The Best Cat Treats
The best cat treats are heavy on protein and skip unnecessary fillers like corn, wheat, sugar, or extra sodium. After talking to vets, scrutinizing the ingredient labels of 254 products, and trying out our finalists on our own cats, we landed on our top picks: tasty, healthy treats that you can feel good about adding to your pet’s diet.
Soft, bite-sized treats that contain nothing but a mix of freeze-dried liver and vension, from a company with a reputation for transparent manufacturing practices.
Vital Essentials Vital Cat Treats
These dried minnows made some testers squeamish, but they’re a good low-odor option for cats who love fish.
Lightweight flakes of dried bonito (a type of fish) that make a great kibble topper to encourage picky eaters.
The Honest Kitchen Bone Broth
This powdered broth needs to be mixed with hot water before serving, but it’s another mix-in that can be used to coerce reluctant eaters.
The Best Cat Treats
Cat lovers know that cats enjoy treats just as much as dogs do, even if they’re not as likely to learn to “sit” or “shake” to the sound of the treat bag opening. Treats are a great way to bond with your cat, entice it into a carrier, or distract it during a grooming session.
Our top pick is Orijen Tundra Cat Treats, a healthy and “biologically appropriate” treat that consists of nothing but protein. The treats come in a variety of flavors so that you can find the right fit for your cat’s tastes, and every formula boasts regionally sourced ingredients — from a company with an outspoken commitment to quality control. They’re small, soft, and easy for cats to eat without making a mess.
Our runner-up for best cat treat, Vital Essentials Minnows Freeze-Dried Cat Treats, have just one ingredient: minnows. These tiny fish — eyeballs, tails, and all — will be unappealing to the faint of stomach, but our cats loved them, and they have a less pungent scent than most of the fish treats we tested: We could barely smell them when we opened the bag.
Another fishy option, Cat-Man-Doo Dried Bonito Flake Cat Treats took us by surprise. This simple treat consists of nothing but dried fish flakes, each piece roughly the size of a corn flake. Bonito flakes are so lightweight that we found them tricky to portion out individually, but they’re great for sprinkling onto kibble for cats who are finicky eaters.
The Honest Kitchen Functional Liquid Treat Bone Broth is another mix-in that we liked. Like Cat-Man-Doo, this option can be added to wet or dry food to make it more enticing. Just be warned that it’s more labor-intensive to prepare: You’ll have to heat water, mix in the powdered broth, and then wait for it to cool to a drinkable temperature.
How We Found the Best Cat Treat
We started by compiling a list of major cat treat brands sold at pet supply retailers like Chewy.com, Petco, and PetSmart — brands like Blue Buffalo and Purina, which most cat owners recognize from a trip down the cat food aisle. This gave us a starting list of 254 products, from baked treats and freeze-dried minnows to individual tuna pouches. Note that we looked only at treats for cats in good health, avoiding products intended to treat issues like hairballs or diabetes.
First, we cut products with corn, soy, or wheat.
In the wild, cats eat meat — and that’s pretty much it. Their dietary fiber tends to come from whatever grains and grasses are already inside their prey’s stomach. Housecats might be more interested in attacking the curtains than killing their dinner, but their dietary needs remain the same as those of their wild cousins.
In line with this thinking, we prioritized treats heavy on whole proteins, avoiding formulas that relied on corn, wheat, or soy as fillers. Cats and carbs simply don’t mix well. Dr. Gary Richter, who owns Oakland’s Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care, explains, “Diets with high levels of carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes.”
We also cut products with added sweeteners.
Many commercial cat treats contain added sweeteners like corn syrup or sugar. We weren’t wild about these additions for two reasons: First, with diabetes and pet obesity a growing concern in the US, the addition of sugar to treats is considered harmful by experts. Second, evidence suggests that cats can’t even taste sweets — there’s truly no reason for sugar to show up at all in your treats’ ingredient list.
We nixed cat treats with artificial flavors, preservatives, or dyes.
Pet treats need preservatives in order to stay fresh on the shelf for months, but as we learned when we reviewed dog treats, many commonly used options come with health concerns for our pets:
- The artificial preservatives BHA and BHT are used in commercial cat foods and treats from brands like Purina, but there is evidence to suggest they’re carcinogenic to animals.
- Glycerin is another common preservative. But because this ingredient is often derived from petrolatum, the US Food & Drug Administration has raised concerns over methanol contamination. (Note that “vegetable glycerin” is a totally different, and safe, ingredient.)
