Friday, 15 July 2016
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Choosing Ingredients for Homemade Dog Treats

Counter with ingredients for making healthy homemade dog treats.

There are a lot of benefits (and a few potential pitfalls) to making homemade dog treats. One of the great things about making your own homemade dog treats and/or food is that you know exactly what's in it and can tailor the ingredients to suit your pet's needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues.  With a bit of basic baking knowledge, you can easily create your own recipe, tailor one from here (or elsewhere), or even adapt a favourite human recipe to suit your dog.  Here are some of our personal choices for common treat ingredients and why we use them:

Whether for people or pets, freshness and safe storage of ingredients is important. Read ingredient labels, trust your sources, select with care, store properly, and pay attention to use-by dates. Ingredients that I use with our pets have been checked for suitability using reputable online references, such as the AKC, SPCA, Dogs Naturally, and others, however, it is important to note that expert opinions may vary/differ and/or evolve over time. 

Meat and Fish - No surprises here - dogs love meaty treats! Our favourite homemade meat dog treat is dehydrated jerky for dogs - so simple and healthy. Lean meats and lean firm fish work great for dehydration.  Dog friendly meatball treats and meatloaf-style dog cakes are easy meat-based options, especially for special occasions, and we sometimes used canned fish (water-packed, low salt) to make irresistibly smelly baked treats. I also use homemade stock/broths for making dog treats, which is just the plain unseasoned cooked-out liquid from cooking meat for our boys homemade dog food. Poaching in a slow-cooker makes great healthy unseasoned broth for dog treats! I simply skim off any fat, measure it into small containers or as cubes, and freeze for future use.  Delicious and "free"! Raw meaty bones are a great zero-prep treat for many dogs, and unseasoned (or dog-safe seasoned) bone broth is also great for dogs (and for you too, if you're into that sort of thing)?

Gelatin - Quality gelatin also offers some of the benefits of bone broth with much lower effort and greater versatility for non-meaty flavoured treats. It is a go-to ingredient for the dogs in our kitchen, and I always have a batch of homemade gelatin gummy dog treats in the fridge. They're very quick to make - just a few minutes of prep and then hand-off time to set. Easy peasy. Our dogs love them and if the base and add-ins are healthy, then they're a zero guilt treat. A health supplement really. Shhh...don't tell the dogs!  Gelatin can also be helpful in treat doughs as a binder and/or texture modifier. It makes dough thick and fudgey, kind of like fondant, and that can be handy for shaping and/or to help with handing, especially for doughs with chunky add-ins.

Fruits and Vegetables - There are many dog-safe fruits and vegetables that can be used in making homemade treats or enjoyed straight-up as a fresh treat together. Many make great dehydrated snacks as well.  Flavourful and nutritious, they can be a useful binding ingredient, just like in human baking. Most fruits and veggies can be prepped quickly from fresh/frozen and used either raw or cooked by grating or pureeing; however, some need longer prep. Pumpkin (squash) is a favourite, and for convenience, we cube, bake, and then freeze it for ready-use. Unsweetened applesauce is another quick and convenient option, and baby food (check the ingredients for safety) works well as an occasional shortcut to easy treats in fruit, veggie, or even meaty flavours.

Eggs - Eggs are nutritious and an effective binding ingredient for baking.  My dogs also love eggs straight up.

Dairy - Although we've never had any issues with our dogs, if I am using milk (e.g. puppuccinos) I often use a low-fat lactose-free milk, just in case. Other dairy dog treat ingredients, like yogurt, sour cream, and cheese are much lower in lactose (read more here). If using yogurt, try to go natural or low-sugar/low-fat where possible and double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol (highly toxic to dogs). Milk powder is also a baking favourite. In addition to adding extra healthy goodness (and yum) to the treat mix, it also assists with texture and structure. I like to use use trim (reduced fat)  milk powder, which is very common here in NZ and can be bought from the grocery store. 

Flour and Grain - Our dogs are (fortunately) not sensitive to wheat or gluten, however, many dogs are, so we share a wide variety or recipes with different flours.  Whole wheat is a classic baking choice. Almond meal, rice flour, oat flour, buckwheat, and coconut flour are all gluten-free alternatives (read more here).  They all have different absorbances and form different dough textures, and you may need extra binding for gluten-free dough vs. wheat flour, especially for coconut flour. I find that it can be harder to make roll-and-cut treats with gluten-free flours, but rice flour (preferrably the healthier brown) and oat flour make a great smooth workable dough. Brown rice flour is my personal favorites for making roll-and-cute shaped dog treats, but I keep white rice flour on hand for the rolling matt and cutters as I find it's smoother than my preferred brown rice flour. Chickpea flour is another healthy and nutritious gluten-free flour, but although I use it in human cooking you won't see it in our dog treat recipes because I try to keep things lower in purine for our Dalmatians. Other common flours like cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot are high GI and best reserved for very infrequent use, like making dog-friendly "icing".

