Whether intended for a cat, dog or other pet, today’s animal treats share a lot of common ground. Plenty emphasize on their labels that the products are single ingredient, organic and/or freeze-dried. And many are proud to note they’re crafted, produced, sourced or made in the USA.
Nevertheless, no two treats for a particular pet are alike, and other distinguishing factors can be found on the container and inside the container—or in what’s used to create the container.
Friendly, Familiar Faces
Some famous canines and felines—real and fictional—lend visual credence to the “treats with character” wording that’s on the Team Treatz website and on one of the company’s oral hygiene products.
Veterinarian Ginny Bischel and cat rescuer Kim Kolodzi founded Team Treatz in 2017 with the goal to make cat and dog treats that are functional but also fun from a visual perspective.
“We are firm believers that what is on the outside of a bag is just as important as what is in the inside,” said Dr. Bischel, chief vet at Eastlake Village Veterinary Clinic in Eastlake Chula Vista, California. “Our packaging brings to life famous entertainment characters with distinct and unique color combinations easily recognized by fans worldwide.”
Team Treatz launched its officially licensed Grumpy Cat and Hello Kitty treats for cats. The Grumpy Cat line features a large image of the internet celebrity cat whose nickname referred to its facial expression, along with a tongue-in-cheek comment that one could envision her thinking: “Worst treat ever.”
These cat treats and the Hello Kitty line are made with a veterinary-patented formula; forthcoming dog treats are embossed with a detailed character logo. Thus far, feedback on the treats from distributors and retailers has been positive, say Bischel and Kolodzi, who believe their products also differentiate from others by bearing the message “Adopt, Love, Spay and Neuter” on the front or back of packages.
The latest from Team Treatz is its chicken-flavored cat dental treats with imagery from Disney’s new version of the animated movie “The Lion King.” Released in August, these treats in the CatEatz Treatz series can reduce tartar up to 40 percent when consumed regularly, according to the company. Upcoming officially licensed treats, bearing the DogEatz Treatz distinction, will feature the likes of Snoopy and Scooby-Doo, among others.
At Jones Natural Chews, the Rocky mascot is “an integral part of sales and awareness,” says Laura Jones, chief operating officer for Jones Naturals and daughter of founder Robert L. Jones. Although the idea for Rocky was a group effort, she credits her father for wanting a logo that was bright and colorful but not representative of a specific breed. Named by Laura Jones’ brother Dean because he originally resembled a “caveman dog,” Rocky underwent a “modern facelift” in 2017—as she describes it—more than 25 years after making his debut on Jones Natural Chews packages. Treat-style offerings that feature the yellow-and-black dog include Beefly Links (beef in edible collagen casings), Tendy Taffy (flexible strips of beef liver and chicken) and Woofers (oven-baked ground beef patties).
Packaging is not the only place where Rocky appears. He is called out in the company’s brand guidelines as “an adorable character whose expression of playfulness and joy captures the spirit of the Jones Natural Chews brand,” and similar complimentary wording about his importance can be found in the About Rocky section of the Jones Natural Chews website.
Bare Bites’ treats for cats, dogs and horses all feature a pair of animated animals along the bottom of their respective re-sealable pouches. The company makes what owner Allison Levitt describes as a serious product, but she did not necessarily want to draw attention to that, hence the decision to include the cartoon-style characters on the exterior.
“We wanted to make sure the packaging had a little humor to it because dogs and cats are fun,” she said.
On the packages for the canine treats, there’s a black dog with floppy ears. In coming up with the look for that character, Levitt drew inspiration from a previous pet: her black Labrador Oliver, “the happiest, healthiest relationship I ever had,” she said with a laugh.
Adding to the aforementioned fun (but at the same time making a serious point) is the “No funky chemicals” statement that’s above the bar code on the company’s Flax Jax! horse treats, which Levitt says are poised for a relaunching effort, and on its various dog treats. Those options include Brew-Yahs! spent-grain treats. During the beer-brewing process, spent grain is usually discarded, even though it’s safe to consume. Bare Bites uses spent grain from a Maryland brewery for Brew-Yahs! and cheekily points out to dog owners on the back of the pouch, “Feel good rewarding your pooch with a brew they can chew.”
One of the first products Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein introduced in 2014-15 under their Earth Animal banner was All Natural Chicken Cutlets Made With Brushed-On Benefits. The dog treats come in seven varieties, each one addressing common dog conditions, with supplements applied via an olive oil marinade.
“We use it as sort of a carrier to get the individual nutrients to stick to the chicken,” Dr. Goldstein explained. “We developed a process where we actually marinate the chicken tenders in the solution that contains the brushed-on benefits, so they get absorbed into the treat, then we dehydrate them at a very low temperature.”
Animals suffer from the same conditions as humans, notes Susan Goldstein, adding that many animals experience chronic anxiety. For that issue, there is Earth Animal’s Brushed-On Benefits Calm Treats, which she said “helps to support total balance.” She added that she’s received positive feedback from dog owners who’ve benefitted from the Calm treats, which contain L-Tryptophan, an amino acid that supports increased serotonin levels, including a family that referred to the treat as “an absolute lifesaver” after introducing it to their dog that was suffering from serious separation anxiety.
Ewegurt owner Jennifer Erdman also recognizes that anxiety affects dogs as well as cats, and her company’s treats for them are meant to provide a sense of calm during fireworks, veterinarian visits and travel, among other stressful scenarios. The primary ingredient in Ewegurt’s treats is sheep milk yogurt that has yogurt culture from Bulgaria and sheep milk from Wisconsin.
