Delicious fishes! Dehydrated fish is easy, healthy, and doggone irresistible! It’s a little stinky (for my liking – the dogs disagree), but has become of our favourite homemade treats. Here’s how to make DIY dehydrated fish jerky dog treats with optional marinade.
The Benefits of Fish for Dogs
Different types of dog-friendly fish have different nutrient profiles, but most are rich in protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plus there are numerous low(er) purine lean fish options, which is great for moderating purines for our Dalmatians. Many high protein foods are also moderate or high in purines, but some types of fish are low for a meaty food.
Of course, they’re also doggone delicious. And the smell is irresistable. Fish treats are very attractive high-value goodies for our boys, and homemade dehydrated fish treats like these takes the drool factor up to the max. Lower purine, high protein, high value, easy homemade jerky treats? Pawfect! I’m a-ok with these tasty treats being a little smelly.
Choosing Fish for Making Dehydrated Dog Treats
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, and shelf life isn’t an issue since we freeze treats. I’ll share my DIY dehydrated salmon jerky dog treats (also known as stinky salmon strips) with you in a future post.
The fresher the fish, the better the quality of your fish jerky treats. Since dehydrated treats like jerky store well frozen, I like to keep an eye out for sales. You can freeze until you’re ready to prep and dehydrate, or dehydrate into jerky and then freeze. Homemade fish treats tend to be seasonal special treats for us though, due to cost and availability. It’s also nice to be able to put the stinky dehydrator outside in the warm weather, or open a few windows if dehydrating indoors. You have been warned. Haha! Not that there are any objections from my sous chefs… Stinky fishes? Oli and Humphrey’s favourite dishes! So delicious!
Plain vs. Marinated Fish Jerky Dog Treats
Anytime you see a jerky marinade here on the blog, it’s optional. Unlike a meat jerky, which I usually prefer to dehydrate plain (although I occasionally experiment, 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. But in the case of fish jerky, it can be a handy prep step.
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! Yuck. Or, in the dogs’ opinion, yum. 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 (affiliate link), 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 in cold water (optional), and then slice into thin strips/pieces. The fish pieces will shrink as it dehydrates, so upsize for shrinkage if you wish to have larger finished treats. Double check everything to ensure that there are no bones while prepping your fish.
- 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) for added food safety, 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 additional food safety and/or added crunchiness.
- Allow to cool thoroughly before storage.
Dehydrated Fish Food Safety
Dogs usually have a more robust gut than we humans, but don’t forget that you’ll be handing the treats, so a little extra caution might still be warranted. As noted above, you can preheat fish before dehydrating for optional added safety. If your dehydrator has a suitable meat/fish setting, then your fish jerky treats should be ready to serve once the dehydration is complete. However, you can also pop it briefly into a very hot oven after dehydration for added safety, before cooling for serving and storage. It stinks, of course, but the dogs don’t mind! Remember to air your oven out after. Haha! It also increases the crunch factor in the treats. Pawfect!
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, pre-freezing before you make jerky, pre-heating before dehydrating, and/or exposure to high(er) temperatures can be used as added precautions. You can read more about making jerky safely via the FSIS. Their guidance has been revised since this post was first written and we’ve updated the links. They currently recommend pre-heating when making jerky for human consumption to ensure that you get a suitable temperature early in the process, while the meat or fish is still wet.
Additional Fish Jerky Tips and Tricks
- First time making jerky treats? 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, preheat (optional for added safety), 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 prepared meats, fish, or other foods for making jerky is to toss everything together into a Ziploc bag. However, if you’re like us and trying to reduce your waste then using a dish works great, just a little extra clean up and no extra waste. 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 like to freeze our jerky treats to be on the safer side. Since homemade dog jerky treats don’t use preservatives and isn’t heavily salted, it’s more vulnerable to spoilage than human snacks. Freezing is an easy and safer option. Jerky freezes great and the dogs enjoy it straight from the freezer or defrosted in small quantities. It thaws quickly in my pocket treat bags on walkies, too. 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 use the category and tag labels 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.