- Many artificial dyes are used to make treats look more appealing to pet owners. But these ingredients are suspected carcinogens to humans — and your cat isn’t going to care about the color of its treats to begin with.
A treat or two with any of these ingredients isn’t going to be especially harmful. But given the choice, we opted for no dyes, and for natural preservatives like tocopherols (vitamin E) or ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which are widely regarded as harmless.
We cut treats that contained by-products or meat meal.
Meat byproducts and meat meal are the parts of a carcass (like bones or viscera) deemed unsuitable for humans to eat. Your cat might not object to them, but it’s hard to gauge the quality of these ingredients. One industry study suggests that the poor quality of the protein in many meat meals can negatively impact a cat’s health, and Dr. Richter emphasizes, “The unknown quality and digestibility of these products makes them highly undesirable for pets to consume.”
“Think of nutrients as construction materials,” he told us. “To build a high-quality building, you have to start with the best materials.”
And we skipped the added sodium.
Eliminating extra sodium took many popular brands off our list, even those generally regarded as healthy, like Blue Buffalo. But veterinarian Dr. Elisa Katz from Feline-Nutrition.org points out that cats on dry food diets are already prone to dehydration, which in turn can lead to issues like kidney stones and urinary crystals.
Dr. Richter explains: “Small amounts of added salt should not be a medical issue for a healthy cat. That said, what’s the point?”
Then we checked out our finalists for deal-breakers.
From our remaining list of treats, we gave priority to companies that offered multiple flavors. Cats, like people, can have food allergies and flavor preferences, so we focused on brands with at least three options to choose from.
Honestly, all of our finalists are great choices. They’re free of fillers and offer the whole protein sources that cats love. To land on our favorites, we went the extra mile, looking at the following qualities:
Smell: Cat treats are designed to appeal to animals who’d happily eat a dead bird, so we weren’t expecting to find them appealing. But we wanted to be able to open the bag without cringing. We weren’t wild about the pungently fishy smell of PureBites Oceanfish treats.
Size: We favored small treats. Not only is a bite-sized tidbit easier for a cat to eat — it’s also better for them, helping you avoid doling out unnecessarily large portions. Grandma Lucy’s Freeze-Dried Liver, for example, packs plenty of great nutrients but comes in chunks roughly the size of a quarter that seemed more appropriate for dogs (and, in fact, the treat is advertised as being “for dogs and cats”).
Packaging: In each case, we made sure each bag was easy to open and seal back up for freshness. Most treats didn’t have trouble here, although Fancy Feast Tuna Treats lost ground. Its individual plastic packages of pre-portioned tuna seem like a neat idea, but they take a lot of effort to open and then dole out.
Fancy Feast’s individual portion packs were a hassle to deal with, and twice as expensive as grocery store tuna.
Real-life testing: To make sure we were only recommending cat-approved products, we gave each treat to our four test cats: two healthy seniors and a pair of 2-year-old siblings. Our cats were generally eager to taste every treat given to them, although they had a slight preference for fish smells and flavors.
Our Picks for the Best Cat Treats
Freeze-dried treats offer nearly the same benefit as feeding your cat fresh bites of meat, with a lot more convenience and a longer shelf-life. They’re one of the least-processed treat types available, often containing nothing but meat — the one ingredient cats really care about. As Dr. Richter put it, “All they want is tasty protein!”
There was scant difference between most of the freeze-dried treats we tested — our cats found them all tasty — but Orijen stood out as our favorite. Its Tundra Cat Treats have a chewy texture that makes them less prone to crumbling in the bag than extremely dry options like Bravo Healthy Bites Salmon Treats or Only Natural’s Cage-Free Chicken Breast.
Orijen’s treats were less crumbly than many of the freeze-dried products we tested.
Orijen’s Tundra flavor also contains a mix of proteins that includes boar liver, venison liver, and goat liver, plus venison and arctic char. Organ meats like liver provide different types of nutrients than muscle meats (like venison or chicken breast). They’re a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, while organ meats have higher levels of some vitamins and iron. It’s nice to see the balanced blend in Orijen’s treats.
Orijen is known for its commitment to responsible sourcing: no mystery meats here. Its cat treats are manufactured in the company’s Kentucky DogStar kitchens, which are certified for safety every which way you can imagine: It meets the standards for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA, the Government of Canada, and the European Union (EU).
