Natural Dog Treats: Are You Being Scammed?

Dog next to natural dog treats

What do you think of when you see the word natural on your dog’s treats? Do you picture:

  • MSG
  • Meat from diseased animals
  • Cancer-causing chemicals?

In reality, most natural dog treats contain very unnatural (and very unhealthy) ingredients.

But don’t worry … there are ways to determine the truly natural treats from the imposters.

Why Natural Is Just Marketing

Pet food trends follow human trends. And that makes sense … you have access to the cash and credit card, not your dog!

Pet food manufacturers know consumers are looking for healthier, less processed foods. They also know consumers will spend big to get them.

So they find creative ways to put “natural” on the label … while adding the same harmful, low-quality ingredients you’ll find in the cheap treats.

How do they get away with this?

[Related] Natural isn’t the only marketing manufacturers manipulate. Find out more here.

What Natural Means To Pet Food Manufacturers

If you make dog treats, and you want to put the word “natural” on the label, you have to meet definitions set by AAFCO. AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

This might sound like a good thing but there are two problems with AAFCO setting the standard:

  1. Most of the AAFCO board members work for large pet manufacturers.
  2. The definitions for “natural” are vague and complicated.

Don’t think these two points are unrelated!

[Related] AAFCO guidelines are pretty much useless. Here’s why.

Let’s take a closer look at the definitions. According to AAFCO, natural can be:

A feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources

Is unprocessed or has been subject to:

  • physical processing
  • heat processing
  • rendering
  • purification
  • extraction
  • hydrolysis
  • enzymolysis
  • fermentation

Hasn’t been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process

Doesn’t contain any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic … except in amounts as might occur in good manufacturing practices.

Did you get that last part?

This basically means pet food or treats can be rendered or extruded and still be called natural … as long as the manufacturer didn’t add synthetic ingredients … unless they had to.

Any pet food without synthetic preservatives like:

But that’s not exactly true …

Natural treats can contain these dangerous, man-made ingredients if the label says:

“Natural with added vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients.”

So the term natural doesn’t mean natural at all.

Natural Dog Treats: Perception Vs Reality

Research shows that people look for the word natural. They believe it’s healthier.

According to an Ipsos global survey, we believe natural means:

  • Unprocessed
  • Healthy
  • 100% from nature
  • No artificial ingredients
  • Organic

Do all natural dog treats hit the mark?

Some do. Most don’t.

In fact, most natural treats are downright harmful.

Between 2010 and 2012, a reported 2,674 dogs became sick as a result of eating chicken jerky treats. A reported 501 dogs died as a result of eating “natural” chicken treats.

The bottom line?

You can’t rely on the word natural to determine the quality and safety of your dog’s treats. So how do you find a real, healthy natural treat for your dog?

[Related] It’s the same with prescription food. Here’s why we call bull$hit on those too!

Avoid These Ingredients

1. Corn, Wheat, Rice, Grains

These are cheap fillers that most dog treat manufacturers use. 

Too many carbs in your dog’s diet can cause dysbiosis which can become a major health issue.

They also expose your dog to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) toxins called mycotoxins.

This includes the most carcinogenic naturally occurring substance known to man, aflatoxin.

Research done in 2013 found mycotoxin contamination in over 81% of the samples tested. These were grains and byproducts destined for animal foods.

2. Corn Syrup

This cheap sweetener “enhances” the taste of your dog’s treats. The problems is, corn syrup, just like sugar, leads to serious issues like obesity and diabetes.

If your dog’s treats are high-quality and healthy the treats don’t need to be sweetened. They’ll taste good on their own.

3. Soy

Soy is a plant protein that hits all the makers as a natural ingredient …

… but it’s terrible for your dog.

Soy is one of the top three genetically modified crops grown in the US. Unless it says organic, it likely contains harmful pesticides like glyphosate.

Glyphosate has been linked to:

  • autism
  • endocrine disruption
  • cancer
  • birth defects
  • antibiotic resistance
  • hormone disruption
  • kidney disease

That’s why so many countries have banned it.

It can also suppress the thyroid gland’s ability to produce T3 and T4. These are necessary for normal thyroid function and it’s a common allergen.

Avoid ingredients such as: soybean meal, soy flour and soy protein.

4. Unidentified “Meat” Or “Animal” Anything

I’m talking about “meat meal” or “animal fat”. These words sound natural since they’re meat based, but what kind of meat? Which animal? These ingredients can come from just about anywhere …

  • leftovers not fit for human consumption
  • waste from the slaughterhouse
  • spoiled supermarket meats
  • diseased animals

5. Meals

Meals are made by “rendering,” which means the meat is cooked at a very high heat until the excess water is gone. This leaves you with a highly concentrated protein. That might sound good, but it isn’t.

That high heat kills all the nutrition.

The amino acids are denatured which makes the protein virtually non-bioavailable. Highly concentrated protein that your dog’s body can’t digest is useless.

Make sure to avoid animal meal, meat meal and meat and bone meal.

Healthy Dog Treats: Is It A Lost Cause?

Don’t worry, there are some good, safe treats out there. You just have to know what to look for.

Look for shorter ingredients lists, with things that you can identify. Try to find treats with meat (with the animal identified) as the first ingredient. Or, when in doubt, make your own so you can pick and choose the ingredients that are safe.

Just for future reference, here are some ingredient labels we like:

natural dog treats with real ingredients

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