The Best Dog Treats
The best dog treats should pack plenty of protein. They should also be free of unnecessary additives like artificial flavors or extra salt and sugar. To find the best, we consulted vets and dog trainers, scrutinized ingredient labels, and tried out our favorites on our own pets. Because dogs have individual tastes, just like humans, our top picks offer a variety of textures and flavors to appeal to even the pickiest pooch.
Freeze-dried treats were favored by our experts because they’re the most minimally processed option. Stella and Chewy offers nothing but a healthy mix of whole proteins in bite-sized portions that our dogs loved.
Zuke’s Mini Naturals
A soft treat that’s more heavily processed, but low calorie and great for senior pets.
ZiwiPeak Venison Good Dog Treats
An option for dogs who prefer tough, chewy treats — free of the added sodium found in most jerkies.
Canidae Grain-Free PURE Heaven Dog Biscuits
A crunchy treat that avoids the low-nutrient fillers frequently found in biscuits.
The Best Dog Treats
- Stella & Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch Beef Recipe -
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Fresh Peanut Butter Formula Dog Treats -
- ZiwiPeak Venison Good Dog Treats -
- Canidae Grain-Free PURE Heaven Dog Biscuits with Salmon & Sweet Potato -
Whether they’re given during training or simply because yours is the best dog ever, treats are part of living the dog-parent life. Unfortunately, many treats are packed with junk that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues for your pet. Nationally recognized veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter, who owns Oakland’s Montclair Veterinary Hospital and Holistic Veterinary Care, explains, “There is no need to buy high-carbohydrate, processed pet treats of any kind.” Our top picks all contain whole proteins and are minimally processed to offer treats that are tasty and nutritious.
Freeze-dried? Baked? Moist? Which is best? Freeze-dried treats won our top spot because they tend to have the shortest ingredient list and the fewest amount of fillers. But dogs, like people, can have individual taste preferences. So we’re offering top picks across four major treat types: freeze-dried, moist, baked, and jerky.
Our favorite option is freeze-dried meat treats, which tend to have fewer fillers or additives than other treat types. We particularly loved Stella and Chewy’s Raw Carnivore Crunch Beef Recipe. These bite-sized pellets have a texture that’s easier to chew than most of our freeze-dried finalists, with a healthy blend of meat and organs that our dogs were crazy for. “Dehydrated or freeze-dried meat makes for very, very tasty treats,” Dr. Richter confirmed — $10 per 3.25-ounce bag.
For a soft treat that doesn’t require much chewing (good both for senior pets and for keeping your kitchen floor clean), the semi-moist Zuke’s Mini Naturals were our favorites. They pack only a few calories per treat, and their uniform size and shape make them easy to remove from the bag during training sessions. A 6-ounce bag is about $5.
If your pet prefers the chewier texture of jerky, our top pick is ZiwiPeak Venison Good Dog Treats. They lack the added sodium found in most jerkies, and the meat is sustainably sourced from New Zealand, avoiding the contamination concerns that have plagued many low-quality jerky treats — $10 for 3 ounces.
Some dogs love a solid crunch, in which case our pick is Canidae’s Grain-Free Salmon and Sweet Potato Biscuits. Canidae’s formula starts with real salmon, and avoids unhealthy fillers like wheat and corn, which are found in many biscuits. The Canidae biscuits are also easy to snap in half for a smaller serving. An 11-ounce bag is about $5.
How We Found the Best Dog Treat
We started with over 300 dog treats — major brands sold through pet stores or popular online retailers, from PetCo and Chewy.com to Amazon.
We focused on “treats” only, excluding anything meant for long-lasting gnawing, like rawhides and bully sticks. We also left out bones, a treat that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently advises against due to a link with pet deaths. And finally, we purposefully skipped several brands, including Evanger’s (involved in recent recalls), and any company that manufactures their products in China — a practice that has raised quality control concerns with the FDA.
First, we cut products with artificial preservatives and dyes.
Preservatives are necessary for making treats shelf-stable, but several commonly used options raise long-term health concerns:
- The artificial preservatives BHA and BHT are used in commercial dog foods and treats from brands like Milkbone and Purina, but there is evidence to suggest they’re carcinogenic to animals.
- Glycerin is also used as a preservative, but this ingredient is often derived from petrolatum, and the FDA has raised concerns over methanol contamination. (Note that “vegetable glycerin” is a different and totally safe ingredient.)
- Many artificial dyes are suspected carcinogens as well — and are used for nothing but a cosmetic effect that your dog won’t care about.
A single treat with any of these ingredients isn’t going to do much damage. 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 meal or byproducts are the parts of a carcass (like viscera, bones, and beaks) deemed unsuitable for human consumption. While these parts are certainly palatable to dogs, it’s very difficult to assess the quality of meat meal, with advocacy groups raising concerns over issues like diseased animal tissue, or protein that’s been processed at such high temperatures that it’s lost all nutritional value. Slate provides a fascinating (though not for the faint-of-stomach) rundown of what this catch-all entails — but suffice to say that its presence on an ingredient list often indicates a low-quality product.
