Choosing Ingredients for Homemade Dog Treats

Ingredient options for making homemade dog treats

Choosing ingredients for homemade dog treats? It can definitely be tricky!  But it can also be one of the best things about making your own dog treats. You’ll know exactly what’s in them. Plus, you can tailor your choice of homemade dog treat ingredients to suit your pet’s needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues. With a bit of general baking or cooking knowledge, you can easily create your own dog treat recipe, adapt one from here (or elsewhere), or even adapt a favourite human recipe to suit your dog. In this special pet chef post, we’re digging deep into dog treat ingredients. Here are some of our personal choices for common homemade dog treat ingredients and why we do or don’t use them in our homemade dog treats. 

Whether you’re preparing foods for people or pets, the freshness and safe storage of your ingredients is important. Read ingredient labels, trust your sources, select with care, store properly, and pay attention to use-by dates. The ingredients I like to use when making foods or treats for our dogs have been checked for suitability using reputable online references, such as the AKC, SPCA, and others. However, it’s important to note that expert opinions (including these resources) may vary, differ and/or evolve with time. Content is not guaranteed and may not be suitable for some pets. In addition to individual preferences on scent, taste, and texture, some pets may have special health issues, dietary requirements, and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt about foods, treats, or have questions about what’s suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.

Different options for homemade dog treat ingredients

Making Dog Treats with Meat and Fish

Simple Meat and Fish Dog Treats

No surprises here! Our dogs love meaty treats. Our favourite homemade meat dog treat is dehydrated jerky for dogs. It’s so simple and healthy. Lean meats and lean firm fish, if you can get your paws on some, work great for dehydration. 

Raw meaty bones or raw recreational bones can be a great zero-prep treat for many dogs, but not all bones and not for all dogs. As with any potential food or treat, it’s really important to make a case-by-case decision on what’s suitable for your pet. Have a chat with your vet, especially if your dog is predisposed to any potential risk factors. Bones can be particularly problematic for teeth or for swallowed bone fragments depending on the the bone, the dog, and chew style. Unfortunately, bone is not an option for us.

Baking Homemade Treats with Meat and Fish

Dog-friendly meatball treats and meatloaf-style dog cakes are easy meat-based options, especially for special occasions. Pre-cooked chopped meats also make their way into some of our baked biscuit-style dog treats. It’s a good option for unseasoned dog-safe leftovers, too. We sometimes used canned fish (water packed, low salt) to make irresistibly smelly baked treats. I’ve experimented with using pureed fresh fish when baking for the dogs, and that was also very stinky but taste tester approved.

Broth and Stock as Dog Treat Ingredients

Broth and stock can be surprisingly tricky as homemade dog treat ingredients. They can add great scents and flavours, but beware. Low sodium human versions are often still very high in salt and often seasoned with other unsuitable ingredients for dogs. Choose with care, buy a dog-friendly product, or (my personal preference), make your own. It’s very easy and inexpensive.

Unseasoned (or dog-safe seasoned) bone broth is great for dogs. It’s good for people too, if you’re into that sort of thing. Of all the different things we make, bone broth might one of the best. It’s great on its own, but also very versatile as a treat ingredient or meal topper. I use it as a liquid in baked treats, an add-in when making gummies, in frozen treats, or as a meal topper. I also save and use other dog-friendly homemade stocks and broths for making treats. My favourite is the unseasoned liquid from preparing meat for dog food toppers. Poaching in a slow-cooker makes great healthy unseasoned stock or broth for dog treats. Delicious and free!

Making Homemade Dog Treats with Gelatin

I’ve come to love gelatin so much that I thought it deserved it’s own special section. Quality gelatin offers some of the benefits of bone broth, but with much lower effort and greater versatility for non-meat flavoured treats. It is a go-to ingredient in our kitchen

Using Gelatin to Set Gummy Dog Treats

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!

Using Gelatin in Baked Dog Treats

Gelatin can also be helpful in treat biscuit doughs as a binder and/or texture modifier. It makes dough thick and fudgey, kind of like fondant. That can be handy for shaping and/or to help with handing, especially in gluten-free biscuit doughs.

