Thursday, 19 September 2019
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Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats

It's drool drool drool dehydrator treat time in our current special FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series topic all about DIY dog treats! When I (and probably many other folks) think about dehydrated dog treats, homemade jerky treats are probably the first thing that comes to mind, but there are all sorts of different options for dehydrating. Here's an introduction to DIY dehydrated dog treats, safety, treat storage, and a few handy tips.

Dalmatian dog sniffing food dehydrator full of dog treats

How to Make Dehydrated Dog Treats

Food dehydration uses of exposure to heat over time to remove the majority of moisture, making the food less prone to spoilage. A dehydrator is a small appliance that uses heat and a built-in fan(s) to flow hot air around food on perforated racks.  I use our dehydrator way more than I ever expected. It's not very expensive or fancy (I'll probably upgrade if/when if fails), but it does the trick and has been working great for several years now. If you don't own a dehydrator, you can create a similar effect by using your oven on low temperature (preferably with fan) and either placing the food onto of oven-safe racks for airflow or turning periodically on a lined baking pan. In either method, the time required to dehydrate treats will depend on the temperature, treat type, size/thickness, and distribution in the dehydrator. Ambient conditions can also play a part, especially high humidity.  Tip: Don't try and speed things along by raising the temperature - this can cause the outside to dry too fast and seal moisture in the middle of your treats.  

A variety of homemade dehydrated dog jerky treats

To make meat or fish jerky treats, start with quality fresh or thawed quality frozen meat/fish. Lean flesh is easier to dehydrate, healthier, and has a lower risk of going rancid after dehydration. Cut into small pieces or strips for dehydration (remember, they will shrink somewhat). For chewier pieces, slice with the grain. For more tender jerky, slice against. Thicker strips will be chewier, but take longer to dehydrate thoroughly. Tip: You may find it easier to slice meat/fish from whilst frozen or partially-frozen for firmness. You can make jerky straight-up or marinate with little in a splash of citrus juice, apple cider vinegar, a special dog-friendly marinade and/or a gentle rub of dog-friendly herbs/spices. Once ready to dehydrate, arrange the prepared pieces onto the dehydrator tray. Dehydrate according to your specific dehydrator's settings/instructions for dehydrating meat/fish. The dehydration time will depend on your machine as well as how thick your particularly jerky pieces are, but expect it to take quite a while and beware that it can be smelly (happy dogs are also dehydrating from drooling when we make jerky). When possible, I like to dehydrate jerky on a nice day, start early so we have plenty of dry time, and leave the dehydrator plugged in on the patio instead of in the house. :) Usually well guarded, per the photo at the beginning of this post! Caution: See food safety notes and link below.

A variety of homemade dehydrated fruit and vegetable dog treats

To make dehydrated fruit or vegetable treats, start with quality fresh or thawed quality frozen dog-friendly foods.  Ensure that they are clean and ready to eat.  Cut into small portion-sized pieces if/as necessary (remember, they will shrink somewhat). Tip: Some foods benefit from (optional) blanching or marinating to improve taste, texture, and other priorities when dehydrating. See note below. Once ready to dehydrate, arrange the prepared pieces onto the dehydrator tray. Dehydrate according to your specific dehydrator's settings/instructions for dehydrating fruits/vegetables. The dehydration time will depend on your machine, the type of food, as well as how thick your particularly treat pieces are, but expect it to take quite a while if you are aiming for a fully dehydrated treat.

Note: Some fruits and veggies benefit from pre-treating prior to dehydration.  Fruits like apples, pears, and bananas oxidize and turn brown when cut. This is an enzyme reaction between their exposed flesh and the air, and it can be (at least partially) inhibited by coating the slices with lemon juice or pineapple juice prior to dehydrating.  Go ahead an add a little dog-friendly spices at the same time, if you'd like! With some vegetables, briefly blanching can help to alter enzyme reactions to maintain better colour, flavour, and texture. See the side-by-side examples with a blanches and unblanced sweet potato treat below. Tip: I'll post a full how-to in a future post, but in short our dogs do not enjoy plain dehydrated kumara (sweet potato), but love it blanched. I also use stock when blanching to make things more irresistible. :)

A comparison of blanched vs. unblanched dehydrated sweet potato (kumara) dog treats