And we cut products that used corn, wheat, or soy as fillers.
Dog treats don’t need to be as nutritionally balanced as dog food, as they make up a smaller percentage of your pet’s diet. But it’s still best if they don’t rely on starchy carbs with minimal nutritional value. Dr. Richter explains, “Grains are not, by definition, bad. The trouble is that grains are often used as fillers — a way to supply dietary energy in place of whole vegetables or meats.”
We cut products that contained corn, wheat and soy. But note that for baked treats like biscuits, some kind of grain or starch is necessary to help bind the treat together (otherwise, they’d simply crumble into bits). So for biscuit-loving dogs, we prioritized brands that use nutrient-dense carbs like sweet potato.
Lastly, we cut products with added sweeteners.
Many commercial dog treats also contain added sweeteners like corn syrup or sugar. But with pet obesity and diabetes on the rise, the addition of sugar to treats is widely regarded as harmful. There’s also evidence to suggest that dogs learn to prefer the flavors their owners ply them with — in other words, if you don’t give them sugar, they’re not going to miss it.
For moist treats, we did make one exception: pure cane molasses. When used in small quantities, molasses is a safer humectant (the ingredient that keeps treats moist) than artificial chemicals like glycerin.
Then we did a little hands-on testing.
Most brands offer treats in a variety of flavors. Blue Buffalo, for instance, occupied nine slots on our list of finalists. So from each remaining brand, we chose the most popular treat flavor to test, based on customer ratings from Chewy and Amazon.
We also prioritized brands that offered at least three flavors, like chicken, beef, and fish. Dogs can have strong individual flavor preferences — and food allergies — so we wanted to make sure that our top picks offered pet parents a variety of choices. Then we rolled up our sleeves and began testing. (Our resident dogs were very excited to help!)
Texture: For ease of use, we looked for treats that weren’t overly crumbly and that didn’t stick together in clumps inside the bag. We also prioritized picks that didn’t leave residue on our fingers.
Smell: Dog treats are designed to appeal to critters who are happy to snack on kitchen crumbs and dead birds, so we didn’t expect them to smell enticing to human testers. But a few contenders had overpowering aromas we had trouble getting past, like the extremely fishy scent of Plato’s Hundur’s Crunch.
Size: We preferred treats that were bite-sized, or easy to break into small pieces. Why? Because treats are best given out in small quantities. Dr. Richter explains, “It is the act of giving the treat that provides pets with pleasure. It’s not the size of the treat.” This is doubly true during training sessions, when it wouldn’t be healthy or practical to give out a whole jerky strip or giant biscuit each time your dog completes a command.
Packaging: We checked to make sure each bag was easy to open and seal back up for freshness. A few were surprisingly hard to open and required scissors (we’re looking at you, Nutro), or else weren’t resealable at all (like the cute, but impractical Sojos Good Dog Treats).
Real-life testing: Finally, we gave each treat to our three test dogs, a puppy and two adult dogs of medium size, noting their overall reaction. While they weren’t as wild for baked biscuits as other types of treats, they were generally a very enthusiastic audience.
George, one of our in-house testers, offered his expert opinion on the best dog treat.
Our Picks for the Best Dog Treat
Freeze-dried treats are as close as you can get to feeding your dog fresh cuts of meat without actually cooking up a ribeye. This category tends to be less processed than biscuits and jerkies, helping you avoid unnecessary salts, sweeteners, and carbs.
But even among our freeze-dried finalists, Stella and Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch was a standout. The ingredients are just beef, organs, and bone. Pumpkin seeds do show up low on the ingredient list, but they’re a nutrient-heavy filler that clinical research suggests may also help your dog ward off parasites. Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Treats in Real Beef, by contrast, includes peas, potatoes, gelatin and salt: a more heavily processed list that scored fewer nutritional points.
The addition of ground bone and organ meat also sets Stella and Chewy apart from single-ingredient treats like Only Natural’s chicken bites, whose chicken-only formula is certainly healthy, but doesn’t pack quite the nutritional punch that comes from bone and organs. And at just three calories a treat, Stella and Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch bites can be given frequently for training, or to senior or other dogs where weight gain is a concern.
These lightweight, bite-sized morsels are soft but not crumbly. Each treat is about the size of a penny, with a mild smell that still attracted our dogs’ attention immediately. At $10 for a 3.25-ounce bag, they’re also a little cheaper than other premium treats with comparable ingredient lists, like the freeze-dried Orijen Originals ($13). Stella and Chewy is still the priciest of our top picks, but if you want a truly premium option at a good value, we highly recommend them. And so do our dogs.
