Monday, 16 September 2019
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Why (and How) to Make Homemade Dog Treats

Making bone shaped roll-and-cut dog treats

It's another special segment of our FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting topics, and this week we're sharing (and drooling) all about DIY dog treats!  Before I jump into tips and troubleshooting for specific types of homemade dog treats, here's an introduction to why I started making our own dog treats, the potential benefits and pitfalls, and different approaches to treat making.

Why I Started Making Homemade Dog Treats (and Mixed Feeding)


I dabbled with making homemade dog treats for Oli over the years, but only as an occasional special project driven more by fun and love than anything else. As years went by, I started learning more about dog nutrition, food options, and treat ingredients in an effort to help his health and well being. You can read more about our journey in our behind the scenes post about making homemade dog food for our mixed feeding approach.

Dalmatians metabolise purines differently than other dogs, which places them at a heightened risk of kidney and urinary crystals and stone formation. Many ingredients that would be fantastic for most dogs (wild game, red meat, organ meats, etc.) are high purine.  This makes it extremely difficult to buy quality commercial dog foods and treats. We're fortunate that none of our dogs have, thus far, had issues, but it's better to lean on the side of safety and so we aim to moderate their purine intake. Our dogs get a variety of meats and fish in moderated quantities, but also a lot of less traditional dog foods, including dairy, eggs, gelatin, fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, and more. Want to dive deeper? We have an active board on Pinterest dedicated to urates and purine information.

As Oli has aged, we've also started to include even more high-quality protein. All dogs (excluding special medical conditions) benefit from a healthy high-protein diet and high quality meats are a good way of adding extra protein to their diet. As dogs age, like our very special senior pup Oli, they slow down and burn less energy on exercise and play but this doesn't mean that their bodies need less protein. Quite the opposite. A quality protein-rich diet can help seniors maintain muscle and support organ/immune function in their golden years. 


Benefits and Pitfalls of Making Homemade Dog Treats


There are a lot of potential benefits to making your own dog treats, but there are also a few potential pitfalls to be wary of when experimenting with homemade treats, whether from a book/internet recipe or your own special custom recipe creation.

  • Knowing exactly what is in the treats. When making homemade dog treats, you have complete control over ingredients. There are no hidden ingredients, additives, and you control the quality. Here are some of our favourite homemade dog treat ingredients.  Tip: If you aren't keen to make your own, start making it a habit to read the labels on dog treat and food packages, with attention to the ingredients and nutritional content/breakdown. Even in our treat crazy household, we don't make all of our own treats (or food), but I am choosy about what we buy wrt sources and ingredients.
  • Customising the treats to suit dietary needs and preferences. With homemade dog treats, you can ensure that the ingredients suit your pet's needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues.  You look for a suitable dog treat recipe to work from or, 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. 
  • Homemade dog treats can be high quality and cost effective. Healthy homemade dog treats (and food) can be very economical. Healthier commercial dog treats and food are often expensive as they contain high quality ingredients and/or higher quantities of "the good stuff" and less low quality ingredients and fillers. It can be very cost effective to use high quality ingredients and make your own excellent treats.
  • Making treats is great together time. Our dogs love (absolutely love love love) watching me in the kitchen, and they always know when I'm making something special for them. Noses on high alert, drool on max, my sous chefs are always on standby for clean up duty and taste testing.
  • Making treats is quick and easy. Treat making can be super easy if you pick a simple recipe. Common ingredients and a few minutes (plus hands-off time for baking, setting, freezing, or dehydrating) are all that's required for many treats.  
  • Making treats can be fun! Treat making can be an opportunity for you to have a little fun. The kids can have fun making treats for their furry bestie or you can have a little fun of your own experimenting with shapes and colours. The dogs only care about the yum factor, but I still love playing with cute cookie cutters, stamps, and molds just for my own enjoyment. :)
  • Homemade treats can be lower waste, but not necessarily. Commercial treats are made in bulk, which may be more efficient, with different footprints depending on ingredients, sources, location of manufacture vs. purchase, packaging, and retail/shipping.  With homemade treats, it depends on your individual ingredients, their footprints, and how you store the treats. 
  • Homemade doesn't automatically mean healthy. Some dog treat recipes are very heavy on low value ingredients and light on quality. A whole lot of flour with a little binder and flavour may bake well and be happily eaten, but doesn't offer much nutritional value for the calories. 
  • Not all human foods are safe for dogs. When making dog treats, ensure that you use only dog safe ingredients. If unsure, double/triple check (or just skip it altogether...). Read all ingredient labels, and watch out for hidden hazards like salt, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Tip: Be aware that recipes may include ingredients that are disputed (for example, garlic is a common subject of disagreement) and perhaps even some that not suitable for dogs. That said, there are lots of awesome recipe resources out there, so just take the time to choose with care and make informed choices for you and your individual dog.  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. 
  • Dogs may have individual food sensitivities and/or medical issues. Avoid any known medical contradictions, and introduce new foods slowly and in moderation. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what's suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.
  • Homemade treats have a limited shelf life. Unlike preservative packed and/or commercially dried treats, shelf life is limited for most homemade treats. Depending on the type of treat, they're typically best used within a few days and frozen for longer storage. 