The treats themselves are lightweight little nuggets of dried meat, slightly smaller than the size of your fingernail. They have a mild odor and a lower “gross factor” than treats like VitalEssentials Minnows, which are simply tiny dried fish — eyeballs and all. Orijen treats also seemed quite easy for our test cats to chew, unlike the Bravo and the PureBites fish treats, which are firmer and tougher in texture.
The other soft freeze-dried treat we tested, Instinct Minis, contains more ingredients — like pumpkin seeds, veggies, and montmorillonite clay (an anti-caking agent). We preferred the simplicity of the Orijen formula. As Dr. Richter explains, “The best food and treats for cats are high quality with few ingredients.”
Runner-Up for Best Overall
As we noted above, our test cats gobbled up all of our finalists, but they were more vocal about fish-flavored options, meowing eagerly once these bags were opened. Among the fish flavors we tried, Vital Cat Treats rose to the top; they were less stinky than PureBites, and more affordable (and easier to hand out) than Fancy Feast’s pouches of Purely Tuna.
Our bag contained nothing but whole, dried minnows, each tiny fish about an inch long. There’s nothing else on the ingredient list. The minnows are easy to portion out individually, and they have a surprisingly mild odor: You have to put your nose right up to the bag to catch even the faintest whiff of fish.
We were impressed with these treats’ sourcing. Much like Orijen, Vital Essentials has an impressive commitment to quality. All of their pet foods and treats are sourced, manufactured, and packaged in the USA, and the company maintains strict quality control standards that include voluntary on-site USDA testing.
Best Kibble Topper
Bonito is a kind of tuna, and these fish flakes are simply dried portions of bonito skin. While the Cat-Man-Doo brand is not for human consumption, other types of bonito flakes are popularly used in Japanese cooking. This single-ingredient treat has everything a cat wants: protein, protein, and more protein. Like Vital Essentials, there are no other ingredients beyond the fish itself. The flakes are a little tricky to serve in single portions, as they’re so airy and thin. Pull out one, and you’re likely to come out with a handful. But they’re very simple to sprinkle on top of dry food: a godsend for picky cats, who are likely to flock to kibble when there are bonito flakes involved.
Be warned that this treat does smell heavily of fish; open this bag, and there’s no question what flavor it contains. But while it was stinky for the humans, it was a huge winner with our cats.
Runner-up for Best Kibble Topper
The Honest Kitchen Bone Broth is also worth a mention. It’s a dry, powdered beef broth that can be mixed with hot water for a liquid treat. If you feed your cat dry food and are concerned they aren’t getting enough moisture, it’s a tasty way to tackle the problem. The instructions suggest mixing the broth with wet and dry food alike, or serving alone. We tried adding it to wet food, and one of our test cats was excited enough to try to knock his bowl off the counter before we finished preparing it.
Because Honest Kitchen Bone Broth is a powder, it has a much longer shelf life than opening a can of liquid beef broth. That said, it’s a little more labor-intensive than our other top picks. It’ll take a minute or two for the powder to unclump and dissolve fully, and the instructions caution you to wait until the broth has cooled to a drinkable temperature before serving.
To fully dissolve the Honest Kitchen’s powdered broth, you’ll need to stir vigorously.
Did You Know?
Only 10% of your cat’s diet should consist of treats.
Over half the pets in the US are classified as overweight, and Dr. Richter warns that “treats should be a minority of a dog’s or cat’s daily food intake.” If you’re using treats frequently as part of training, it’s a good idea to reduce your cat’s meal portions accordingly.
Research also suggests many indoor cats don’t get enough physical exercise, with one study finding inactivity to be a predictor of diabetes. So if you’re inclined to overindulge your cat (it’s easy to do), try giving out treats at the end of a long play session.
For cats, milk and dairy aren’t great dietary options.
Despite what you may have seen in movies, it’s not actually a good idea to give cats a saucer of milk. Why? Most cats are lactose intolerant, which means that digesting milk can cause an upset stomach.
Cats can have allergic reactions to some protein sources.
Cats, like dogs, can sometimes be allergic even to foods they normally love, like chicken, fish or beef. In cats, food allergy symptoms typically take the form of skin issues: hair loss, lesions, and scratching. If a flea allergy has been ruled out, it may be a protein or carbohydrate that is bothering your cat. The only way to know for sure is to is to feed a limited-ingredient diet and gradually test additional ingredients to find out what’s causing the trouble.