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Most cat owners like to show they love their cats not only with affection but with treats. There are a number of different kinds of cat treats and some are better for your cat than others. However, choosing a healthy treat isn’t as easy as it sounds because cats can be selective in what they want to eat and some may have dietary restrictions.
Dr. Kerri Blackburn of River’s Edge Animal Hospital in Rock Hill, South Carolina says cat treats, much like human treats, are loaded with calories and sodium to help with flavor and encourage palatability (especially dental treats). "This can be problematic when we are focused on weight loss or a cat has health concerns like renal or heart disease," she says. "Treats can be formulated with many ingredients and this can be problematic in cats with allergies.”
Thankfully there are a number of healthy cat treat options so you can find the perfect one for your cat, despite what dietary restrictions it may have. By choosing a cat treat that your cat not only enjoys eating but that also has healthy ingredients, you can avoid giving empty calories and therefore contribute to your cat’s health instead of a problem.
Below, find the best healthy cat treats.
Best Overall: Wellness Kittles Crunchy Natural Grain Free Cat Treats
Calories: 1.1 per treat | Key Ingredients: Salmon, peas, potatoes, chickpeas, chicken meal, herring meal, cranberries, blueberries, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), natural flavor, ground flaxseed, salmon oil, rosemary extract, green tea extract, spearmint extract
Chicken may need to be avoided by some cats
When you think about healthy foods for your cat you probably think about natural ingredients, and Wellness Kittles are filled with just that. Salmon is the main flavor and ingredient in these crunchy treats but peas, cranberries, blueberries, flaxseed, and other healthy items are also included. These ingredients may provide various vitamins, antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and other beneficial components to your cat’s diet. With each treat only containing 1.1 calories, they won’t contribute to unwanted weight gain. Additionally, cats that need to avoid grains don’t have to worry about Wellness Kittles since they are also grain-free.
Best Budget: Blue Buffalo Bursts With Savory Seafood Cat Treats
Calories: 2.1 per treat | Key Ingredients: Deboned salmon, brown rice, tuna meal, barley, pork fat, tapioca starch, oatmeal, salmon meal, natural flavor, deboned cod, peas, shrimp, canola oil, brewers dried yeast, dried whey, taurine, oil of rosemary
Meat is the first ingredient
Less than $1/oz.
12 ounces is the largest container available
Slightly higher calories per treat than other similar options
These cat treats come in 12-ounce containers which will put the price of spoiling your cat at less than a dollar an ounce. Other healthy treats are priced at over a dollar an ounce and don’t commonly come in more than a 2-ounce bag. Blue Buffalo Bursts have a crunchy outer shell and a creamy inside that most cats find irresistible and cat owners love that they contain no wheat, artificial flavors, or preservatives. Meat is the first ingredient in both flavors of these cost-conscious and healthy treats so you know you’re giving your little carnivore something nutritious.
Best Assorted: Blue Wilderness Soft-Moist Grain-Free Cat Treats Variety Pack
Calories: 1.5 per treat | Key Ingredients: (Chicken and salmon flavor) - deboned chicken, salmon, potatoes, vegetable glycerin, gelatin, natural flavor
No artificial preservatives
Treat shape may not appeal to some cats
Treats may crumble in the bottom of the bag
The Blue Buffalo Co. is known for its grain-free pet food options and the Blue Wilderness treats don't disappoint. These Natural High-Protein cat treats are soft and come in four different flavors - chicken and turkey, chicken and duck, chicken and trout, and chicken and salmon. Cats who are used to eating different flavors of canned cat food each day will especially appreciate this assortment. These small squares of meaty goodness contain only 1.5 calories per treat and since they are soft, they’re great options for kittens, adults, and even geriatric cats that may have difficulty eating crunchy treats.
Best Wet/Lickable: INABA Churu Grain-Free Tuna with Salmon Puree Lickable Cat Treat
Calories: 6 per treat | Key Ingredients: Water, tuna, salmon, tapioca, natural flavors, natural salmon flavor, guar gum, fructooligosaccharide, Vitamin E supplement, green tea extract
High moisture content
Contains responsibly-harvested seafood
Higher calories than other treats
Packets are not resealable
Many animal hospitals love using this lickable cat treat to distract their patients during procedures or entice them to eat, and cat owners have discovered they can use it at home, too. INABA has been making pet products since 1958 but began selling seafood back in 1805, so the company has perfected this tasty treat with pureed seafood. Since these treats are high in moisture, Churu are great for cats that need to drink more water and can be easily spread on top of food to entice cats that might be refusing to eat. They also contain no grains.
