stores like Target introduce a ton of new brands to their pet section, and some of them have pretty promising recipes for their dog treats. However, you tend to pay $6 to $15 for about 5 to 7 oz of these treats. In my house, that’s gone in a week. So it can still be pretty expensive to purchase these types of treats. That’s why today I’m going to share with you some affordable options for healthy treats, many of which you likely already have at home. I’ll also let you know which brands of treats I buy at the store.
Here’s a look at the article in an eggshell for those of you who don’t have the patience for my babbling.
There is no better treat than meat. Dogs LOVE the stuff; it’s in their nature. You can use any meat you have, just boil it without any seasoning (or feed it raw if you prefer). If it’s a fatty meat, you may want to remove the fat before feeding it to your dogs. This is important for older dogs, overweight dogs, and dogs that don’t get much exercise. Lean meats include turkey, chicken, and venison, to name a few.
Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, meat is expensive! How is this an affordable treat?” The price of meat will depend on what kind of meat you’re getting, whether it’s boneless and skinless or not, and those types of factors. But in general, when you look at the weight and price of meat versus the weight and price of store-bought treats, you’ll see that the meat is often a better value, especially when you’re comparing it to some of the more expensive treats that use better ingredients. Plus, meat is healthier and much more enticing to your dog. You can stock up on it when it’s cheap and freeze it for future use.
I like to get chicken thighs for my dogs and simmer them for hours until they create a broth. I discard the skin and take the meat off the bone — it practically falls off after having simmered for so long. I store the broth in the fridge and skim off the fat that floats to the top after it has cooled. Then, I drizzle it over my dogs’ dinners.
Eggs are such a great option for dogs because they are high in protein. In fact, eggs are one of the few non-meat products that contain all the essential amino acids that your dog needs. To clarify what the hell that means: your dog’s body can only synthesize a certain number of amino acids, the rest need to be taken from the food she’s eating. Of course, all of the amino acids your dog needs should be in her kibble, but that doesn’t mean she won’t benefit from a little egg.
To turn eggs into treats, you can scramble, boil, or cook them like an omelette, and then cut them into appropriately sized pieces.
There are actually a number of fruits your dogs can have. Check what you have in your fridge and do a quick Google search to ensure what you’re giving is safe. Also, remember that fruit should not be a large part of your dog’s diet, no more than five percent according to Dr. Karen Becker. Some safe fruits include apples, blueberries, pumpkin, squash, bananas, blackberries, raspberries, and pineapples.
Many fruits can be fed frozen, which is helpful if you want to avoid getting juice all over. Furthermore, outside of the fall season, it’s easier to find fruits like pumpkin as a canned puree. To turn this into treats, find an ice cube tray that makes small cubes and freeze the pumpkin puree in the tray. Always make sure to check the ingredients on the can to make sure you are buying pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie mix.
If your fruit isn’t organic, be sure to wash it before serving in order to remove pesticides.
There are also a number of vegetables that are safe for dogs to eat. However, you will again want to do some quick research on Google about the vegetables you have in your fridge. Some of them should be cooked before being fed to your dog, whereas it’s okay to serve others raw.
My favorite vegetable to use as treats is carrots. They’re easy to cut up into bite-size pieces, and many dogs love them.
Dogs love cheese almost as much as I do, and it does provide some benefits like protein, calcium, and vitamin A. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: some dogs are lactose intolerant, and cheese is high in fat. If your dog is obese or prone to weight gain, you might pick a low-fat cheese like mozzarella or pass on this treat option altogether.
Cheese makes a great treat because dogs go wild for it, it’s easy to cut into bite size pieces, and it’s relatively affordable. Many of us already have cheese in the house, too, making it a convenient option.
Here we have a couple items that don’t necessarily fit into both categories of affordable and healthy.
Dried fish are another one of those things dogs will get excited about. However, in my experience they aren’t that cheap. Usually, you cannot just buy dried fish at the nearby Asian grocery store because they only sell dried fish covered in salt. I have only found unsalted dried fish at specialty pet stores, where they cost about $3 per ounce. Even though dried fish are pretty lightweight, an ounce still wont last very long, not with my three dogs, anyway. It’s a good option for a healthy, enticing treat, but it’s not a very cheap option.