The magnesium in the sheep milk is not only good for a dog’s overall health but also its mood, Erdman says.
“Health experts have discovered that this mineral has a calming effect,” she said, adding that after consumption of a Ewegurt treat, it typically takes 15 to 30 minutes for the relaxing results to totally kick in. “This makes magnesium a perfect remedy for dogs that frequently get anxious or agitated.”
Antler, Cricket and Buffalo
On its website, Buck Bone Organics emphasizes that “animal integrity is one of our main concerns.” And while that’s a specific reference to the source material for its treats, it can also apply to the purity of the pets who consume Buck Bone’s health-minded products.
Like everything else from Buck Bone, its biscuits for dogs are made from naturally shed elk and/or deer antlers from Bozeman, Montana, which is also where the company has its manufacturing facility. Shaped like tiny dog bones with three holes, the protein- and calcium-rich biscuits are intended to promote healthy joints, gut function and the immune system. As an added benefit, antlers naturally clean dogs’ teeth, according to Buck Bone.
For dogs with conventional meat sensitivities, Presidio Natural Pet Co. produces Chirpies, bite-size training treats made from crickets, which are rich in iron, calcium and amino acids. After the insects are milled into a fine flour, other ingredients are added to make Presidio’s four varieties: Berry Banana, Carrot Pumpkin, Mango Madness and Crazy Coconut.
Honey provides the flavor and water buffalo meat provides the protein in the dog treat line from Honey I’m Home!, which was founded in 2017. Sourced from Switzerland, the honey used in its treats consists of 99 percent all-natural honey and 1 percent natural honey flavor, which serves as a binding agent and prevents the products from becoming “a sticky mess,” per the Honey I’m Home! site. The grass-fed water buffalo is sourced from independent farmers in India, where “[t]here is no practice of using hormones, antibiotics or any other chemicals to promote growth and fattening of livestock,” according to a report from the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The company’s jerky strips, udder sticks and other dog treats feature a drawing of a dog (appropriately named Honey) and at least one bee on the packaging, and they come with a Happy Buffalo Guarantee. Lisa Momberger, Honey I’m Home! CEO, says this guarantee from her company “is solidified by knowing where our buffalo come from and how the animals are treated. We never use factory-farmed buffalo or buffalo that have been restricted to certain roaming areas. They must be free range… The government even pays vet bills to ensure the health of the animals. A healthy buffalo is a happy buffalo.”
Sustainability has been a priority for Bobby DeMasco since he opened the Brooklyn, New York-based wholesaler Pierless Fish in 1999, and he’s taken that effort one step further with Pierless Pets.
In addition to “using the entire fish, from nose to tail,” as stated on the company’s website, Pierless Pets’ cat and dog treats are sold in containers made of rice paper. According to Dan Ottmer, a Genesis Pet Partners sales consultant working with Pierless Pets, DeMasco came up with the packaging idea about two years ago, driven by his desire to protect the ocean from plastic waste and to make the world a better place for his young daughters.
“He sees what’s happening in landfills, and he sees what’s going on with plastics, so this is important to him on multiple levels,” added Ottmer. “We’re doing such a good job with the product [in terms of] sustainability… but put it in plastic? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Pierless Pets’ handmade treat offerings for cats include freeze-dried whitefish and tuna bites; among the options for dogs are freeze-dried tuna bones and salmon skin rolls. Right now, the packaging makes no mention of it being rice paper, but that important characteristic will be called out soon, according to Ottmer. Meanwhile, he makes a point to bring up the rice paper aspect right away when interacting with vendors—if they don’t ask him first about the packaging’s material.
Ottmer has a vivid memory of an exchange with Kane Veterinary Supplies in Canada about Pierless Pets treats. Employees at the wholesale distributor noticed something was different about the packaging, and after Ottmer revealed that it was made with eco-friendly rice paper, he said the response was, “That makes a huge difference up here.”
It makes a difference elsewhere, too. With consumers increasingly concerned about landfills and global warning, Ewegurt’s Erdman says she expects the move toward treats packaging with a reduced carbon footprint to gain traction in the months ahead. Count her among those who are giving serious thought to what’s involved with making that transition. “The higher cost has been a factor in changing to biodegradable packaging, which we like more than recyclable,” she said.
“Whenever it makes sense, recyclable products is a great idea,” said Jessica Broder, vice president of sales for Big Creek Foods, manufacturer of the Look Who’s Happy! line of Pop’ems and Stack’ems treats for dogs. “It appeals to a broad consumer base and does not offend customers that are not environmentally driven.”
With a new year on the horizon, pet treats companies are taking a good look at their respective operations as well as the big picture.
Bare Bites is planning to release a line of CBD-infused treats, says Levitt. Ewegurt is exploring frozen yogurt treats that are infused with exotic protein and bone broth as well as introducing functional treats intended to benefit older pets, Erdman says.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of nutritional ingredients in treats and consumers trying to find those treats and snacks that support ever-changing senior [pet] nutrition needs,” Erdman explained.
Momberger of Honey I’m Home! expects the use of honey in pet treats as well as in pet food to rise “as people learn what a power-packed, natural energy source it is.”
“We also believe that the trend toward more sustainable supply chains and ingredient sourcing is going to continue to develop, having an impact on where and how companies source and how they tell that story to their retail partners and end consumers,” Momberger added.