Skip to main content

Healthy cat treats: What you should look for

You want to treat your cat for special occasions or just to show your love, but treats need the same consideration as cat food. Looking for certain ingredients and checking out labels will help you distinguish healthy cat treats from toxic ones. Nevertheless, too many treats can contribute to weight gain and potentially cause poor health. Treats may also interfere with your cat’s daily dietary habits.

That doesn’t mean you can’t show your cat a little love now and then! Let’s look at how to find a good quality treat that will benefit your cat’s health and well-being while also providing a fun moment here and there. Here’s what you should look for.

woman feeding a cat a treat outside

Check the ingredients list

First and foremost, you should always check the ingredients list before you purchase your cat’s treats. Look for similar types of things in treats that you would in your high-quality cat foods. 

  • Labeled meats as the primary (first) ingredient — Look for ingredients like “freeze-dried chicken” as the first ingredient listed and avoid treats that say things like “meat” or “meat meal.” It’s tough to tell the quality of a vague label.
  • Natural ingredients — Avoid treats with lots of artificial ingredients. Your cat doesn’t need artificial colors or flavors to enjoy the treats, and there are natural preservatives to keep treats fresh.
  • The fewer ingredients, the better — If there’s a whole paragraph of ingredients you don’t recognize, forgo those treats for ones with fewer ingredients. 
  • Look for domestic sources — Do your research to find companies that source meat and other ingredients locally or within the North American borders. They’ll be fresher.
  • Watch those calories — Look at the serving size on your treat bag and be sure it works well with your cat’s overall nutrition plan.
  • Check with your vet — If your cat has special dietary needs or you need specific recommendations, your veterinarian is a valuable resource for helping you decipher cat treat ingredients lists.

Consider alternatives

striped cat playing with several bright pink toys
Kim Davies/Unsplash

Treats aren’t the only way you can reward your cat. Instead of handing out a treat every time you want to love and appreciate your cat, use a variety of reward methods.

  • Use food — Take a little of your cat’s regular food and put it into a puzzle ball. You could also make the entire meal a puzzle. Reward good behavior with some wet food mixed into your cat’s kibble. Using food helps you account for the amount of calories and daily servings.
  • Use toys — Toys can help your cat alleviate excess energy and boredom and could turn plain old food into something extraordinary.
  • Make your own treats — Be sure to use high quality, cooked meats and whole ingredients. Don’t overfeed treats and consider the extra calorie counts in your daily food servings.

What to avoid in cat treats

The biggest thing to avoid when feeding your cat treats is overfeeding. Relying solely on treats to show love or get your cat to perform is an excellent way to end up with an obese cat. Treats are for special occasions, and you must consider the extra calories in your daily food servings.

Artificial ingredients often mask low quality and are a way to encourage overeating. Artificial colors are for your benefit, not your cat, and artificial flavors often have unidentified sources. The more ingredients on the list that you don’t recognize, the less you should choose that option.

Despite popular conception (and cartoons), cats should never get raw fish or other raw meats. Yes, cats eat raw meat in the wild, but house cats are not wild cats. Raw meats from grocery stores can have harmful bacteria that could cause infection. 

Avoid giving your cat scraps from the table or other people food. Your cat doesn’t need milk or cream to be healthy, and this could lead to undesirable behaviors like begging or jumping on the table. It’s best to stick to cat food and specific cat treats.

Never use cat treats as a substitute for true enrichment activities. Your cat begs for a variety of reasons, and one could be attention. Schedule in fun playtime activities to help reduce begging without offering too many calorie-rich treats.

Choosing and using healthy treats

Man feeding cat a treat
Elizabeth Livermore / Getty Images

Treats can be an excellent way to reward your cat or provide love, but consider them as part of an overall health strategy. Your cat needs physical and mental stimulation to thrive. Treats are part of that, but so is exercise, playtime, and a healthy diet.

You can give your cat treats with high-quality ingredients and help ensure your cat has the best foundation for health and well-being. With the right treats and the right plan, your indoor cat can thrive.

