What Is Really In Your Dog Treats

Two cute pugs sitting behind bone shaped dog treats or biscuits on a white background

Learn The Facts About Dog Treat Ingredients

The pet food industry is growing exponentially, highlighted by the ever-growing stocks of pet consumables and treats taking up entire aisles in supermarkets and high-street stores. With so much choice, though, how can pet owners make the distinction between a good dog treat and a not-so-good treat?

A starting point is knowing the ingredients in dog treats and being able to differentiate between a healthy snack and an unhealthy alternative. Many ingredients listed on the reverse of dog treat packaging are difficult to understand, so a bit of research may be necessary.

Use our helpful guide to familiarize yourself with ingredients so you can make the right decision when it comes to buying a healthy treat for your dog.


Meat and animal derivatives

This is a common term found on the reverse of many processed dog treats and it should instantly set alarm bells ringing. The generic term for animal protein is vague – essentially, any part of an animal could have been used to make the dog treat, and often, the most undesirable animal parts like heads and feet and even feathers are used.

Each batch can contain different parts of animal, so it’s impossible to know what’s in each treat. Dog treats with this ingredient listed should be avoided if your pet has any intolerances because you simply cannot be sure what the product contains.

Of course, using the term can be a simple solution among pet treat brands not keen to give away their secret formulas, and treats differ in quality, so be sure to check and see if the packaging states which animal the ingredient is derived from. If you’re unsure, don’t part with your cash.


Many dog treats contain added cereals; this is a broad term that includes any type of grains. Cereals can be a good source of fiber and carbohydrate, but they can also be used as a filler product to make the batch go further.

Because the term covers all kinds of grains, pet treat manufacturers can choose different cereals on a batch by batch basis, depending on grain prices at the time. This means that each pack of dog treats you purchase could contain a different grain, which is something to beware of if your dog has any allergies.

Some cereals, like rice, are good for dogs and easy to digest, so always check the treat label to see if the type of grain is specified. And be aware that the cheaper the product, the more grain has probably been used to bulk it up, making the snack less nutritional than better quality alternatives.


All kinds of additives are used in dog treats to enhance the color, flavor and shelf life of the product. Additives can make treats more appealing to your pets and provide greater value by lasting longer, but many of these additives have been linked to hyperactivity and other health problems, including cancer.

Artificial colorants can be used to make a chew more colorful but this is largely not beneficial, especially to the dog, who has a limited color range. Flavoring, meanwhile, is also unnecessary in high-quality dog treats, which should be tasty enough. If a dog treat has added unnatural flavouring, this could be a sign that what’s inside the treat is not of high enough quality to have its own great taste.

Preservatives are used to lengthen a chew’s shelf life, and there are both natural and unnatural antioxidants used to keep treats fresher for longer. Natural antioxidants include tocopherols – a mix of vitamins C and E often made from vegetable oil. Unnatural preservatives include E320, also called BHA (butylatedhydroyanilose), E321 or BHT (butylatedhydroyutoluen) and E324 (ethoxyquin).

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Dog treats will often contain a fat source and this will generally be derived from animals. Treat packaging will often state that the product contains animal fats, poultry fats or the fat of a specific animal, like chicken or lamb.

Most commonly, the broad term ‘animal fats’ will be used, which spells bad news for pets with an intolerance to a specific animal food sources as it is impossible to know which animal’s fats have been used.

Sunflower oil is also commonly used in dog treats, and this is a high-quality fat source rich in linoleic acid, which is a great source of omega 6 and helps maintain dogs’ skin and coat. When checking dog treat packaging for ingredients, the linoleic content should be more than three per cent – anything under one per cent is of poor quality.


The mention of ash as an ingredient in dog treats might seem totally out of place but it is, in fact, there for a reason. Ash is what’s left after organic material is burnt up, but in pet treats ash is the measurement of mineral content like iron, calcium and phosphorus and usually listed as a percentage.

As a guide, wet dog food usually contains about two per cent ash, while dried dog food can contain around eight per cent. A little ash is important in pets’ diets but too much ash in a dog treat can be seen as a cheap way of adding filler and bulking up the product.

The jury is out on ash in dog treats, but some ash has to be included in complete pet foods to meet national nutritional requirements.

By-products of vegetable origin

Lots of dog treats have added vegetables, like carrot – a good source of vitamins and minerals. The term ‘by-products of vegetable origin’ however, is not to be confused with individually-listed vegetables.

This broad term covers anything vegetable-related that isn’t a cereal, more often than not, these by-products are leftovers from the human food industry and processed at temperatures so high that all nutritional value is rendered null and void.

The by-products can be a source of fiber if nothing else and are often used as a cheap extra ingredient to bulk up the batch and make it go further.

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