The Hidden Danger of Dog Treats

The Hidden Danger of Dog Treats

Any vet will tell you that what you feed your dog matters. With the average US family spending around $126 per month on food for their four-pawed family members, one can safely assume they are choo...

Any vet will tell you that what you feed your dog matters. With the average US family spending around $126 per month on food for their four-pawed family members, one can safely assume they are choosing the healthiest food brands their budgets allow. But what about treats? Well, when it comes to treats, we may not be quite as discriminating. Most of us tend to bypass the nutritious tidbits available, and look instead for edibles that we hope will delight and entertain our pets. It seems like such a small indulgence when we are otherwise so careful about their daily diet and exercise regimen, but yum and fun may not be the only thing to consider before you grab that pig’s ear, or rib bone or, meaty looking jerky treat. Let’s talk food safety.

Where was this treat made? 

You may have heard about some treat recalls a few years back and wonder what has changed since then? Not much, as it turns out. In the past 15 years or so, China has become the leading source of US dog treat products. While lower prices and lesser regulations drive competition, these qualities can be quite unassumingly dangerous. A quick search of the internet informs that since 2015, the FDA has received about 5,200 recorded cases of pet illness or death associated with Chinese imported jerky treats.

While there has not been a recall of China-sourced jerky treats since 2016, it is important to remember that their manufacturing regulations continue to be far less stringent than those here in the United States. Unfortunately, in the past this allowed Chinese companies to use potentially dangerous/toxic or unethically sourced ingredients. While we hope that individual manufacturers in China have taken it upon themselves to step up their safety measures since then, the persisting lack of government oversight is enough to make the most cautious pet owner think twice about where their treats are sourced. US companies are aware of the stigma, thus outsourced treats from China that are repackaged here under familiar US brands, are sometimes hard to identify. Origin information is generally relegated to very small print on or near product barcodes. In the case of non-packaged items in bins, the best approach is to ask your trusted pet store purveyor.

Here in the US, manufacturers have not been immune to issues with their pet consumables either. A recent recall of pet food containing high levels of Aflatoxin from an Oklahoma manufacturer came too late for more than 110 dogs in this country. A few years prior to that, pig ears imported from the Brazil and Argentina caused multiple outbreaks of salmonella among pets and their people. 

It is what it is. Like most fun things in life, no pet treat is 100% risk-free, but there are a few measures you can take to make sure your pet stays fit as a fiddle while still enjoying his vittles.

What can I do? 

  1. Talk to your local vet. He or she is likely to have recommendations as to which pet treats are the healthiest and most ethically sourced. Of course they might also suggest that a healthy diet generally includes a reduction in treat intake!
  1. You can make your own treats from scratch, which ensures you know every single ingredient that goes into the mix. 
  1. Check labels before purchasing. Consider carefully before buying treats manufactured outside of the US. 
  1. Read online recommendations about which treat brands are the best, whether because they are organic, budget-friendly, or the best for your dog’s special needs. 
  1. Above all, stay informed about current recalls! Sign up for here for up-to-date alerts on pet consumable recalls.

From a Veterinarian’s Point of View

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jeff Gerlesits of Homeward Bound Animal Hospital in Arvada, Colorado, about his thoughts on the matter. Thanks to the power of the internet and modern communication methods, I was able to sit down with Dr. Gerlesits for a virtual conversation. 

What dog treat product labels should consumers be wary of? Which ingredients or sources should consumers avoid?

“Ingredients we want to watch out for are possible toxins that actually quite often get added to the treats.  For example: 

  • Xylitol is a sweetener, but acts as an insulin agonist in dogs and is hard on their liver 
  • Onions and garlic can be detrimental to a dog’s red blood cells 
  • Grapes and raisins (which are sometimes, as dried fruits, wrapped around treats) can be toxic 

As a general rule, we want treats to compose up to or less  than 10% of the diet. Since our dog treats do not have to have the same balance of macro and micro nutrients, we do not want them to make up too large of a portion of the diet. And regardless how little or many treats we add, we do want to factor that into the overall calories they get for the day so as to not overfeed.”

What should consumers be looking for on dog treat packaging to ensure they purchase the highest quality product for their dog? 

“In my humble opinion, local, organic, natural, and quality ingredients are the key to treats. The more local and better ingredients, the better the product tends to be for the patients and our environment. As a general rule, I want to support our community, country, and planet. 

We ideally want our dog treats to have an AAFCO seal (the Assoc. of Feed Control Officials). This ensures the quality, safety, and nutritional label are accurate. It’s not mandatory but does ensure what is labeled is actually within the product.”  

Why should consumers avoid dog treats sourced from China? Do you have any insight on this you’d be able to share? What is the danger of sourcing treats from China? 

“We have had more pet food treat recalls with treats coming from out of the country, which should make us slightly cautious. China specifically tends to be a country that can sometimes have cheaper quality dog treats. In addition, with less stringent requirements on the processing side, we have had more pet food recalls from their treats. One example would be chicken jerky from China in the past few years. We have had multiple episodes of batches containing salmonella.”  

What are the healthiest and most natural dog treats on the market? 

“Consider getting treats that have an additional benefit to dogs. I am partial to getting treats that are beneficial to their teeth (greenies, dental sticks, etc), their joints (treats that have glucosamine, chondroitin, boswellia, New Zealand green lipped mussel, and other natural anti-inflammatory benefits), or for calming (thiamine, L-theanine, etc.).

One of my favorite treats would be Zuke’s.  They make a great joint supplement and small bite treat and are made locally here in Durango, Colorado.” 


Dr. Jeff Gerlesits, Homeward Bound Animal Hospital 

Dr. Jeff Gerlesits, Homeward Bound Animal Hospital

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