Oils and Fats - I try to avoid adding extra oils and fats to homemade treats where possible.  Other than the fat inherent in other ingredients, occasionally, a touch of olive oil or butter may be used.  The exception is coconut oil, which I actively include in my dogs' diet for the potential health benefits. Without including lots of fats and sugars in baked treats, homemade dog biscuits/cookies can often lack "snap" and "crunch", but you can leave treats in the cooling oven or pop baked treats into a dehydrator to remove moisture and add crunch factor.  This also helps to extend shelf life, but I still prefer to use treats "fresh", so I freeze and defrost in small quantities.  Freezing is also a great way to have different options on hand so you can easily mix things up for variety. :)

Peanut Butter and Nut/Seed Butters - Most dogs LOVE peanut butter, and it's a handy helper for binding as well as adding a little fat if needed for consistency. I occasionally use other nut and seed butters, like pumpkin seed butter, but that's just me mixing things up for variety. When using ingredients like peanut butter, try to go natural or low-salt/low-fat where possible and double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol (highly toxic to dogs).  Dogs also don't need added salt. 

Nuts and Seeds - Nuts and seeds are nutritious, tasty, and can add texture. Many varieties are dog-friendly, but always check any new ingredient before use - in particular, never use macadamias (toxic to dogs) and it is recommended to avoid walnuts. Make sure that they are an appropriate size to avoid choking hazards or digestion problems - larger nuts and seeds can be chopped or even ground into a meal or homemade butter.  A special seed mention goes to flax (and flax-rich LSA), which I include in many of my treats in ground-form (increased digestibility) as a healthy add-in as well as a helpful baking ingredient. Chia seed also gets a similar special mention as a healthy add-in a helpful baking booster. Both will absorb moisture in the dough mix and act as added binders. This can be helpful in no-bake treats and/or for adding extra binding to improve the texture/handling of gluten-free treat doughs.     

Carob -  Carob is a dog-friendly alternative to chocolate (toxic to dogs).  Made from ground carob tree pods, it is surprisingly nutritious (good for humans too!) and most dogs LOVE carob. Many pet/grocery stores sell carob drops or melts, but they are usually high in fat and/or sugars, so best used in moderation (like all treats, of course).  Pure carob powder and plain raw carob can be tricky to find.  I order mine from an organic health food shop.

Blackstrap Molasses - While I generally avoid adding sweeteners (other than perhaps a rare drop of honey or maple syrup), blackstrap molasses is a "sweetener" for which I make an exception...although it's sweetness is debatable!  It is packed with nutritional goodness and my dogs LOVE the smell.  A little goes a long way, so adding a small amount to treats to make them extra smelly and tasty is guilt-free in my books.

Herbs and Spices - There are plenty of dog-safe herbs and spices that you can use for added scent or flavour in your treats.  Some have different benefits or purported health properties, so you can even tailor your seasonings to suit your dog's health needs.  Turmeric is one of our favourites. Don't add unnecessary salt or sugar.

Baking and cooking ingredients for dog treat recipes.

Not sure where to start? Check out the Homemade Dog Treat FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series for more information on treat making, storage, and more: 

Keen to try a few treats? You can explore all of our treat-related posts, sniff around our DIY dog recipes, use our DIY Dog Treat Recipes navigation page, or hop over to our DIY Dog Treat Recipes board on Pinterest for ideas from here and all around the web. We've also started a Pet Chef Help board on Pinterest with handy links on things like ingredients, substitutions, conversions, tinting, and more.

🦴 Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas here from treats that we make ourselves for our pets, but different animals will have different preferences (likes/dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what's suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.


  1. Thanks for this. I'm wanting to start making more treats and eventually food for our dog but am struggling with where to start and how to keep them simple healthy and tasty. Any suggestions or advice for a complete beginner?

    1. Hi Heather! What's best will depend a lot on your dog (size, activity, health, etc) and household (What do you normally have on hand? What are you comfortable serving/making?). Try and find balanced articles and references where you can with pros/cons (there are definitely both) and ease in slowly as you would with any dietary change. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about your dog's diet and health, have a chat with your vet.

      In our personal experience it is almost impossible to go wrong with adding quality meat - be it raw, cooked, dehydrated, etc. I currently mixed feed our dogs (homemade breakfast, quality premade kibble dinner, a combo of homemade/bought treats). They like the kibble but they LOVE their breakfasts and anything meaty! I'm a vegetarian, so they know that meat in the kitchen is always for them and something to get crazy excited about! We make lots of different dog treats, but jerky is a favourite - it's easy, healthy, can be used fresh or frozen, and the dogs love it.

      Other dog friendly whole foods either fresh (e.g. carrot stick, apple slice, etc) or cooked (e.g. plain pumpkin) are also easy places to start testing foods. You can continue to experiment as you feel confident - don't let my pretty treats be an obstacle as your dog is all about the smell/taste, not the looks. That's for us crazy humans. :)

      Hope that helps and good luck!


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