Making Homemade Dog Treats with Eggs

Eggs as a Dog Treat

Eggs are nutritious and an effective binding ingredient for baking. My dogs also love eggs on their own. Although they often thank me with slightly smellier farts than usual afterwards. Feel (smell) the love! I’ve even experimented with dehydrated eggs and ground eggshells. Baking them in a thin layer and cutting the baked eggs into tiny pieces is a great way to make small simple egg treats.

Egg Alternatives and Substitutions

Not into eggs? You’re in luck. Egg allergies and egg-free dietary choices mean that folks have spent a lot of time experimenting with egg alternatives. There are lots of potential egg substitutes, many of which can be suitable for dog treats, although you may need to customise your recipes a little. Our recipes are not tested with substitutions, and you may need to make adjustments to suit. 

Making Homemade Dog Treats with Dairy

Dairy as a Dog Treat Ingredient

Say cheese! Who can resist? Not me, not the dogs. Grated cheese can be used in treats as a boost of fat and flavour. Yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and cream cheese can all be used as baking bases, frozen or chilled treats, or in dog-friendly icings.  Milk can be used as an dog-friendly liquid in many recipes, but may not be suitable for some dogs due to sensitivities. See more below.

Milk powder is also a baking favourite. In addition to adding extra healthy goodness to the treat mix, it assists with texture and structure. I like to use trim (reduced fat) milk powder. Milk powder is very common here in New Zealand and can be bought from the grocery store. You can buy powdered coconut and goat milk here, too. These tend to be less common and more expensive.

Lactose-Free and Lower Lactose Dairy Options 

Dogs can suffer from lactose sensitivities or intolerances, just like people. Although we’ve never had any issues with our dogs, I often use a low-fat lactose-free milk, just in case. Other dairy dog treat ingredients, like yogurt, kefir, sour cream, and cheese are often naturally much lower in lactose. Be alert to the amounts of added sugar (other than natural lactose), flavourings, salt, and other additives.  For ingredients like yogurt which may be sweetened, check the labels carefully. Double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol, which is highly toxic to dogs. Xylitol may also be labelled as sweetener code 967. 

Dairy Alternatives and Substitutions

If your dog is sensitive to dairy, alternatives like goat’s milk, coconut milk, etc. (or products made with dairy alternatives) may be easy swaps in treat recipes. Make sure that whatever you choose is dog-safe, as always.  If the treat ingredient is straight up milk, any dog-safe liquid will usually work in substitution, although the consistency and/or flavours may come out different. 

Making Homemade Dog Treats with Fruit and Vegetables

Fruits and Veggies as Dog Treat Ingredients

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 are nice for dehydrating into treats or shared snacks, too.  Flavourful and nutritious, pureed fruits and veggies can also be a useful binding ingredient, just like in human baking.  This is one area where my dogs’ different preferences are particularly noticeable. Oli is berry boy. He’s a professional strawberry harvester (and has taught Humphrey his wiley ways) and an absolute thief for blackberries. Humphrey is a carrot fiend. He come running when he catches the scent of me prepping carrots in the kitchen. He also begs for fresh carrots when I’m harvesting in the garden. Good thing he doesn’t know how to pick those for himself. Yet! Oli likes to chew them up and spit them out. Humphrey is always willing to assist with clean up. Ahh. Teamwork.

Shortcuts for Faster Treat Making

Most fruits and veggies can be prepped quickly from fresh or frozen and used either raw or cooked by grating or pureeing; however, some need longer prep. For example, pumpkin (squash) is a favourite. For convenience, we cube, bake, and then freeze it for ready-use. Unsweetened applesauce is another quick and convenient option instead of making a fresh puree. Baby food (check the ingredients for safety) also works as an occasional shortcut to easy treats in fruit, veggie, or even meaty flavours. With recent changes in our doggy diet plan, we’ve started keeping lots of ready-use fruit and vegetable purees in our freezer. 

Including Nut and Seeds in Homemade Dog Treats

Raw Nuts and Seeds as Dog Treat Ingredients

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 usually recommended to avoid walnuts, too. Make sure that any nuts or seeds are an appropriate size to avoid choking hazards or digestion problems. Large nuts and seeds can be crushed, chopped, or even ground into a meal or homemade butter. Be aware that nuts and seeds might pass through undigested.

