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Whether you’re tossing your pup a treat as part of a training regimen or handing one out to say, “I love you,” one rule remains the same: treats count as part of a dog’s daily calorie count.
“Pet parents should look for treats that are both delicious and healthy for pups which means seeking out natural, high-quality, and wholesome ingredients,” advises Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food. When you’re giving your dog treats, you’ll want to cut down on their food at meal times in proportion to their snacks. As you shop for treats, you'll want to check out the ingredients, calories, size, and texture of your options.
Read on for the best low-calorie treat for every situation.
Best Overall: Wellness Core Pure Rewards Beef Jerky Bites
Calories Per Treat: 6 | Flavor: Beef | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 23% min
“I suggest prioritizing treats that are rich in protein, which helps dogs maintain lean muscle,” says Dr. Bernal. These grain-free jerky bites more than fit the bill. They’re made in the United States with only a handful of ingredients (the ingredient list kicks off with beef), plus they are high in iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin A. Best of all, they have only 6 calories per treat.
Best for Training: Merrick Power Bites Real Texas Beef Recipe Grain-Free Soft & Chewy Dog Treats
Calories Per Treat: 5 | Flavor: Beef | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 16% min
When selecting a treat for training, you want something that’s small and chewy so it’s easy for your pup to gobble down quickly in order to be able to continue with your lesson. Because you’ll likely be giving them so many during a training session, it’s especially important to select a low calorie treat—the grain and gluten-free treats clock in at a mere 5 calories.
In addition to main ingredient beef, these pea-sized, these treats also contain sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, blueberries, and rosemary extract for a healthy antioxidant boost. They're made in the United States.
Best Natural: Full Moon All Natural Human Grade Dog Treats Chicken Jerky
Calories Per Treat: 49 | Flavor: Chicken | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 55% min
Added colors and preservatives are two ingredients you’ll want to avoid when it comes to healthy dog treats, says Dr. Dernal—and these chicken jerky treats are free of both and a whole lot more of things, including glycerin, grains, wheat, and soy, that aren’t so good for your pup. These treats are higher in calories than other options on our list, but they also are very high in protein.
They’re made of human grade, hormone-and antibiotic-free chicken breast that’s raised cage-free in the United States. With this jerky, like all treats and food, you’ll want to follow the recommended portion sizes to avoid indulging your pup too much. The slow-cooked jerky is hard and chewy, so your pup won’t gobble it down in one bite, but may not be best suited for training.
Best Soft Treats: Wellness Chicken & Lamb WellBites
Calories Per Treat: 8 | Flavor: Chicken and lamb | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 16% min
If your pup prefers a soft treat, Dr. Bernal recommends choosing ones that are smaller in size or tearing a large one into smaller pieces. “Your pup may not know how big the treat they get is, but they will definitely know how many treats they get!,” she says.
These soft and meaty treats contain a blend of high quality proteins from chicken and lamb, blended with superfoods (think carrots, apples, blueberries, and sweet potatoes), and omega-rich flaxseed for a treat that’s as tasty as it is nutritious.
Best for Teeth: Whimzees Natural Grain Free Daily Dental Dog Treats
Calories Per Treat: 44 (medium size) | Flavor: Vegetable | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 1% min
Hard treats are great for your dog’s teeth as they help to remove plaque as your pup chews. Whimzees, in particular, are “specially designed with unique ridges and grooves to clean the hard-to-reach areas of a dog’s mouth,” Dr. Bernal shares. The knobby texture helps to massage the gums to stimulate blood flow for optimal dental health. They last a long time, too to keep Fido occupied and incorporate dental health into their everyday routine.
The treats are made of nine non-GMO vegetarian ingredients and that help to freshen breath. They come in small, medium, and large; be sure to buy the right size for your dog for safety and to ensure they don’t get too many calories. Also keep in mind that while these treats are good for teeth, they're also higher in calories than many of the other picks on this list.
Best Crunchy: American Journey Peanut Butter Recipe Grain-Free Oven Baked Crunchy Biscuit Dog Treats
Calories Per Treat: 13 | Flavor: Peanut butter | Grain-Free? Yes | Crude Protein: 16% min
“As a general rule of thumb, crunchy biscuits have less fat per ounce than soft/meaty treats,” Dr. Bernal shares. These six ingredient, grain-free and vegetarian made in Missouri treats have only 13 calories per treat and the star ingredient is real peanut butter.
Because they’re bite-sized and baked, which means they’re not sticky at all, they’re perfect for popping in your pocket before you head out on a walk. They’re easy to break in half for a smaller dog or to make them last a bit longer. Did we mention they’re a great value, too?
Best Calming Treats: Zuke's Hemp Naturals Calming Chicken Recipe Dog Treats
Calories Per Treat: 2 | Flavor: Chicken | Grain-Free? No | Crude Protein: 8% min
You may remember Zuke’s treats from your puppy training days and it’s worth taking another look at them, especially this variety that contains hemp to help calm over-excited or anxious dogs. Each tiny treat contains 3.5 MG of broad spectrum hemp extract (don’t worry, there’s no measurable levels of THC) along with valerian root and chamomile to help promote relaxation and keep your pet calm; they’re especially beneficial for dogs with separation anxiety.
The small chews are free of grain, corn, wheat, and soy. Try giving them to your pooch at nighttime for a bedtime treat.
For a great all-around treat that’s low in calories that your pup is sure to love, try the Wellness CORE Pure Rewards Beef Jerky Bites (view at Amazon). At six calories per treat, it won’t derail your dog’s diet.
If your god prefers a crunchy treat, the American Journey Peanut Butter Recipe Grain-Free Oven Baked Crunchy Biscuit Dog Treats (view at Chewy) are sure to satisfy.
What to Look for in a Low-Calorie Dog Treat
Dr. Bernal recommends looking for treats that are rich in high-quality protein (chicken, lamb, beef), which is not only lower in calories, but also helps dogs maintain lean muscle. Avoid any treats with preservatives, artificial flavors, and colorings.
It will take your dog longer to eat a crunchy treat or hard chewy treat, which may make them feel more satisfied. However, when training, a soft chew treat is better so that your session doesn't get slowed down by lots of chewing.
Larger treats are more likely to be higher in calories than smaller ones. If the treat is large, consider breaking it apart or cutting it in half.
Look for a treat that’s under 20 calories and keep portion control in mind. Too many treats of any kind can lead to weight gain. Treats should account for no more than 10 percent of a dog’s total calorie consumption.
As the name suggests, a treats are often designed to be a supplement to a dog's current diet, and are not a complete and balanced meal on their own Dr. Bernal says.
If you want a treat to last longer, consider putting it in a puzzle or freeze it, suggest Dr. Bernal. Both strategies will help to keep your pup engaged with the treat for a longer period of time.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This piece was written by Anne Fritz, who has been researching pet products for The Spruce for more than two years. Before writing this article, in addition to speaking with Dr. Bernal, she gathered information from customer reviews, third-party articles, and brand websites' details.