High quality cat treats made from natural, domestically-sourced ingredients are nutritious as well as delicious.

As a cat parent, you lavish your kitty with love, attention…and treats. Love and attention are calorie-free — treats not so much. This means cats can easily become overweight. So when reaching for the cat treats, be sure to reach for healthy options.

A growing number of cat parents are choosing natural, healthy diets for their cats, and this extends to treats as well. Unlike dogs, many cats don’t like snacking on raw fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat your cat with foods from your fridge or cupboard. Small tidbits of cheese, cooked fish, chicken or turkey all make good treat options. And if you’re buying treats, you have access to a good variety of quality products nowadays. You just need to know what to look for, and what to avoid.

What to steer clear of

When shopping for cat treats, ignore the cheap commercial products full of artificial colorings, flavors, fillers and preservatives.

“Always avoid treats containing by-product meals, grains, artificial ingredients, sugars or that are high in carbohydrates,” says Patti Salladay, head of sales and marketing for Northwest Naturals. “Food too high in carbohydrates can alter the blood sugar balance in many cats and contribute to obesity. In addition, treats derived from plant protein, not animal protein, work against the metabolic design of the strictly carnivorous feline.”

Take a careful look at the ingredients on treat packages before making a purchase – if it’s a long list filled with chemical names you can’t identify, put the product back on the shelf.

What to bring home

Look for high quality treats made from natural ingredients – the fewer and simpler the ingredients, the better. “More and more health-conscious pet parents are recognizing that treats are more than an indulgence — they’re an extension of their cats’ daily diet,” says Ward Johnson, the co-founder of Sojos, which offers cat treats made from dehydrated and freeze-dried raw venison liver, wild-caught salmon or turkey liver. “Cats love the taste of raw meat and fish, plus there’s the added benefit of knowing the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals haven’t been cooked out,” says Ward.

“Cats are obligate or ‘true’ carnivores, which means they depend on nutrients supplied by protein and fats,” adds Patti, stating that cats need species-appropriate treats. “They have a need for an essential fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which plays a vital role in fat utilization and energy production. This particular EFA is found primarily in raw meat.” Northwest Naturals’ raw freeze-dried single-ingredient liver treats are available in beef, lamb, chicken and salmon. The company also offers raw freeze-dried nibbles made of 98% meat, organs and bone, and available in chicken or turkey recipes; they can be used as treats, toppers, or a complete diet.

Other companies offer high quality cat treats include The Real Meat Company, whose jerky treats are made from natural, domestically-sourced meats such as free-range venison, beef and lamb. Still others are adding to their product lines to meet growing consumer demand for high quality cat treats. “We’re in the process of debuting new, limited-ingredient freeze-dried cat treats,” says Allison Arcos of Redbarn Pet Products.

If you already feed high quality treats for your cat, you’re part of a growing trend. “Concerned cat parents are looking beyond cute brand names and clever packaging, and making informed treat choices based on ingredient lists,” says Ward. “They understand that treating is not only a fun way to share their love, but it’s also an essential part of a healthy daily routine. As such, they also look for treats that complement their cat’s main meal. For example, if you’re feeding your cat a grain-free diet, also avoid treats with grains. If you’re feeding a raw diet, look for treats made from dehydrated or freeze-dried raw meat.”

Healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Far from it. You can easily indulge your cat with tasty treats that are also good for him. Just remember to look for quality ingredients, regard treats as an extension of his diet, and treat in moderation.