"Because you can hold these treats while your cat licks them, Churu are particularly good for bonding with a new cat. They're also popular within the cat rescue community for helping to socialize street cats."–Margaret Badore, Senior Editor
Best Dry: Greenies Feline Dental Cat Treats
Calories: 1.4 per treat | Key Ingredients: Chicken meal, ground wheat, brewers rice, corn gluten meal, poultry fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), oat fiber, natural poultry flavor, ground flaxseed, brewers dried yeast, potassium chloride
Has less meat than other treat options
While dry treats are overall healthier for your cat’s mouth than soft treats, some are specifically formulated to control tartar. Feline Greenies Dental Treats have approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) to control tartar, plus they contain no artificial preservatives, flavors, or fillers. The ingredients are natural and the treats even contain vitamins and minerals to benefit your whole cat. Cat owners report these treats are well liked by their feline friends and the fact that they are healthy, low in calories, and benefit the teeth are added bonuses.
Best Grain-Free: American Journey Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Soft & Chewy Cat Treats
Calories: 2 per treat | Key Ingredients: Chicken, chickpeas, coconut glycerin, pork gelatin, natural flavor, dried citrus pulp, citric acid (preservative), salt, mixed tocopherols (preservative), rosemary extract
High palatability rate
Treat size may vary so some cats may be finicky
Won’t help with dental health
Cats can be picky about texture, flavor, and even the shape of their food and treats but this little cylinder is a hit with most cats. Many cat parents say their kitties go crazy for American Journey’s soft and chewy cat treats and you’ll feel good about giving a treat that has only two calories and meat as the main ingredient. This grain-free option is also good for cats that may not be able to tolerate wheat and corn, and has no artificial colors or preservatives. Additionally, these treats won’t break the bank while you attempt to provide a healthy option for your cat.
Best for Hairballs: Get Naked Digestive Health Soft Cat Treats
Calories: 2.6 per treat | Key Ingredients: Chicken, sweet potatoes, vegetable glycerin, water, flaxseed, sunflower oil (preserved with citric acid), natural chicken flavor, fructooligosaccharides (from chicory root), dried bacillus coagulans fermentation product, phosphoric acid (preservative)
Probiotics and prebiotics
Added fiber, flaxseed, and vegetable oil
Higher calories than many other treats of similar size
Some cats don’t like the way they smell or taste
Not as soft as some expect
Cats normally groom themselves, but if they swallow too much hair they can easily develop hairballs. Hairballs may not be a problem if they easily pass through your cat’s digestive tract but if they cause vomiting or get stuck, they are concerning. Get Naked Digestive Health treats contain vegetable oil, flaxseed, fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics that may help decrease hairball issues. The added beneficial ingredients may not be welcomed by some picky cats, but these are a great treat option if your hairball-prone cat is willing to try something new.
Best Organic: Castor & Pollux Organix Organic Cat Treats
Calories: 1 per treat | Key Ingredients: Organic chicken, organic peas, organic brown rice, organic oats, organic barley, organic chicken fat preserved with mixed tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), natural chicken liver flavor, organic flaxseed.
USDA Certified Organic
More expensive than other healthy treats
Some cats may not like the flavor or texture
No artificial ingredients are found in Castor & Pollux Organix cat treats. This USDA-certified organic product is also free of wheat and has only 1 calorie per treat. These treats are crunchy and many cat owners report how much their cats love them. A 2-ounce bag of these treats costs about twice as much as other healthy cat treat options, but if you prefer to feed only organic items to your pets, this treat is well worth it.
The products that were selected for this list were chosen after research was performed on their ingredients, manufacturers, and more. Cats thrive on meat-based diets and do not need artificial ingredients in their treats. Wellness Kittles (view at Amazon) are affordable, meat-based treats that contain no artificial ingredients or wheat. They are palatable to cats, have just over one calorie per treat, and even have added beneficial ingredients.