Best Semi-Moist Treat
For a soft treat that’s convenient and low on mess, Zuke’s Minis are our favorite. Because they’re semi-moist, you don’t have to worry about crumbs on the floor or pulverized treat dust at the bottom of the package. (While we love freeze-dried treats, they do crumble easily). Instead, Zuke’s treats are sturdy enough to carry with you during training sessions or long walks, and their uniform shape and size make them easy to grab and dole out quickly. We tried the peanut butter flavor, which was a big hit with our test dogs — and at $5 for a 6-ounce bag, they’re one of our cheaper picks.
Like the Stella and Chewy’s, these treats also come in at just three calories per morsel. Individual caloric needs for pets vary, but an average 22-lb adult male dog only needs about 400 calories per day, and only 10 percent of those calories should come from treats. If you’re doling them out frequently, you can hit that limit quickly, especially if you opt for brands like Castor & Pollux Good Buddy Jerky Strips, which include a whopping 75 calories per treat.
Best Jerky-Style Dog Treat
These chewy strips have a slightly drier, tougher texture than semi-moist treats like Zuke’s, making them a good option for dogs who like to chew. Unlike other jerky treats, though, they come in small bites that make them easy to use for training — and they’re easy to break into even smaller pieces if necessary.
The simple ingredient list consists of 98 percent whole venison, grass-fed and sustainably sourced from New Zealand. This commitment to a high-quality meat source helped these treats stand out. The FDA has expressed ongoing concern over contaminated jerky treats sourced from China, which have been linked to a number of health problems in dogs. ZiwiPeak’s transparency will be reassuring to concerned pet parents.
ZiwiPeak also stands out because of what it doesn’t have: added salt. Canine nutritionist, dog trainer, and author Linda Case notes that jerky or cured meat often includes added sodium, which “can lead to increased water intake and increased urination if large amounts are fed.” Of all the jerky-style treats we tested, ZiwiPeak was the only option without additional sodium. A 3-ounce bag is about $12.
Best Baked Dog Treat
Of all the treat types on the market, “biscuits” are the most common. These treats are baked up like human cookies and need binding agents (like grains) to help them set up and stay fresh in the bag. In general, our test dogs didn’t like baked treats as much as our other top picks — and we were also less impressed with this category, thanks to its reliance on starchy ingredients like grains and potatoes.
Dry dog treats don’t clean your dog’s teeth. You may have heard that eating dry food or baked treats can help clean a dog’s teeth due to the additional chewing action and friction. It turns out this is simply a myth. Research shows that dry food is no replacement for regularly brushing your dog’s teeth.
That said, individual tastes vary. If your dog loves crunchy biscuits, Canidae offers a convenient size, and the most respectable ingredient list we could find. Case notes that with any biscuit, “I look for a named animal protein source first,” and Canidae fits the bill, featuring salmon. One of its binders is also sweet potato, which is more nutrient-dense than many of the fillers we encountered.
We preferred Canidae’s form factor, too. Some of the baked treats we tried, like the Blue Buffalo Biscuits, were so large that they looked like cookies for humans, and there was no easy way to break them into smaller pieces without making a mess. The Canidae biscuits are designed to be snapped in half for portion control. Canidae’s salmon formula does have a slightly fishy smell, but your dog will count that as a plus. For $5, you get an 11-ounce bag.
Other Dog Treats to Consider
These treats are made from cod skin and golden redfish skin — and that’s it. They smell strongly of fish, which human testers weren’t wild about, but our dogs loved them. They’re also big: Each brick is about 2 inches long, and they don’t break easily into smaller pieces, but if you’ve got a large breed, this may be a good option.
These single-ingredient treats are edible for dogs and humans alike: They’re nothing but dried coconut chips, and the pleasant scent upon opening the bag is a nice change from fish and meat if you’ve got a sensitive nose. We were admittedly skeptical of these meatless treats, but all three dogs happily gobbled them up — even the picky eater of the group.
Did You Know?
Treats should only make up about 10% of a pet’s diet.
Dr. Richter emphasizes 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, simply reduce your dog’s meal portions to account for the added calories. Case does this with the dogs she trains at AutumnGold. “When I’m training a dog,” she says, “I always feed him or her their evening meal after training is complete for the day, so that I can reduce the volume of the meal if I fed a lot of treats in training.” Why is this so important? Obesity is a pet health epidemic. In fact, over half the pets in the United States are classified as overweight.
She also notes, “I use small amounts of treats very frequently with all of our dogs.” Even when a dog isn’t in training, a smaller portion of treat is generally a healthier bet. It helps ensure that dogs don’t gain weight from sheer treat intake, but it doesn’t take away from the tasty enjoyment of a treat reward.
Pets can suffer from food allergies just like humans.
Surprisingly, the most common source of food allergy in dogs is actually protein. In fact, one study showed that beef was the most common allergen in dogs, followed by dairy. If your dog has signs of allergy such as dry skin or upset stomach, consider the protein source first. Limited or single-ingredient protein sources will help you narrow down any potential sensitivities. Again, all of our top picks are available in multiple flavors.