Choosing Ingredients for Homemade Dog Treats

Ingredient options for making homemade dog treats
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Choosing ingredients for homemade dog treats? It can definitely be tricky!  It can also be one of the best things about making your own treats. You’ll know exactly what’s in them. Plus, you can tailor homemade dog treat ingredients to suit your pet’s needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues.  With a bit of general 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 homemade dog 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 when making food or treats for our pets have been checked for suitability using reputable online references, such as the AKC, SPCA, and others. However, it is important to note that expert opinions (including these resources) may vary, differ and/or evolve over time.

Making Dog Treats with Meat and Fish

Straight Up 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 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 of the potential risk factors.

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 as well – stinky but taste tester approved.

Broth and Stock as Dog Treat Ingredients

Broth and stock can be 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, I think bone broth is one of the best. It’s great on its own, but also very versatile as a treat ingredient. I use it as a liquid in baked treats, an add-in when making gummies, in frozen treats, or as a straight up food topper.

I also save and use other dog-friendly homemade stocks and broths. My favourite free source is the unseasoned cooked-out liquid from preparing meat for our boys’ homemade dog food. 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 with much lower effort and greater versatility for non-meat flavoured treats. It is a go-to ingredient for the dogs 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 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.

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 than me with slightly smellier farts than usual afterwards. Feel (smell) the love! I’ve even experimented with dehydrated eggs and ground eggshells.

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 A LOT of potential egg substitutes, many of which can be suitable for dog treats, although you may need extra leavening for cakes and pupcakes. 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, 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 most recipes.

Milk powder is also a baking favourite. In addition to adding extra healthy goodness (and yum) 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’s 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) 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 make great dehydrated snacks as well.  Flavourful and nutritious, they can be a useful binding ingredient, just like in human baking. 

This is one area where my dogs’ different tastes and 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 when it comes 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. 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. Baby food (check the ingredients for safety) works well as an occasional shortcut to easy treats in fruit, veggie, or even meaty flavours.

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 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 crushed, chopped, or even ground into a meal or homemade butter. 

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, 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 and low-fat where 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. Just like our own diets. Many of 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 homemade treats, where possible. Generally, it’s just the base ingredients. I’d rather slide in an extra yummy and nutritious fatty add-in instead. In baked biscuits where the base ingredients are a little lacking in fats, a touch of olive oil, butter, or other oil may occasionally be used. I don’t save and use cooking fats or greases for dog treats. Yes, they may have good scents or tastes for dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

Coconut Oil for Dogs

A notable exception is coconut oil, which I actively 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 like moulded treats, truffles, etc.  

Lower Fat Gluten-Free Baked Dog Biscuits

Without including lots of fats and sugars like we do in human cookies, homemade dog biscuits or cookies 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.

Added Seasonings, Sweeteners, and More

Carob as “Chocolate” for Dogs

Carob is a dog-friendly alternative to chocolate. Chocolate (including cocoa power and its other forms) 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 is surprisingly nutritious (good for humans too) and most dogs LOVE carob. 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 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. 

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 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.

Colourings

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. Check out our post on using natural tints for homemade dog treats for more details on options and colours.

Ingredient Options for Dog Treat Flours and Grains

Grain-Free Homemade Dog Treat Options

If your dog is on a strict grain-free diet because of personal or medical reasons, then certain types of homemade dog treats will be problematic. Baked biscuits or cookies, can often be made gluten-free, but grain-free adaptations are more difficult. Biscuits generally require 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.

Different flour options for baking homemade dog treats

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, however, many dogs are, so 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 little nutritional value. Just 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 ration of “the good stuff” than stretch things out with extra flour.  Just my personal preference. 

Caution: 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. 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. I’ve experimented with all of them to varying degrees over the years. 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”.

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.  It’s 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 (preferably the healthier brown) and oat flour make a great smooth workable dough. 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).

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. human cookies. 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 my personal favourite for making roll-and-cute shaped dog treats. Brown rice flour is made from ground whole grain brown rice, whereas white is hulled and has substantially less nutritional value. Because it’s ground, it’s more digestible than straight up brown rice in homemade dog food too. When I started making dog food, I included cooked brown rice as part of our dogs’ purine moderation diet. Unfortunately, the rice usually went straight through. Now I just use it in treats. I 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. Brown rice flour isn’t readily available from my local shops, so I went hunting online. Surprisingly, it’s more economical when bought in bulk this way too. Win win!

White rice flour is used occasionally, even though I prefer using brown. I keep a small quantity of white rice flour on hand for the rolling matt and cutters. I find it’s smoother than my preferred 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 than rice flour here and much more expensive (although it’s fairly easy to make your own oat flour). 

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 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 all sorts of homemade dog treat ideas in our blog archives. You can also use use the category and tag labels above/ below this post to find other recipes that might be of interest or use our internal search tools 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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