Stinky salmon strips? Delish! These DIY dehydrated salmon jerky dog treats are easy to make and the smell of fish-based treats has always been doggone irresistible to our boys. And to their cat brother Tiger too, back in the day! Here’s how to make your own homemade salmon jerky dog treats, plus tips on prep, storage, optional dog-friendly jerky seasonings, and more!
Benefits of Salmon and Other Dog-Friendly Fish
Different types of dog-friendly fish have different nutrient profiles, but most are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is safe for most dogs, and is an excellent source of omegas-3 fatty acids which can help support mobility, immune system, skin and coat, and much more. Importantly for us right now as Humphrey continues his heart treatments, it’s also great for heart health.
Salmon sits in the moderate level for purines and as noted above is full of heart-healthy omegas and other nutrients, so it’s something we like to include in our boys diet in moderation. As fatty fish go, its a good option, and many of the other high omega seafoods are significantly higher on the purine chart. Dalmatian pals on a more restrictive diet might prefer using a lower purine fish, like our crunchy fish jerky, or checking out some of our other treat ideas instead.
Adding Salmon to Your Dog's Diet
Salmon as a Dog Food Ingredient
An easy way to add some salmon (or other proteins) to your dog’s diet is through a healthy balanced and complete dog food from a reputable manufacturer that includes salmon as one of the ingredients. If you feed a mixed or rotational diet, like we currently do with Humphrey, it has great flexibility for combining different types of food. As it happens, we have salmon in one of the supplementary foods on rotation in Humphrey’s feeding plan right now.
Salmon Treats and Toppers
If you’d like to add salmon to your dog’s diet as an extra treat or topper, you can buy ready made salmon treats, canned salmon (avoid added salt), or share small amounts of unseasoned cooked salmon if you’re enjoying a heart-healthy meal yourself! And, of course, you can experiment with homemade salmon treats, like these DIY dehydrated salmon jerky dog treats. If buying fresh/frozen salmon isn’t an option (we get you – it’s a rare special treat for us), not to worry. We have tinned salmon recipes in our archives too, like our classic stinky pinky salmon biscuit dog treats and other tasty snacks. You can use our internal search to sniff out ideas.
If you’re starting with raw salmon, like we are here, it’s recommended that you freeze and/or cook it before letting your dog have a nibble. Various food safety control measures help to minimise the risks of parasites in store-bought seafood; however, for added safety, you can start by freezing salmon (and most other raw fish) before thawing to preparing your treats. We’re also going to pre-heat our jerky pieces before dehydrating as a’n extra food safety step in the instructions below. However you decide to prep and serve your salmon, make sure it is completely deboned first for safety. You can also remove any loose or large scales.
Salmon Skin Options
Dog can eat cooked salmon skin, and I like to keep the skin on when making salmon jerky. It’s full of nutrients (including omegas) and it also helps the pieces hold together. It’s important, as with all food and treats, to be comfortable that the size and texture is appropriate for your pup. Skin can be a choking hazard, so this is particularly important. As noted above, you can also remove loose or large scales during prep to avoid accidently irritating the mouth or throat. And, in the case of jerky, loose bits tend to flake off as a mess during dehydration and/or handling so removing the scales can be helpful for you, too.
Making Jerky with an Oily Fish Like Salmon
Leaner fish is better for making jerky treats, like our crunchy fish jerky, but that doesn’t mean salmon is a no-go. You just need to manage your expectations and plan accordingly for safe storage and treat handling.
Fatty fish, like salmon, have a different finished texture when dehydrated and a much shorter shelf life. Because of their high fat content, they still feel a bit oily after dehydrating and tend to be snappy or brittle rather than chewy like our usual style of meaty jerky. But those healthy oils are part of what we love about salmon! The finished salmon jerky freezes well so you don’t need to worry about the shelf life issue, and it’s a great way to safely prep your salmon in bulk for future small quantity sharing as treats. Because of their residual oily feel, they’re not good as walkies pocket treats, but they are great for defrosting and enjoying at home.
Choosing a Salmon for Making Jerky
The best salmon to use will depend on your local options and your budget. I’d usually say that the fresher the fish, the better the quality of your jerky, but in the case of salmon you might be buying it as frozen and that’s a-ok too. As noted above, we’d recommend pre-freezing and/or pre-heating as a safety consideration before making jerky if you’re starting from fresh anyway! Salmon can be expensive, so knowing it’s ok to buy frozen or freeze fresh before making your jerky can be handy for shopping sales. It’s a rare but special high-value treat to make homemade salmon jerky at our place.
Depending on where you live, some sources of salmon may be considered safer for dogs (and people) than others due to factors in the wild-caught population and/or how farmed salmon are treated or processed. Check your local suppliers for extra information if you have any concerns. You might also want to know about the sustainability of their fishing practices and other factors.
DIY Dehydrated Salmon Jerky Dog Treats
Homemade Dehydrated Salmon Strips
As noted above, salmon jerky won’t be the same texture as most of our usual jerky treats. But stinky salmon strips (as we tend to call them at our place) are still doggone delish! We’re going to share the instructions and photo examples below without any marinade, but we’ll share some extra options later in the post for any readers who’d like to add extras to their treats.
