If you're looking for the best cat treats there are a few things you need to know before you go shopping. Quality and ingredients matter, especially if you're buying treats for dental health or rewarding good behavior. We need to take a look at the nutritional values of each cat treat before we buy it.
Why Buy Cat Treats for Your Feline Friend?
Buying best healthy cat treats can be great for kitty dental health which is a common health issue for cats. Cat treats are also great for training and rewarding good behavior. This is beneficial because we want our cats to behave and be happy indoors. This is a win-win situation for you and your cat.
Great for healthy teeth and gums
Choosing the right cat dental treats for cat dental health is crucial. Most pet parents believe that dried food like kibble and some treats are good because the crunchiness cleans teeth. However, this is untrue.
Kibble and mant crunchy treats contain artificial preservatives and carbohydrates (starches). The enzyme amylase is responsible for breaking down carbs and starches, but cats cannot produce amylase in their saliva as we can. Meaning, carbs, and starches in dried foods don't break down and instead stick to the cat's teeth.
This is dangerous for cats because bacteria in the mouth can travel throughout the body and make cats very sick. Dental disease in cats is more common than you might think. More than half of all cats over the age of three have some form of dental disease.
Cats require mental stimulation to prevent boredom indoors. A great way to challenge your cat and provide mental stimulation is to make him go hunting for treats. This is a fun game that my cat looks forward to every day.
I hide his dehydrated turkey thigh treats in his condo, beds, between furniture, and anywhere else they fit. His treats are technically raw, so I use glass jar lids to hide them. Implement this as a daily routine using the right treats, and your cat will happily look forward to it.
Treats reinforce good behavior
Training cats is similar to training dogs. Cats will learn that a yummy reward means they did something that you appreciate. You can use some of these best cat treats for kittens to reinforce good behavior like coming indoors when necessary, jumping off the kitchen counter, or scratching in the appropriate places.
Another great way to use treats is during trimming your cat's claws. Using treats while trimming your cat's claws will help him adjust quicker which will make the experience better for both of you.
Features to Consider
Unless your cat needs to gain weight, you don’t want to add too many additional calories to her diet. Generally, treats are high in calories so be sure to read the label before you buy. You should include the calories from treats into your cat's daily intake. That way, your cat is not overeating. Cat obesity is very common and can lead to serious health risks.
Watch that kitty Kcal intake and try to stay low-calorie!
As mentioned above, most cat treats contain carbs. Cats do not have a nutritional requirement for carbohydrates so these treats should be avoided. It's important to see where ingredients are sourced as well.
Some cat treat companies can be vague with the ingredients and might contain unnecessary fillers, fiber, and even illegal poultry antibiotics. So, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the treat labels and the companies producing them.
The FDA's page dedicated to understanding how to read pet food labels correctly is a great resource for this.
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Type of cat treat
Soft and crunchy treats are perhaps the most common. You might also find lickable treats, kibble toppers, and dental treats. The type of cat treat you buy depends on your cat's behavior. For example, lickable treats might be good for a cat that is stressed. Cats might obsessively lick themselves when they are stressed.
So, if all medical issues are ruled out, lickable treats might be a good choice to help calm your cat and divert excessive licking to a yummy treat instead. If you'd like to add healthier nutrition to your cat's kibble, then kibble toppers might work here.
Dental treats are very common since all cats need help in this area. Again, it's important to know the ingredient quality before you use these to treat dental issues.
The taste of the treats obviously depends on your cat's preferences. Offering a variety of proteins to your cat can be beneficial because each animal has different nutrients to offer. This can also help alleviate boredom and decrease the risk of allergies. When you offer a variety you're more likely to get a complete balance of beneficial nutrients.
Cat treats may be complete and balanced or for supplemental feeding only. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires a specific amount of nutrients in pet foods to be tagged "complete and balanced" on the label.
This tag means that your cat will meet his daily nutritional needs by consuming this product as the main meal. When the label says "for supplemental feeding only", this means the product is not sufficient to rely on as a main meal and more nutrients are required.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I give my cat treats every day?
If you feed healthy and biologically appropriate crunchy cat treats these are safe to feed daily. However, as mentioned above, be sure to include the calorie intake from the treats in your cat's total daily requirements. This will keep his calorie intake at the appropriate level and will decrease the risk of overeating and gaining unnecessary weight.
How many treats are too many for a cat?
This depends on the caloric information of the treats, and this information is provided on the label. Most cat treat labels will instruct how many treats are safe based on your cat's weight. However, these should be taken lightly as general guidelines.
You should read your cat's food labels to see how many calories are being consumed throughout the day and base how many treats are safe off of that. Most treats are for supplemental use only so a good rule of thumb is to keep treats at about 10% of your cat's daily intake of calories.
Can cat treats go off?
All pet foods can and do expire. Pet manufacturers are required to print a "best by" date on the label. However, this date does not tell you when the food was produced or how old the food is. Different wet and dry cat foods expire at different rates.
But, manufacturers claim that the "best by" date only means that the nutrition in the food is best kept by this date. It does not mean it is officially expired. Your best bet is to call the manufacturer and ask for the specific product's shelf life.
Are they good or bad for a kitty's teeth?
As mentioned above, cat treats that contain carbs and starchy ingredients are not good for your cat's dental health. Starch will stick to your cat's teeth forming plaque. This can cause many forms of dental diseases, and these diseases affect the whole body, not just the mouth.
