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12 rules for safe dog treats: Fish, liver treats & more

12 rules for safe dog treats: Fish, liver treats & more

12 rules to safer treats for your dog

Today, my plan is to focus on dog treats and how to choose the right treats and keep your dog safe in a market that is flooded with products threatening your beloved dog's health.

Health and longevity is not a "turn key” matter, rather a conscious process of eliminating factors that cause disease, and every little bit of knowledge can make a big difference when it comes to your dog’s safety and longevity.

Global food sourcing has made the topic of food safety and toxicity very difficult to navigate. For example, sardines canned in North America may come from a Japanese distributor that offers sardines spawned in the waters polluted with radioactive strontium and cesium from Fukushima.

In order to help you navigate the complicated maze of dog treat products, I put together these 12 rules for safe dog treats:


1. Avoid fish-based treats, with the exception of locally sourced/made salmon treats.

Fish treats come with three separate issues. If they are made from farmed fish, they may contain chemicals and antibiotics used in fish farms. Unfortunately, it is not required to be listed on the label whether the fish is sourced from a farm or not.

The second issue is the accumulation of toxins and heavy metals in fish. I have repeatedly seen elevated mercury levels in dogs that are on a fish-based diet. Read more here.

The problem that people are the least aware of is the concern around radioactive isotopes released from the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Isotopes such as Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 have a half-life of 30 years.

Strontium is very similar to Calcium in that it deposits within the bones of the contaminated fish, and then settles into the bones of our dogs when they eat the fish. This results in the elevated levels of Strontium-90 that I have seen in dogs eating fish meal based food (with bone) or small fish like smelt or sardines usually eaten with bones. 


2. Reduce feeding liver treats as they have an overall higher concentration of toxins and too many liver treats can lead to vitamin A toxicity. 


3. Be cautious of milk-based treats as many dogs are lactose intolerant. In sensitive dogs, milk can compromise the digestive tract and cause overall immune system depletion.


4. Avoid grain and rice-based treats as they are hard to digest for dogs who, by the nature of their digestive tract, can be gluten intolerant. The grain in dog food and treats is one of the causes of pancreatitis and is known to be high in arsenic as it is commonly grown in polluted waters of developing countries.


5. Cured meats such as ham, sausages and jerky contain nitrates and other preservatives, which can compromise your dog's health.


6. Avoid jerky treats that are not made from local, quality-controlled sources.

Commercial meat-jerky pet treats are often sold for a relatively low price which may suggest the origin is not local.

Perhaps you remember the melamine pet food scandal from a few years back when thousands of pets died of kidney disease. Jerky treats are also often infused with glycerin to increase their weight and loaded with preservatives.

Before you buy commercially made meat jerky, I suggest you do a simple calculation:

Dehydrated jerky is about 10x less in weight. Multiply the amount in the bag by 10 and this is roughly the amount of meat needed to produce a bag of jerky. If the price per lb of meat seems too good to be true, it usually is and you should stay away from the product. 

Home-made jerky treats are the best alternative and making them at home will eliminate the chances of chemical contamination.


7. Avoid any treats made in China and developing countries because the pet food quality control is often poor or none at all.

Recall after recall throughout the past decade is a good reason to go local. I am certain that you value your dog more than the few dollars that you save on buying cheaper treats. Here is a link to an article on this topic.

If you are unable to make home-made treats, the second-best option is to buy commercially made treats from a trustworthy source.


8. Avoid carrots as they are one of the least digestible vegetables for dogs.

For more information on what foods are healthy or not for your dog, go to the Healthy Dog Food Recipe Maker and click on each individual ingredient to see if it is ok.


9. Make homemade treats from chunks of meat whenever possible. They can be dehydrated, baked or cooked and frozen.

I personally love just dehydrating a combination of raw meat and cooked squash or yams at a 50/50 ratio. 

The temperature for dehydrating ground meat should be 70C or 158 F. Spread the mixture on parchment paper or silicone sheets, place on the dehydrator screen, and dehydrate until crispy - usually somewhere between 7 - 12 hours depending on the dehydrator efficiency. Check out this video to learn about the process.


10. Avoid “bully” sticks, rawhide and other bulk products that sit in store bins as they are likely preserved with chemicals. There is a reason why these products sit in bins for weeks and months without rotting! Remember that manufacturers do not need to claim preservatives on labels and often do not.


11. Feed treats sparingly, as your dog’s digestive tract needs a rest; fasting periods are needed in the canine species. Your dog will love you anyway! 😉🐶❤️


12. Buy local and buy organic, non-processed treats if you don’t have time to make them at home.

I personally do not allow other people to give my dog treats as it makes him beg, but sometimes, you want to allow others to treat your dog. The best way to avoid junk is to carry your own bag of treats and give them to the treat giver to treat your dog. I often say that my dog is sensitive to certain foods, hence he can’t get random treats.


Is there a way to test your dog’s treats and food for safety?
If you are wondering what your dog’s mineral and heavy metals are, HairQ test will give you a good idea of your dog's levels. This is especially important if you have a suspicion that something could be wrong with your dog’s food, treats or supplements.

If the test results come back positive for heavy metals, you will have to determine whether it's coming from your dog's treats or not. The only way to determine this is to submit a treat sample for food analysis to your local lab, which you can search for online.

Since the introduction of the HairQ test for minerals and heavy metals, I have detected and eliminated food and treats with increased levels of toxins. Sometimes these toxins can lead to serious health problems such as seizures in dogs with elevated mercury levels.  

Below is an example of results for a dog on a fish-based diet with no vitamin or mineral supplements added.

hair analysis test of dog with high mercury from fish diet
How to get rid of toxins brought into your dog's body through pet food and treats

If you have been feeding fish-based products or other treats that are potentially tainted with chemicals and preservatives, check this link for a detox protocol.


Summary of recommended reading and articles:

Beware of giving your dog too much of this popular treat

Learn why this popular treat is harmless in small doses but dangerous when it is given frequently or in large amounts. Find out more about vitamin A hypervitaminosis, so-called liver poisoning in dogs.

Tainted pet treats from China - how to keep your dog safe

In September 2007, the AVMA issued an alert that stated they had been receiving calls from veterinarians reporting Fanconi syndrome-like disease in dogs; the veterinarians reported that the problem appeared to be associated with the consumption of chicken jerky treats made in China.

Dogs fed fish and fish oils show elevated mercury levels

Should you feed dogs fish or fish oils? Find out what our HairQ test results have found and read my 7 practical steps to a time tested liver cleanse.

Why I no longer recommend sardines for your dog

What is Strontium and could it be toxic for your dog? Learn about the 7 steps you can take to protect your dog from radioactive strontium.

© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM


About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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