Other types of dehydrated dog treats can go as far as your dog-safe food sources and imagination can take you. Iv'e experimented with dehydrated low-sodium cottage cheese, dehydrated scrambled eggs, and am currently working on a super-crunchy stick treat. Taste tests (so far, so happy) and recipe refinements ongoing.   You won't see us with organ treats (Dalmatians and purine moderation) and we don't (at least for now) have access to some of the "grosser" goodies that can be made with suitable sources. Although in confession, I'm not sure how keen I would be to try dehydrating some of the things the dogs would love. Haha!  Check out our dehydrating dog pal Kai (kaihascookies on Instagram) and get inspired by some of the amazingly disgusting doggone delicious dehydrator treats that her pawesome Mom Vanessa makes!

Tip: I also use my dehydrator to dry baked cookie/biscuit style dog treats. This technique can be used to improve shelf-life, but it's also great for adding extra crunch to treats without over-baking. I'll share more details when we talk about baked treats later in the mini-series.

Dehydration and Food Safety

Quality homemade treats start with quality ingredients, and this is especially true when dehydrating.  Cleanliness and good food handling practices are also extra important, for both your own health and the finished treats. Keep your hands, work surfaces, and working tools clean. If marinating, follow safe marination practices and refrigerate until transferring to the dehydrator. 

Temperature is a very important factor in food safety when using a dehydrator with meats and fish. Your dehydrator need to be able to hit a high enough temperature for initial "wet heat" to ensure any present bacteria are destroyed and then maintain a suitable drying heat. You can also dehydrate cooked food (texture will be different, but the dogs are unlikely to complain...) or use pre-heating, and/or exposure to high(er) temperatures as added precautions.  Various food safety control measures help to minimise the risks of parasites in store-bought foods; however, if there is any chance that your meat or fish may contain parasites (e.g. hunted game or caught fish), extended pre-freezing (or freezing the finished jerky), pre-heating, and/or exposure to high(er) temperatures can be used as added precautions. You can read more about food safety for dehydrating meat on the FSIS website.

Storing Dehydrated Dog Treats

Allow the finished treats to cool thoroughly prior to storage. Putting warm treats into a contain will trap residual steam/moisture, which can accelerate spoilage. Once cool, transfer the treats to a suitable container for storage.

Treats last longer in cool, dry, dark conditions. Hot or sticky humid weather will accelerate spoilage. Dehydrated food should be stored away from heat, light, and moisture. Moisture is particularly detrimental, for obvious reasons, when you have dehydrated foods. Tip: Including sealed desiccant (save the little packets from vitamin/supplement bottles or food packets) in your container or vacuum packs can help with moisture control. Be careful to ensure that the dogs do not have access, as desiccants can be harmful to people/animals if swallowed. 

Dehydrated jerky dog treats can be kept in a sealed container in ambient conditions; however, since homemade dog jerky doesn't use preservatives and isn't heavily salted like human jerky, to be on the safe side, it should be eaten within a few days of making, vacuum packed, or frozen (my preference) for longer storage. Dehydrated jerky treats store very well when frozen as they have already been stripped of moisture which mean that the meat/fish isn't as vulnerable to freezer burn as typical frozen foods. Dehydrated fruits and veggies, if thoroughly dried, may be stable longer in ambient conditions, but otherwise benefit from the same approach to storage and handling as jerky. 

Note: I store all of our dehydrated treats frozen, and defrost in small quantities (uncovered to avoid trapping moisture or condensation) for ready use. I'll often pop them frozen straight into my pocket in a small dog treat bag where they warm while we walk (Oli's new stroller has been nicknamed the jerky wagon, as I carry very high value treats for getting him used to going in/out and to help cement it as a good part of his extended senior's adventures). Our dogs will also happily eat it straight from the freezer, although I think having is warm must be better for scent/taste.

Check out the Homemade Dog Treat FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series for more information on treat making, storage, and more: 

Ready to hit the kitchen? You can use our DIY Dog Treat Recipes navigation page to start your explorations, dive straight into all of our homemade dog treat related posts in the blog archives (or narrow that down to just the dehydrated dog treat ideas), search the blog from our sidebar, or hop over to our Pinterest for more  ideas. 

🦴 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.

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