Different Types of Homemade Dog Treats


There are many different ways to make homemade dog treats, depending on your preferences and your pet. If you're just starting out, treats can be simple, use common ingredients, and kitchen equipment that you likely already have on hand. Dabble and experiment, and then if you (and your dogs) are enjoying things, you may want to take the plunge and expand your cookie cutter collection, invest in a few new small appliances, and experiment with special ingredients.  Here are some of the common types of homemade treats and a few of our favourites: 

  • Raw and ready-to-serve foods as treats. These are more sharing foods than actual homemade treats, with the exception of uncooked bones, which you're probably not keen to share. Hehe. There are lots of human foods that dogs enjoy in moderation. Our boys particularly enjoy fruits and berries, carrots, cheese, yogurt/kefir, coconut oil, nut butters, etc. I use many of these as ingredients in prepared treats, but a fresh carrot from the garden or a lick of a spoon is still considered a treat-like prize by the dogs.
  • Dehydrated dog treats. Dehydrated jerky dog treats made with lean meat and fish are simple to make using a dehydrator (or oven), our dogs love them, and have great nutritional content. You can also experiment with dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and other dog safe foods.
  • Baked dog treats. I have to confess that I love baking dog treats! There is always an assortment of dog cookie-style treats in our freezer (defrosted in small batches for ready use). You'll find all sorts of different treat recipes (and crazy shaping/decorating) here on the blog! Cookie style treats usually require some sort of flour (as do some cakes/pupcakes), so they're in moderation treats, and I try to keep our recipes heavy on value-added content over flour. I also bake dog-friendly meatballs and meatloaf-style special occasion dog cakes. 
  • Chilled and frozen dog treats. Dog-friendly liquids and purees can be used as chilled (e.g. coconut oil) or frozen dog treats. We keep small coconut oil treats in the fridge and make cooling frozen treats in the warmer months. I'll occasionally make truffle-style refrigerated treats as well. 
  • Gelatin gummy dog treats. Technically these are a chilled treat, but I though they deserved a special mention of their own in the list. Gelatin gummy dog treats are very easy to make and can be extremely healthy, depending on your added ingredients. The dogs consider these a treat, but I consider them more of a health supplement (shhh...don't tell the dogs!). We always have a small batch of gummies on hand in the fridge. I also make bone broth.

Tip: Our recipe posts don't include an estimated yield. This is because batch size for any given treat recipe idea will be very dependant on what the maker decides wrt shape, size, thickness, etc. when they're making treats. Most of our treats are small to medium batch sizes, as you can probably guess from ingredient quantities. We like variety in our treats. :) For folks who prefer baking bigger batches, it's easy to double, triple, other otherwise multiple into a bigger batch.


Shortcuts for Quick and Easy Treat Making

  • Broth or stock can also be frozen in cubes and store for ready use. We've shared all the details in a previous post about making and storing homemade stock/broth for dog treats. Yummy, convenient, and best of all it's free. :)
  • Pre-cooked ingredients like pumpkin, kumara (sweet potato), bacon, meat, etc. can be prepared in bulk (or kept from leftovers) and frozen for convenient ready use. To help with small quantity use when baking, freeze cooked chunks/shreds on lined tray, then transfer to a container for free-flow ready-use frozen ingredients. Alternatively, soft ingredients can be pureed and frozen in measured quantities or in ice cube trays. 
  • Shredded raw ingredients like carrot or apple can be processed in bulk and frozen, but will have a different texture than fresh. This softness can be helpful with handling in doughs, but the extra moistness may affect the required amount of flour and/or baking characteristics.
  • Fruits for pureeing can be fresh or frozen (self-stored or purchased). Frozen is often more economical, depending on seasonal availability. Defrost prior to pureeing.  If you're a tad short on the measurement and don't want to defrost and puree more, unsweetened applesauce makes a handy top-up for pureed fruit. You can also puree in bulk and freeze in cubes for future ready use if you have excess fruit... or want to avoid washing the food processor. Haha!
  • Although we share a lot of cute treats, the dogs don't care about looks.  For baking, instead of the muss and fuss of rolling and cutting, hand forming into small balls and pressing to flatten (I like using a fork, like a mini peanut butter cookie) is quick and cute. Alternatively, simply pressing into a lined pan and cutting/scoring is a super fast way to make baked dog treats in any size you wish.
  • Baking in bulk (whether a single big batch or several different small batches) consolidates the prep, oven energy use, and clean-up. Treats can then be stored frozen for small quantity defrost and use. Tip: Alternatively, many treat doughs can be frozen and thawed for baking at a later date. Wrap well, thaw and warm to ambient temperature before working, and beware that there may be slight changes in texture or other characteristics, depending on the ingredients.
  • Many frozen treats and gummies are inherently easy - just prep, pour, and set. The actual hands-on time can be very short, but there will be a wait for the treat to freeze or set. If you don't have silicon molds, ice cube trays are a good substitute for frozen treat making. Gummies can be set in a container or pan, and then sliced into bite-sized pieces.
  • Dehydrated treats can also be easy and most of the drying time is hands-off, but depending on the treat type, it may benefit from blanching, marinating, or a food-safety pre-heat. 

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.

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

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