What to Look for in Healthy Cat Treats
Some cat treats do occasionally meet nutritional requirements recommended by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for cat foods, but this is not something that is required of treat manufacturers.
“It's hard to say what makes cat treats healthy as they are not subject to the same standards as cat food. Cat foods are formulated to meet nutritional requirements,” says Dr. Blackburn. This means that most cat treats are not a substitute for a complete and balanced diet but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any healthy treat options.
Wheat, artificial preservatives and colors, and high calorie counts should be avoided in cat treats. Cats are carnivores and do best on a meat-based diet so unless it is a lickable treat that requires more water content, meat should be the first ingredient in the ingredient list.
“Keeping as close to your cat's regular flavor profile as possible is ideal,” says Dr. Blackburn. Look for a treat that matches the ingredients you regularly feed your cat. This means that if you don’t feed grains or chicken, make sure your treats are also free of these specific items. If you feed a fish-based food, choose a fish-based treat. This will help ensure your cat will like the treats and decrease the likelihood of them causing an upset stomach.
Dr. Blackburn says, “the best course of action is to monitor the calorie content of a treat to ensure you are not overfeeding.” Many treat bags carry a recommendation to give your cat several treats a day but this can quickly cause the calories to add up and contribute to unwanted weight gain in your cat. Low calorie treats that have only one or two calories will decrease the likelihood of weight gain, but treats should still be kept to 10 percent or less of your cat’s diet.
Some cats prefer crunchy treats while others like soft or lickable treats. The shape of the treats can also play a big role in whether or not your cat will want to eat them. If your cat is very particular but eats its own food without an issue, consider using the regular food as treats.
Treats with specific textures may also help to deter dental disease like gingivitis. “Treats that are made to control plaque and promote oral health are always good options as dental disease is common in cats over the age of one,” states Dr. Blackburn. Soft and lickable treats do not have these same benefits.
Are freeze dried cat treats healthy?
According to Dr. Blackburn, “Raw products, even when pressed or dried, have the possibility of having a heavy bacterial load that can result in intestinal infections. Cooked is best.” Bacterial contamination is a serious concern but freeze-dried treats are also free of additional ingredients. Because of this, some cat owners accept the bacterial risks if their cat has a limited amount of things it can eat.
Are lickable cat treats healthy?
Some lickable cat treats have added artificial flavorings, colors, preservatives, and are high in calories. Look for natural ingredients, water or broth, and added vitamins or minerals instead of artificial ingredients. Limit the amount your cat gets on a daily basis. Lickable cat treats can be a great way to increase water consumption and entice an anorexic cat to eat, but for healthy cats, they can also add unwanted calories to the diet.
How many treats would be unhealthy for my cat?
Dr. Blackburn suggests that “treats should comprise no more than 10 percent of a cat's total daily caloric requirements.” Talk to your veterinarian about how many calories your cat should consume every day to determine how many treats they can be allowed. The average 10-pound cat should consume about 200-220 calories a day so this would mean it can get up to 180-198 calories from its food and 20-22 calories from treats.
Why Trust the Spruce
Adrienne Kruzer is a Registered and Licensed Veterinary Technician in three states and has been writing on pet and vet topics for over a decade. She is also Fear Free Certified, has a special interest in pet nutrition, and loves researching, learning, and problem solving in order to better help pet owners. Her years of working in various animal hospitals, alongside her formal college education and elective continuing education classes, have provided her with a wealth of experience and knowledge to help cat owners choose a healthy treat.
Dr. Kerri Blackburn has been a veterinarian since 2007 and her special interests include general wellness care, ultrasound, internal medicine, nutrition, surgery, and oncology. Dr. Blackburn currently serves as the Medical Director for Rivers Edge Animal Hospital in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Prior to this, she completed an internship with Affiliated Veterinary Specialists in Florida and has continued to pursue knowledge in ultrasound, endoscopy and advanced medicine through numerous continuing education opportunities through the years. She is also a member of the AVMA, NCVMA, SCVMA, World Vets and in a network of Emergency preparedness vets for disasters in South and North Carolina. Dr. Blackburn loves the challenges posed by veterinary medicine and truly enjoys working with families to diagnose and treat their beloved pet's illnesses and maintain optimum health in their furry family members.