Flax and Chia Seeds as Dog Treat Baking Boosters

A special seed mention goes to flax (and flax-rich LSA), which I include in many of my treats in ground-form. Ground flax has increased digestibility as a healthy add-in, and it’s a very helpful baking ingredient. Chia seed also gets a similar special mention as a healthy add-in and 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.     

Peanut Butter and Other Nut / Seed Butters as Dog Treat Ingredients

Most dogs love peanut butter. It can be used in all sorts of different recipes,. In based treats, it’s a handy helper for binding as well as adding a little fat if needed for consistency. I occasionally experiment with other dog-friendly nut and seed butters. When selecting peanut butter, look for something plain and natural with no-added salt or sugar if possible. Double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol, a sweetener which is highly toxic to dogs.  Xylitol may also be labelled as sweetener code 967. 

Added Oils and Fats in Homemade Dog Treats

Are Fats Really Necessary?

Fats are a necessary part of a balanced dog diet. That doesn’t mean we need to intentionally add extras when making treats, and if we do, we should be careful about types, qualities, and quantities. Many of dog treat ingredients already contain fats, and treats are also just one small part of what should be an overall moderated and balanced diet. I try to avoid adding extra oils and fats to treats, where possible. Generally, it’s just the base ingredients. I’d rather slide in an extra yummy and nutritious fatty ingredient instead. In baked biscuits where the base ingredients are a little lacking, a touch of olive oil, butter, or other oil may occasionally be used. I don’t save and use any cooking fats or greases. The scents and tastes might appeal to dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

Coconut Oil for Dogs

A notable exception is coconut oil, which I sometimes include in my dogs’ diet for the potential health benefits. It’s an interesting treat ingredient (my dogs also like it plain) because of its firm solid state at cool ambient or refrigerated temperatures. This makes it a handy ingredient for firming up things that set, like dog-friendly “chocolate” treats, truffles, etc.  

Lower Fat Gluten-Free Baked Dog Biscuits

Homemade baked dog biscuits or cookies don’t have lots of fats and sugars, so they can often lack snap and crunch. 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 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. Check out our pet chef help posts on baked biscuits for more details, tips, and tricks.

Added Seasonings, Sweeteners, and More

Carob as “Chocolate” for Dogs

Carob is a dog-friendly alternative to chocolate. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine which is toxic to dogs.  Carob is naturally sweet and flavoursome. It smells a lot like chocolate, but I find it tastes a little different with a slightly nutty spicy zing. Made from ground carob tree pods, it’s surprisingly nutritious and most dogs love it. Many pet and grocery stores sell carob drops or melts, but be aware that they are often made with added fats and/or sugars, so best used in moderation. As with 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. Pure carob powder is high in fibre and anti-oxidants, low-fat, low-calorie, and free from gluten, lactose, and caffeine. Pawesome!

Herbs and Spices

There are many different dog-safe herbs and spices that you can use for added scent or flavour in treats. Some have benefits or purported health properties, so you can even tailor seasonings to suit your dog’s health needs. Turmeric is one of our favourites. 

Sweeteners and More

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 its sweetness is debatable! Blackstrap is packed with nutritional goodness and my dogs like the smell. A little goes a long way, so adding a small amount for extra scent and flavour is still guilt-free in my books.


Because natural colourings offer extra scent, taste, and/or nutritional value (and since the dogs prefer yum to looks), I prefer using natural options. Check out our post on using natural tints for homemade dog treats for more details on options and colours.

Using natural food colouring ingredients to tint homemade dog treats

Ingredient Options for Dog Treat Flours and Grains

Grain-Free Homemade Dog Treat Options

If your dog is on a restricted diet because of personal or medical reasons, certain types of homemade dog treats might be problematic. Recipes for baked biscuits or cookies can be adapted to gluten-free for dogs with sensitivities (or pets in celiac households), but grain-free adaptations for are more difficult. Biscuits generally require some sort of flour, and most readily available flours are ground from some form of grain. Exceptions include coconut flour and almond flour. These are grain-free and gluten-free, but can be difficult to work with when baking. Their absorbency and texture and be particularly tricky if you want to make roll-and-cut treats (see more below). Heart not set on baking biscuits? Easy as! Other homemade dog treat styles, like dehydrated treats, pupsicles, and gummies are all great options if you’d prefer to skip the flours and grains all together.

