We pet owners do lots of things to make our cats love us. Often, giving food treats is one of those things. However, connecting delicious food with positive emotions is definitely a human trait. And not a very good one at that. Not only are we becoming obese as a result of junk food – our cats are too!
The wild ancestors of our domesticated cats ate purely to sustain themselves. Now, we give our cats delicious treats to reward them and help with training. The good news is that there are a lot of awesome cat food brands producing healthy and even organic treats for our furry friends. What are the best cat treats ever when it comes to both nutrition and taste? Read on to find out 🙂
Why Give Your Cat Treats?
Treats can be useful for more than just spoiling your pet. Treats are a great reward which can be used as positive reinforcement for good behavior. The carrot does work better than the stick when it comes to training your cat. Here are some cool ways you can use cat treats:
Rewarding Good Behavior
the Humane Society puts it simply – “If you want your cat to repeat a behavior, reward that behavior” (source). The best cat treats for training should be small so your cat can nibble them up in a few seconds and return to the task at hand.
Distraction During Grooming
Another use for treats is to comfort an upset kitty. For example, if I accidentally step on Poki’s tail, I’ll give him a treat to apologize. I’m not sure he understands what I mean but it seems to make him forget what happened. It’s probably more to relieve my guilt than to apologize to him!
To Lure Your Cat Out of Hiding
Finally, one of the best uses for treats is to find your cat when he’s hiding. One time Poki got into our kitchen cupboard and disappeared somewhere out of reach. I was terrified that he’d escaped (our cats are indoor). We had the wise idea to shake the treat bag and he came running out immediately – safe and sound!
Are Cat Treats Healthy?
The answer is the same as for human “treats”. If your idea of a snack is some veggie slices or an apple then yes, treats are super healthy! If you’re snacking on candy and chips…not so much.
When it comes to kitty treats, there are varying levels of quality too. If you’re wondering what are the best and worst cat treats, I’ll get to that later.
Moderation is key, especially with unhealthy treats. I was rather shocked to learn that more than half of cats are overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (source). I can understand how it happens though – we use food as a way to show affection. However, it’s a bad habit. Treats should only make up around 10% of your cat’s daily calories, says vet Marla McGeorge (source). Treats can contain between 1 and 20 calories per piece so always read the label, especially if your cat is overweight.
Ingredients to Avoid
In general, you want to avoid feeding your cat too much processed food. There’s no point giving your cat anything with sugar as they can’t taste it (source) and it can lead to diabetes.
Some pet owners also like to stay away from artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives. Personally, I take it on a case-by-case basis. Some artificial ingredients are harmless. Added vitamins and minerals are a good thing. Colors and flavorings have no nutritional value, so I don’t see the need for them.
Your cat won’t be missing out if you avoid kitty “junk food” ingredients. What they really love is meat – pure protein with a bit of fat. There are plenty of treat brands that make healthy snacks which are also delicious for your pet.
What About Grain Free?
There’s a lot of hype around grain free pet food at the moment. It seems to have stemmed from the popularity of grain and gluten free diets for humans. There’s tons of information online but to summarize, grain isn’t the worst thing in the world for your cat.
Gluten intolerance isn’t as common in cats as it is in humans. In fact, it’s really rare. A study found that only 4 out of 56 cats had a gluten allergy compared with 45 reacting to beef, dairy, and/or fish (source). We still continue to feed our cats meat and seafood, so why avoid grains?
It’s true that cats’ diet in the wild is almost all meat (protein) and few carbohydrates. However, feeding your cat grains has its pros. Grains are a source of fiber which keeps your cat’s digestive system moving and helps to pass hairballs (source).
That said, if your cat has shown signs of a gluten allergy, you will need to select the best grain free cat treats for him. I’ll mention some of my favorites in the next section 🙂 .
Different Types of Cat Treat
There’s a wide range of treats on the market nowadays – from budget options to positively gourmet. There are a few different types which are good for different needs – I use a mixture to keep things exciting for my kitties. Below I’ve chosen the best natural cat treats and several are also grain free. If you have any favorites that I’ve missed, please share in the comments!
Crunchy Cat Treats
As the name suggests, crunchy cat treats are small, kibble-like biscuits. They’re by far the most common type of cat treat, especially in the budget category. The hard texture makes them good for cleaning your cat’s teeth. There are even some specially formulated with anti-tartar ingredients to make them the best cat treats for dental health.
Crunchy treats are one of the best cat treats for kittens as they provide some relief from teething pains. Of course, this only applies to kittens who are old enough to eat solid food. Kittens younger than 10 weeks don’t have enough teeth to chew (source). When choosing treats for your kitten, always check the label. Many treats are labeled as “for adult cats only”. Don’t forget, because kittens are smaller than adult cats, they need less food. Good cat treats for kittens should be low in calories.
Unfortunately, I consider a lot of crunchy treats kitty junk food – containing cheap “filler” ingredients and flavorings. However, there are a few gems. My favorites are:
- Purina Friskies Party Mix Naturals
- Castor & Pollux Organix (the best organic cat treats I have found!! Organic is so rare)
- Feline Greenies Smartbites (high fiber makes it one of the best cat treats for hairballs)
The best cat dental treats:
- Purina Whisker Lickin’s (good cat treats for teeth cleaning)
- Feline Greenies Dental Treats (one of the best cat treats for bad breath)
Moist Cat Treats
Moist or soft cat treats are another popular option. These are the best cat treats for older cats who may have trouble chewing or have lost some teeth (you gotta brush ’em people!). Another option is to just soak the crunchy treats above in water until they soften up or try cat milk for a liquid treat.
For some reason, it’s very hard to find soft treats that don’t have any dodgy preservatives like BHA in them. Because they are moist they will expire faster than the crunchy treats so I suppose they need more additives. The one brand I was happy with was:
Please share some other good natural options if you’re aware of them and I’ll add them to the list.
Freeze Dried Meat Treats
This category is the crème de la crème of cat treats, along with the fish treats below. If I have to recommend one type, I’d say these best cat treats for cats overall. They mostly have just one ingredient – pure, freeze-dried meat. Some of them even use human grade meat.
Unfortunately, with this quality comes a higher price. However these are the only types of treats I can feed my cats without worrying at all about ingredients.
- PureBites Freeze Dried Chicken Breast
- Whole Life Originals Pure Chicken
- Dr. Becker’s Appetite Flakes
Fish Flakes & Fish Treats
Both of the fish treats on this list have a single ingredient. My cats loooove Kitty Kaviar. If you’re familiar with Japanese food – they’re bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are a staple of Japanese cuisine. They’re used to make soups, stock bases and as a topping on lots of dishes. If they’re yummy enough for humans, they’re certainly good enough for our pets!
Tips When Using Cat Treats
- Don’t give treats too frequently or the novelty will wear off. A couple of times a week is enough.
- Use a mixture of treats to keep them interested.
- Throw crunchy treats so your cat has to run to get it – it will work off some of those calories!
- Don’t give human treats like candy, high fat or salty foods. This page give some good, safe examples of human treats for cats.
- Treats don’t have to be food. You can pet your cat as a reward or use catnip.