Choosing Fish for Making Dehydrated Dog Treats
Stinky fishes? Oli and Humphrey’s favourite dishes! So delicious! Fish treats are very attractive high-value goodies for our boys, and homemade dehydrated fish treats take the drool factor to the max. I’m a-ok with these tasty treats being a little smelly. Fish are nutritious and delicious, plus there are numerous low(er) purine lean fish options, which is great for moderating purines for our Dalmatians.
The best fish to use will depend on your local options and your budget, but I recommend using a lean fish with a nice firm flesh for cutting. Oily fish is harder to dehydrate evenly and oily jerky has a higher risk of going rancid (unless frozen). Leaner is better for making the jerky and for handling the finished treats, in our experience. Oily fish, like salmon, have a different finished texture and a much shorter shelf life. The dog still love them, though! I’ll share my stinky salmon strips with you in a future post.
The fresher the fish, the better the quality of your jerky. You can buy and freeze until dehydrated, or dehydrate and then freeze. Since dehydrator treats store well and freeze great, I like to keep an eye out for sales and take advantage of those when dehydrating treats. My fish treats also tend to be a bit seasonal. This is primarily due to cost and availability. It’s also nice to be able to put the stinky dehydrator outside in the warmer seasons!
Plain vs. Marinated Fish Jerky Dog Treats
Unlike a meat jerky, which I usually prefer to dehydrate plain (although I do occasionally experiment with marinades, just for fun), I sometimes marinate fish before dehydrating. I’ve made this jerky many times both plain and marinated since this post was first shared. Both ways work well, and the dogs don’t seem to have any objections or preferences either way. Whether or not I marinate just depends on timing, really. And fridge space. Anytime you see a marinade here on the blog, it’s optional.
My basic fish marinade is made with diluted lemon juice and dried parsley. Bathing or marinating fish with acid causes a protein reaction which lightly “cooks” the flesh, firming the flesh and shifting colour (whiter and more opaque in this case, as we’re using a white fleshed fish). It also smells less fishy… although nowhere near enough to avoid the fishilicious stench of dehydration! Note Humphrey’s very attentive sous-chef support in the collaged images with the recipe below.
DIY Dehydrated Fish Jerky Treats for Dogs
Crunchy Fish Jerky Dog Treats with Optional Lemon Parsley Marinade
You can adjust the volumes and/or amount of any ingredient to better suit your dog or personal preferences. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can place your meat on a wire rack over a lined baking tray and use the oven to replicate the function of a dehydrator. Note that it is recommended to pre-heat meats to ~75C then dehydrate at ~60C. Refer to the safety information and links below.
- Lean quality firm fish (cleaned, deboned, and thawed, if applicable)
- Lemon juice
- Water (if needed) to dilute
- Parsley and/or other dog-friendly herbs
Making the Treats:
- Starting with cleaned and deboned fish, rinse the fish in cold water (optional), and then slice into thin strips/pieces. The fish will shrink as it dehydrates, so upsize for shrinkage if you wish to have larger finished treats.
- Optional: To marinate, combine the marinade ingredients in a non-metallic/non-corrosive dish. Mix with the prepared fish to ensure thoroughly coated. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator to marinate, mixing periodically to ensure all the pieces get a nice bath in the marinade.
- Optional: If pre-heating (see note below), do this after marinating and before dehydrating.
- Once ready to dehydrate, arrange the prepared pieces onto the dehydrator tray. Maximise your layout for volume and efficiency, but make sure to allow some space for good air circulation through the racks for efficient and consistent dehydration.
- Dehydrate according to your specific dehydrator’s settings/instructions for dehydrating meat. 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 be very stinky! I like to dehydrate fish 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.
- Optional: Transfer the dehydrated fish onto an oven-safe tray and briefly bake at a high temperature (see note below) for safety and/or added crunchiness.
- Allow to cool thoroughly before storage.
Dehydrated Fish Food Safety
If your dehydrator has a suitable meat/fish setting, fish jerky should be ready to serve once the dehydration is complete. However, just to be a little extra safety conscious, you can pop it briefly into a very hot oven after dehydration and before cooling for storage. It stinks, but the dogs don’t mind! It also increases the crunch factor in these treats.
Various food safety control measures help to minimise the risks of parasites in store-bought seafood; however, if you are concerned that your chosen fish may contain parasites, 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 jerky safety via the FSIS.
Dehydrated Fish Jerky Treat Making Tips and Tricks
- There are a variety of jerky recipes on the blog, but a great starting point is the comprehensive post on making and storing homemade jerky and other dehydrated dog treats. It will take you through the basics of dehydrating treats, different types of dehydrated treats, food safety, and treat storage tips.
- For safety, start with a quality lean fish, practice safe food handling, and dehydrate with care using meat appropriate dehydrator settings or oven temperatures. You can read more about jerky safety via the FSIS.
- The easiest way to marinate jerky (or just about anything really…) is to toss everything into a Ziploc bag. However, if you’re like us and trying to reduce your waste then a dish is a-ok. I prefer using a glass dish. It’s resistant for an acid marinade, dishwasher-friendly, and won’t hold on to any smells.
- Although jerky is often kept at room temperature, we freeze and keep small quantities in the fridge to be on the safer side. Since homemade dog jerky doesn’t use preservatives and isn’t heavily salted like human jerky, it’s more vulnerable to spoilage. It freezes great, lasts for ages, and the dogs enjoy it both straight from the freezer or defrosted in small quantities. See our storage tips for dehydrated dog treats for more information.
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.