No dehydrator? No prob! If you don’t have a food dehydrator (affiliate link) for making the treats, you can use your oven. Place your prepared salmon on a heat-safe wire rack (you can flip, but a rack is easier and gives better airflow) over a lined baking tray. Use your oven to replicate the function of a dehydrator, and a fan setting is even better if you have that option. Note that it is recommended to pre-heat meats to ~75C then dehydrate at ~60C. Refer to the safety information and links below.
- Salmon (cleaned, deboned, and frozen/thawed if applicable per below)
As noted above in the salmon safety section, if you’re starting with fresh salmon, you have the option of freezing it for at least a week before making your jerky as an additional safety step. This is generally recommended before raw feeding to destroy parasites, but can be used as an added safety measure for any type of salmon prep, especially lightly cooking like dehydration. We’re also going to prep-heat our salmon before popping it into the dehydrator as another optional food safety precaution.
Making the Treats:
- Starting with cleaned, deboned, thawed salmon, rinse in cold water (optional), and then slice into thin strips/pieces. Note that the pieces will shrink slightly as it dehydrates. Double check to ensure that there are no bones while prepping your salmon.
- Optional: Marinate or pre-season.
- Optional: If pre-heating for added food safety, do this after marinating and before dehydrating. Pre-heating in the oven makes sure that you get your salmon up to the recommended wet heat before dehydration. If you have one, you can use a meat thermometer (affiliate link) to double check. For salmon, the flesh will start to look cooked and change colour as a visual cue. You can see the difference between the dark raw and lighter pre-heated pieces in my collage below.
- 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/fish. The dehydration time will depend on your machine as well as how thick your particularly jerky pieces are, but expect it to take a while and to be stinky! I like to dehydrate fish on a nice day, start early so we have plenty of daytime dry time, and (if possible) leave the dehydrator plugged in on the patio instead of in the house. Or, if not, it’s good to be able to open a few windows instead.
- Optional: Transfer the dehydrated salmon onto an oven-safe tray and briefly bake at a high temperature for additional food safety and/or added crunchiness.
- Allow to cool thoroughly before storage.
Food Safety when Making Dehydrated Salmon Treats
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. You can preheat fish, like salmon, before dehydrating for optional added safety. If your dehydrator has a suitable meat/fish setting, then your salmon jerky treats should be ready to serve once the dehydration is complete. However, you can also cook them briefly in a very hot oven after dehydration for added safety and/or crunch.
As noted above, various food safety control measures help to minimise the risks of parasites in store-bought seafood; however, if you are concerned that your salmon 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. They currently recommend pre-heating as a safety step 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. We’ve include the extra steps in our treats above.
Options for Marinating and Seasoning Salmon Jerky
Plain vs. Marinated Jerky Treats
Anytime you see a jerky marinade or seasoning 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. 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 sometimes 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 lightly shifting colour. Here’s an example collage from a batch of salmon jerky made a few years ago but didn’t make it into the blog posting schedule at the time. We recently got a bigger dehydrator, but our old one still works great and I’ve kept it as a small-batch tool. The photo of Humphrey guarding his salmon on the patio is a classic, too. It’s the feature photo in our pet chef help post on dehydrating dog treats.
Marinades vs. Dry Rubs
Most marinades are wet mixtures, using water, juices, oils or other liquids with or without extra seasonings. Like my diluted lemon juice above. Dry rubs use only the dry herbs, spices, and other seasonings for scent, tastes, and (in some cases) texture. Which is better? It all depends on what you’re cooking and your personal preferences, as well as the favourings. You can add your dry rub seasonings to your meat or fish and let them rest in the fridge before you start the dehydration process above. It gives you the added flavours or schents, but with less juicy mess for dehydrating. See our ginger dry rub beef jerky dog treats for an example.
Anything dog-safe that suits your pup’s palette could be an option for creating a jerky marinade or rub, but we do have a few words of caution. For dehydrated treats, it’s best to avoid anything oily since that’s counterproductive to our goal of drying away the moisture. And it’s extra counterproductive since we’re already battling an oily fish with our salmon here. Sticky or staining ingredients are also problematic for dehydrator clean-up and later handling during snacking. Dog-safe dry seasonings are good options, but remember that anything chunky or flaky might not stay stuck in place after drying. Powders or small flakes hold better.
Additional Salmon 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 quality salmon, practice safe food handling, preheat (optional for added safety), and dehydrate with care using meat/fish dehydrator settings or oven temperatures. As noted above, you can read more about jerky safety via the FSIS.
- Seasoning your salmon strips? The easiest way to marinate (or dry rub) prepared meats, fish, or other foods for making jerky is to toss everything together into a Ziploc bag. However, 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 all of our jerky dog treats to be on the safer side since they don’t contain any preservatives or added salt. For the oily salmon jerky, it’s even more important. To avoid spoilage or rancid oils, we recommend freezing the finished salmon strips for storage after cooling. Jerky freezes well, and our dogs enjoy it as treats straight from the freezer or defrosted in small quantities.
- Because of the oiliness of the salmon, as noted above, these treats aren’t pocket friendly.
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.