What happens if my cat rejects normal food and wants treats instead?
It could be that your cat treats are not nutritionally safe for your cat. Cats don't need carbohydrates, and feeding carbs can be dangerous for cats. Simple sugars in treats can initiate a rise in molecules (one example is insulin) that promote hunger.
After time, the cat will build insulin resistance and will require more and more to function. The best way to avoid this is to slowly introduce better quality foods and treats to your cat's diet. A slow introduction is required because the cat's gut is very sensitive to change.
If you change your cat's diet, food or treats, too quickly your cat will get sick, regardless of the new food's quality.
What Are The Best Cat Treats? Here's our Top 14.
1. Whole Life Pet Pure Salmon Freeze-Dried Cat Treats (Best Overall Cat Treat Option)
Whole Life Freeze-Dried cat treats are the best overall option because they only contain one ingredient. And, those ingredients are human-grade meaning safe for human consumption. These best healthy cat treats are freeze-dried rather than cooked, and this helps contain more of the beneficial nutrients.
When we add up protein, fat, and moisture, we get 95%. Protein and fat are added to the guaranteed analysis at minimum levels so we don't know the maximum of these sources. However, 95% minimum guaranteed protein and fat is a great value.
2. FELINE GREENIES Natural Dental Care (Best Cat Dental Treat Option)
Here is a treat that is advertised as the best dental care option, however, four out of the first six ingredients are carbs. We learned above that carbs don't actually help clean teeth.
The treat product name "chicken flavor" indicates that AAFCO requires no minimum requirement for chicken. There only needs to be enough added that the flavor is detectable. You'll see that the first ingredient is a chicken meal and not actual chicken.
Meat meal is processed by removing fat and moisture from the protein source and is not considered actual meat.
You'll also notice that the amino acids Taurine and DL-Methionine are in the ingredients. This means that the protein source has lost its nutritional value so much that these crucial nutrients need to be added back into the food. The bulk of ingredients are comprised of synthetic vitamins and minerals.
If we add up the percentages from the guaranteed analysis of protein, fat, and moisture, we get 49%. This means that what's left (potential 51%) is carbs.
3. Get Naked Soft Treats Kitten Health (Best Cat Treats for Kittens options)
Get Naked soft treats packaging says made in the USA with real chicken. When we look at the ingredients, we see chicken is the first ingredient, added as whole chicken and not as meal or by-product. Taurine is added, but it is the last ingredient. This tells us most of the essential nutrients from chicken lasted through processing.
However, we need to keep in mind that chicken is roughly 75% moisture. Since these treats are dried, the majority of the chicken is stripped during processing.
The second ingredient is sweet potatoes which are technically grain-free, however, it is still a starch. Later in the ingredients list, we see algae meal, sunflower oil, and flaxseed. These ingredients are not required by cats. If we add up the protein, fat, and moisture we get 61%. Meaning, less than half the ingredients make up the carbs percentage.
4. Temptations Classic Crunchy and Soft Cat Treats (Best Cat Treats for Picky Cats Option)
These Temptations treats also use the words "chicken flavor" on their product pack label. When we look at the ingredients we see chicken by-product meal is the first. This means that no actual chicken needs to be used because the by-product meal produces the chicken flavor.
We also see animal fat and dried meat by-products in the list. This is dangerous because we don't know which animals are used and which parts of these animals are used.
Three of the first five ingredients are carbs. We see ground corn, brewers rice, and wheat flour. Again, these ingredients do nothing but harm our cats. You might argue that one ingredient is "natural flavors", but what does that mean?
According to the FDA, "With respect to flavors, pet foods often contain "digests," which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors."
So, again, this is not actual meat we are talking about here. When we add up protein, fat, and moisture we get 59%. Here's another treat that relies on the bulk of carbs.
5. Hartz Lickable Wet Cat Treats (Best Lickable Cat Treat option)
Hartz Lickable cat snacks use the phrase "with tuna & chicken" on their product label. According to AAFCO and the FDA, the "with" rule means that a minimum requirement of the named ingredients is only 3%.
When we look at the guaranteed analysis this makes sense because moisture (water) makes up 90% of the product. Moisture is important for cats, but they also need nutrients from quality proteins.
Other ingredients include natural and artificial flavors, tapioca starch, and guar gum. Tapioca starch and guar gums are thickeners in pet foods. You'll also see natural tuna flavor. Again, only enough to detect the flavor is required. And the list continues with synthetic vitamins and minerals and unnecessary colors.
Final Thoughts on the Best Cat Treats of 2021
The clear winner in this list is Whole Life because of its simple ingredients. The only ingredient is animal-based protein, and it's freeze-dried to preserve beneficial nutrients. We'd recommend mixing it up with your proteins so that you aren't only feeding fish. A variety is beneficial because you'll offer a variety of nutrients with each protein source.
Healthy and species-appropriate treats can be a great addition to your cat’s diet, for training, lifestyle and providing mental stimulation. Just be sure to include the calories from treats to your cat's daily intake to prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Always make sure to read the ingredients. Don't trust the fancy pictures of whole meats on the labels. This is a marketing trick that many people fall for. Familiarize yourself with FDA and AAFCO rules and regulations so you can make smarter choices with your cat's food and treats.
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