Editors' Recommendations

This is why cats pee on clothes (and how you can save your wardrobe in the future)
Why your cat is displaying this nasty behavior and what to do next
A long-haired cat in a woven laundry basket

Cats have many reputations — for plotting your demise (probably not), destroying the holiday trees (fair), and night owl behavior (they can't help themselves). However, cats are also known for being good about using the correct facility. Their instinct to go in one gives kitties a point over dogs, which are generally more difficult to housebreak in cat lovers' books.

Yet, your cat is suddenly peeing on your clothes.
"Why does my cat pee on my clothes?" you ask. That's a good question, and the answer is critical to uncover. Here's why: Peeing outside of the litter box is a sign that something is up, especially if the cat usually uses one like a pro. So, what's up with kitty when they're peeing on your laundry? They're not trying to spite you, but instead, to send you a rather gross but important message. Here's what a cat is saying when they choose your favorite shirt over their box.

Read more
Why do cats’ eyes dilate? What your pet’s extra big peepers mean
Your cat might have big eyes because of darkness, excitement, or surprise
A cat snuggling on a person's chest

Sometimes you come home to a dark house, and through the pitch black of your living room, you spy two big round orbs. While it might look Halloweeny at first glance, this is actually just how your cat sees things. Cat's eyes seem to glow at night because they reflect light, a lot more than ours do in any case. Just as with other animals, you will see a kitty's eyes dilate, but what is your cat's pupils meaning? We'll walk through what your pet's eyes tell you about their feelings and physical state and when you need to step in and get your cat to a vet.
What does it mean when cats' pupils get big?

Big eyes on your cat could mean a few different things, some physical and some emotional. Rarely, you may find that your cat has a larger issue since occasionally dilated pupils can be medical in nature (we'll go into this more later). Fortunately, it generally doesn't have to do with any underlying condition and instead has everything to do with the current situation. Here are some reasons your cat might have extra large peepers.
They're hunting
Cats love to hunt and frequently do so at dawn and dusk — both inside your home and out of it. Your pet might not literally be hunting for prey, but they could still enjoy stalking their toys or food. When they're in hunting mode, you may see extra big eyeballs staring at the object of their interest.
It's dark outside
When you spend time in a dark room or outside at night, you'll almost certainly notice your own pupils get bigger. That's because our eyes open up to let in more light and allow us to see better. It's the same with your cat but theirs tend to stand out a bit more in part because of the prior mentioned reflectivity.
Something surprised them
If you've ever heard of eyes widening with surprise, this is what we're talking about. From a physical perspective, your globes are attempting to take in everything as quickly as possible, because this surprise could mean a bad thing. A wild cat could get startled by a predator for example and need that info to find a way to safety.
They feel anxious
You may discover that your cat has eyes that seem to dilate under certain conditions or more frequently than usual. It might mean they're experiencing some anxiety and want to destress. Ensure there is somewhere in your house where they feel secure and that the day-to-day routine suits their needs.
They're aggressive
Sometimes you might see your cat's eyes turn to slits before they get into a fight with another cat because narrowing the opening can help them protect their sensitive ocular region. On the other hand, having wide-open eyes gives your feline more information about their opponent. Pay attention to other signs of aggression, which will help you determine if this is causing the widening.
When do dilated pupils indicate a medical issue?

Read more
These useful tips can help you support your senior cat’s health
You'll have to pay special attention as your kitty gets older
Senior cat sleeping on a cat tree perch

If you're fortunate, you'll get to watch your cat age and progress through her senior years. But senior cats have different health needs than younger ones do, so the way you care for your aging cat will need to change in different ways, as well.
With certain health conditions becoming more likely in older kitties, staying on top of your cat's wellness becomes extra important. This may mean some additional time and vigilance, as well as more frequent trips to the vet. When you provide your pet with top-quality care, you can support her health and comfort as she moves through her golden years.

At what age is a cat a senior?

Read more