Wednesday, 8 March 2017
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Using Natural Colourings for Homemade Dog Treats

Bowl full of small gelatin gummy dog treats shaped like hearts in a rainbow of colours

Since we've been including lots of interesting natural colours/flavours in recent posts (more to come), I thought I would slip a bonus post into our cycle about natural food colouring options. A full St. Patrick's Day rainbow of treat ideas! Whether you are not keen on artificial colourings or just want to mix things up, here are some natural foods and add-ins to create colourful dog-friendly treats.

🐾 Contrary to what many people believe, dogs are not colour blind. They just see colours (and more) quite differently than people. Check out our post on dog vision vs. human vision for details and side-by-side photo examples.  It's been a life-changing learning for our family, especially with Oli's reduced vision.

Dogs couldn't care less about how pretty their treats are - as long as they smell and taste great - all that pretty prep is just for us crazy humans.  Personally, I have no issues with using food colourings in homemade dog (or human) treats and I occasional do so, as animal experts currently advise that most standard human food colourings (not alcohol-based of course) are pet safe. Just like with humans, there can be individual sensitivities and expert advice is always subject to possible change and new information emerges. Because natural colourings offer extra scent, taste, and/or nutritional value (and since the dogs prefer yum to looks), I prefer using natural options for tints

Dalmatian dog with gelatin gummy dog treats shaped like hearts in a rainbow of colours

Naturally coloured fruits and veggies are one of the easiest ways to add colour, as well as flavour and healthy goodness.  There are options for almost every colour except true blue, as must "blue" foods like blueberries actually tint purplish and the idea of getting sciencey with cabbage or baking soda just doesn't appeal to my taste bud logic. Eww. I'd rather just skip the blue! Remember, although many fruits and veggies are safe for most dogs, some should be avoided. 

Since pureed fruits and veggies are typically good binders, they work very well in doughs for baked biscuit/cookie dog treats or truffle mixtures. They can also be added to prepared gelatin to make gummy treats (remember to account for the full liquid volume when calculating the required amount of gelatin) and used either straight-up or blended with other ingredients to make frozen treats.

If you are looking to dye a dough, icing, gelatin, or other mixture, juices or powders can be easier for adapting a recipe or adding a concentrated punch of colour. They can also be handy for boosting a tinted base - for example, using turmeric to amp up an already paler orange pumpkin or kumara dough, or beetroot powder to strengthen a pink berry dough (and help it hold colour when baked). Easy, colourful, and our dogs seem to really love most of the tasty/smelly add-ins. If your looking to tint something like coconut for sprinkling or rolling, you can also use juices or powders to mix you own tinted water-based custom colours.

🦴 Don't forget about the important elements of flavours and smells when choosing and mixing colours. Treats are for eating after all, and the dogs definitely don't care about looks, just yum!

Here are some of my go-to natural colourings for homemade dog treats: 

RED - Beetroot, Strawberry, Raspberry 
PINK -  Beetroot, Strawberry, Raspberry (see more about pink vs. red natural tints)
ORANGE - Turmeric, Pumpkin/Squash, Carrot, Sweet Potato/Kumara 
YELLOW - Egg Yolk, Turmeric

GREEN - Wheatgrass, Kale, Spirulina, Green Veggies* 
PURPLE - Blueberry, Blackberry

BROWN - Carob Powder, Blackstrap Molasses, Peanut Butter

These are all ingredients that offer other value-added benefits to the treats either in terms of handling and baking consistency, scent and taste, and/or nutrition, so using them in compatibly flavoured treat combinations works nicely and has extra benefits other than just making us crazy humans happy about cute treats.  My preferred tints vary depending on the type of treat, but I usually have powdered carob, turmeric, beetroot, and spirulina (and sometimes other green powders) on hand and use most other fruits and berries either pureed from fresh or thawed from frozen. *Green veggies are an option, but not one we typically use as many green vegetables are higher purine options and we try to moderate purines since our dogs are Dalmatians, so I'll use a green tints with pale/neutral bases instead. 

What are your favourite natural colourings?  I'm always looking for new ideas!  

You can buy ready-to-use natural food colourings online and from natural health/speciality stores; however, natural doesn't necessarily mean dog-safe so it' still always important to check ingredients.  There are also tutorials online for making your own natural dyes if you're keen. I haven't experimented with that myself - I'd rather just use the natural colourings above (either pureed fresh or in powdered/juice form) and mix in small quantities at time of use, if needed.

Tips and Tricks:
  • See our post on decorating homemade dog treats for handy tips on adapting recipes to include tints, options for mixing tints into dough, and other treat decorating ideas.
  • You can use the same colour theory with combinations of natural colourings as you would  with ink, paint, etc to get different strengths and tints. This can be very helpful when you're mixing colours, but also if you want to counteract or take advantage of the influence of a treat base on the tint.  
  • Natural colourings and tints are often less vivid than concentrated food colourings. Natural ingredients may also change colour when raw and exposed (e.g. apple, banana, etc) and/or loose some of their vivid colour strength when heated or baked. As noted above, using a tinted add in can help boost and hold colour when baked. I often augment fruit and veggie treat doughs with a powdered add-in for better colour and to help it hold through baking. Baking light to avoid browning also helps.
  • I usually just roll with what happens naturally, but using a little acidity (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, etc) can sometimes help to reduce the colour shift in treats as they are exposed to air and/or baked.  When dehydrating fruit or veggie treats, marinating and/or blanching prior to dehydration can help them to hold better colour (and improve texture/taste).

Making gelatin gummy dog treats shaped like hearts in a rainbow of colours

The gummies created for this post were made using gelatin with the following add-ins (see all of our gummy recipes here) to create a rainbow of treats for these photos. Red: beetroot powder. Orange: turmeric with a small quantity of beetroot powder, Yellow: small quantity of turmeric, Green: kale powder, Blue: food colouring, Indigo: blackberry/blueberry juice augmented with blue food colouring, Violet: small quantity of blackberry/blueberry juice... it's pale because I ran out of berries to squeeze!  Ooops!

🦴 Hungry for more tasty treats?  You can explore from our treat navigation page, hop straight into our homemade dog treat ideas in the blog archives, search the blog from our sidebar, or use the labels below this post to find other recipes that might be of interest. 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.

Small homemade gelatin gummy dog treats shaped like hearts arranged in lines as a rainbow of colours


  1. That's looks great and colorful. I hope dogs really love it with tasteful. Can I made this awesome colorful treat for my little pups?

    1. There are tons of ideas in the blog archives for different types of treats, and many can be tinted, if you wish. Dogs don't see colour like we do though, so colourful tints are mostly for the enjoyment of us crazy humans (hehe) but many tints have scents, flavours, and/or health benefits too.

      You can explore our dog treat blog posts , and if you're feeling curious, we also have a special post about the differences with dog vision vs. human vision.


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