Dog Treats: Packing Too Much Punch?

January 31, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that most product labels for canine treats don’t provide sufficient nutrient information and can far exceed recommended daily energy allowances.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) nutrition assessment guidelines state that a dog’s daily treat intake should not exceed 10% of its energy needs. But a new study warns that most commercially available dog treats do exceed the recommended daily maintenance energy requirement (MER).

The research team analyzed 32 commerically available dog treats (4 biscuits, 9 tender treats, 2 meat-based strips, 5 rawhides, 8 chewable sticks, 4 dental care sticks) to determine their levels of minerals, starch, simple sugars (glucose, fructose, and sucrose), and the amino acid hydroxyproline.

“This is the first investigation to categorize dog treats and determine their nutrient profile," wrote the authors.


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After analyzing all 32 dog treats, the investigators identified several label miscommunications, such as:

  • Three out of 4 treats (76%) contained 4 to 9 ingredients, many of which had ambiguous descriptions on the treat’s label.
  • Almost half of the treats mentioned “sugars” in their ingredient list (sucrose was the most prevalent).
  • All the treats contained different amounts of minerals.
  • Biscuits were the most calorically dense treats, while dental sticks were the least.

But what the research team originally set out to determine was whether the treats exceeded the recommended MER. Here’s what they found:

  • Biscuits accounted for 16% of MER for dogs of any size.
  • Rawhides exceeded 25% MER for small dogs and 18% MER for medium-sized dogs.
  • Chewable sticks exceeded 10% MER for all size dogs and accounted for 16.9% MER in small-sized dogs.

Dental sticks were the only examined products that remained below 10% MER for dogs of any size—following the WSAVA guidelines.


While the study analyzed only a small number of treats in each category, the results still suggests that treat labeling needs vast improvement, especially for small dogs. “Small dogs receive the highest percentage of maintenance energy requirement when producers’ feeding instructions are followed,” the authors wrote.

The authors also suggest that treat manufacturers and producers take into account dogs with ingredient sensitivities and conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease—the high mineral content seen throughout all researched products could harm dogs with such conditions.

“Results of the study suggest treat labeling should include more information on the ingredients used,” the authors concluded, “and the varying nutrient and caloric density of treats should be considered.”