Treat products are a subset of pet food that are not usually intended to be a source of complete and balanced nutrition, but are primarily for rewarding pets. The AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations recognize the intended purpose of treat products and do not require that pet treats meet the nutritional adequacy requirements for a complete and balanced dog or cat food.
However, the label on the pet treat package must clearly display the terms “snack” or “treat” on the front (principal display) panel of the product label. If either of these terms appear on the label, the product should be given sparingly as an occasional reward or indulgence. If treats make up too much of a pet’s total daily intake, it can both upset an otherwise complete and balanced diet and add unneeded calories.
Although not required, some of treats, including many biscuit products, are formulated to meet nutritional requirements. (Note that “biscuit” is a particular shape or form, usually baked, but does not define a product as a “treat” or “snack” per se.) A treat product that meets nutritional adequacy standards may help relieve pet owners’ guilt about giving pets “junk food.” Of course, if given in large quantities without also reducing the amount of the mainstay food, pets may gain weight.
Products that do meet specific nutritional adequacy requirements will have the required statement of nutritional adequacy in small print somewhere on the product label, usually on the back or side.
Other Products in the Marketplace
Chews, Bones and Toys for Pets and Specialty Pets
The following products, whether flavor-coated or unflavored, are exempt from registration and labeling, unless the manufacturer makes any claim that the product is intended for use as an animal food or that it provides any nutritional value to the animal (e.g., “digestible” or “high-protein”):
- all chews, bones, toys and exercisers made of animal skin, hide, wood or manmade materials
- animal bones
Just be aware that such products are not required to have full pet food labeling unless they claim to be nutritious, low-fat, highly-digestible or so on. Accordingly, many of these products do not bear a calorie content statement or guaranteed analysis. But they are not nutritionally complete or balanced, and some can be quite high in calories, so it is important to use sparingly.
In recent years it has become fairly common to find jerky-type products, particularly chicken jerky strips, on the market as pet treats. Such products are composed of poultry flesh and do not meet the snack, treat or chew exemptions described above. They must be fully-labeled in all U.S. jurisdictions and registered in states requiring small-package product listing.
Certain kinds of treats have been the subject of controversy. For instance, years ago bulk-distributed pig ears from a specific Canadian plant were a vector a salmonella strain particularly dangerous to children.
Questions have also been raised regarding the potential for splintering in bone products that could harm animals. The FDA has received many complaints regarding certain jerky treats sourced from China; however, there has been no conclusion in this issue to date.
Prudence dictates pet owners should pay due diligence when they feed pets unusual or new treats.