Wheat Flours and Dog Treats

Whole wheat is a classic baking choice, and healthier than standard white flour (all-purpose flour).  Our dogs are, fortunately, not sensitive to wheat or gluten, but we generally stick to other flours when baking for our boys and the blog. If you’re using a wheat flour, go with healthier whole wheat. White flour has lower nutritional value and is a big hit of carbs. Same for human baking, too.  Another reason why I like using alternative flours is that wheat flours tend to be less absorbent. This means that it takes a lot more wheat flour to achieve a similar dough consistency in many recipes. I’d rather have a smaller batch of treats with a higher ratio of the good stuff than stretch things out with extra flour. Just my personal preference. Whether white or whole, wheat flour is a common pantry staple in many kitchens and makes an easy to handle dough that is comfortable territory for most bakers.

Note that white and/or whole wheat flours are not direct substitutes for all other flours (or vice versa). This includes the brown rice flour we often use when baking treats. Liquid, binding, dough handling, and finished treat properties will vary. You may need to adapt quantities and/or handling to suit when you’re making ingredient swaps or substitutions. More on that below.  

Gluten-Free Flour Options for Dog Treats

Almond meal, rice flour, oat flour, buckwheat, and coconut flour are all gluten-free flour alternatives. Oats may still cause issues for severe gluten allergies due to trace quantities and cross-contamination, so it may not be a suitable option for some pets (or people). Chickpea flour is another pupular 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. Also, consumption of pulses may be linked to a heightened risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs. Other common flours like cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot are high GI and low value, best reserved for very infrequent use, like making dog-friendly “icing”.

Different types of flours have different absorbencies and form different dough textures. You may also need extra binding for gluten-free dough vs. wheat flour, especially for coconut flour. Coconut flour is like a sponge! Very handy for some purposes though, like making dog-friendly truffle treats.  Flours may also have their own unique flavours and scents (especially to sensitive dog sniffers). I find that it can be harder to make roll-and-cut treats with gluten-free flours, but rice flour (I prefer the healthier brown) and oat flour make good smooth workable treat doughs. They’re my go-to flours for baking biscuit-style dog treats, as noted below.

Nutrition and Digestion Factors

Different types of flours have different nutritional value and digestibility, and these may be a little different when considered for dogs vs. humans. Almond flour, for example (ground almonds) is very nutritious, but also high in fat for a flour which is an important consideration when determining suitability and quantities for sharing with your dogs. Check the labels or use an online nutritional breakdown to check flours and any other ingredients that you’re not sure about.

My Favourite Flours for Baking Dog Treats

Brown rice flour is a personal favourite for making roll-and-cut dog treats. Brown rice flour is made from ground whole grain brown rice, whereas white is hulled and has less nutritional value. Because it’s ground, it’s more digestible than the cooked brown rice in some homemade dog foods that sometimes just passes right through. I usually buy my brown rice flour from an organic food supplier here in New Zealand that grinds their own flours, so it’s a bit coarser than some commercial varieties. 

White rice flour is used occasionally. I keep a small quantity on hand for the rolling matt and cutters. It’s smoother than my usual brown rice flour, so sometimes it’s handy. As noted above, I buy a locally ground brown rice flour that’s a bit on the coarse side.   

Oats are my go-to for making dog-friendly meatballs and meatloaf-style cakes. Oats are inexpensive and healthy for dogs (and people). Oat flour is less available here than rice flour and also more expensive, although it’s fairly easy to make your own oat flour. I’ve done it a few times now, and it’s something that I’d like to experiment more with in the future for biscuits. 

Different flour options for baking homemade dog treats

Keen to Try a Few Treats?

We have all sorts of treat related posts here on the blog. You can sniff around our DIY dog treat recipes, use our categories and tags to navigate, or use the internal search function to look for specific types or treats or treat ingredients. Here are our pet chef help and introduction posts on some of our most common types of homemade dog treats:

You can also 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.

Hungry for more tasty treats?  There are lots of homemade dog treat ideas in our archives. You can use the categories and tags to browse recipes or use our internal search to find something specific. Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas from treats that we’ve made ourselves for our pets, but different animals have different preferences (likes/dislikes), just like people. 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.

Understanding and choosing ingredients for making homemade dog treats

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