Cheerios don’t hold any nutritional value for dogs, but they are great in a pinch and definitely affordable. The small size makes them a good option when working on training, and I have to wonder if there’s even one full calorie in a single Cheerio. Some dogs are excited to eat literally anything, but picky dogs may not find Cheerios motivating enough. I mix Cheerios into my treat pouch, but I don’t use them very often because my dog doesn’t care much about them. You can make Cheerios more enticing by storing them in the same bag as other dog treats, especially treats like jerky or dried fish — basically, anything stinky that isn’t wet.
The reason kibble only makes it into the honorable mention spot is because your dog is already eating it every day, which makes it kind of boring for them as a treat. Some dogs will totally still go for it, but the best treats (for training, anyway) are the ones that your dog will do literally anything for.
Mix It Up
If you’re working on training your dog and using treats as a motivation, make things more interesting by throwing a few different kinds of treats in your pouch. If there are some treats on this list that you know your dog loves but perhaps can’t have too much of (like cheese), then mix a small amount of those treats in with other treats. YouTube-famous trainer Zak George always recommends using a variety of treats to keep your dog interested and motivated.
Treats I Buy At The Store
Although there are a lot of great options that you can find in your pantry or fridge, most of them are a bit…moist. I don’t really enjoy getting my hands covered in food slime if I don’t have a sink nearby. So, when I’m taking my dog for a walk or to the park, I prefer to have dry treats. This is where store-bought treats come in handy. Can you bake healthy treats at home? Yes, and I’ve tried it and had success. However, I just hate doing it. If you enjoy baking, you might like to make your own treats, but if you’re like me…well, let’s talk about the treats I like from the store.
One of the brands I’ve purchased pretty frequently is Charlee Bear. I specifically prefer their line of treats that is only three calories. I love that I can actually understand every single ingredient on the label.
Because of their low calorie content, these treats are perfect for training, and I really like them for my senior dogs. With older dogs, it’s important to keep weight off, especially if they suffer from arthritis. While you should definitely calculate treats into your dog’s daily calorie intake, it’s also nice to serve low calorie treats so you won’t have to worry too much about going over the limit.
The Charlee Bear treats I like are $5.99 for a 16 oz bag at Petco. I would say the price of these is fair; they aren’t expensive, but they aren’t super cheap either.
I just discovered this brand at the store recently, and I’m pretty excited about it. The treats I purchased are heart-shaped, thin biscuits and are only $2.99 for 10 oz at Target. I would expect the junk food treats to be this cheap, but the ingredients used by Newman’s Own are pretty promising. Here is the ingredient list of the turkey and sweet potato flavor:
Organic Barley Flour, Turkey, Cane Molasses, Organic Sweet Potatoes, Organic Carrots, Organic Apples, Chicken Fat (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols And Lecithin), Rolled Oats, Rosemary Extract.
Again, a treat that has ingredients we can all understand. Furthermore, these treats do not have any artificial flavoring, colors, or other additives. Each heart-shaped treat has a line running down the middle, which makes them easy to break in half. After trying and failing to break Milk Bones up into small pieces, I was relieved by how easy it was to break these into bite-sized training treats. The Newman’s Own treats may be a bit more expensive than Milk Bones, but what you’re getting is of higher quality because it has better ingredients.
And one last thing about these treats: all profits go to charity! The bags of treats I purchased recently each list a different charity: Wild Earth Allies and the Search Dog Foundation. You can find a full list of the charities supported by Newman’s Own on their website.
What’s In Your Pantry?
During this quarantine, I’ve been training my dog more often. I taught him how to weave through my legs and we’re also working on leash manners. I was going through treats much more quickly, so I had to get creative. I realized there were a lot of things already in the fridge, freezer, or pantry that I could give my dogs. If you’re looking to save some money on dog treats, try having a peek in your pantry and see if there’s anything you can use. Remember to always research the food item first. You may have to go through a bit of trial and error to see which vegetables and fruits your dogs like. Luca loves apples, but the texture of watermelon throws him off. Roxy will eat literally anything, and Lily is picky like Luca. At the end of the day, what is important is how your dog responds to the treat. If they don’t seem enthusiastic about it, then you’ll probably want to use something else.
Do you have any favorite pantry items that you like to use as dog treats? Leave a comment!