Dehydrating meat, fish, or dog-friendly fruits and veggies is an easy way to make healthy homemade dog treats. When I (and probably many others) think about dehydrated dog treats, homemade jerky is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but there are all sorts dehydrated treats. As the next instalment in our current special FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series, we look at an introduction to homemade dehydrated dog treats, including food safety, treat storage, and handy tips. Get ready to drool, furfriends. It’s time to dehydrate.
Do You Need a Dehydrator to Make Treats?
The short and simple answer to this is no. You don’t need a dehydrator to make dehydrated dog treats. But beware, you might get hooked and want one once you start experimenting with DIY treats. They’re surprisingly handy! I use our dehydrator far more than I ever expected. It’s not a very expensive or fancy model (I’ll probably upgrade if/when it fails), but it does the trick. It’s used often and has been working great for years. Dog treats are my biggest use, but I’ve used it with fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers too.
Understanding How a Dehydrator Works
A dehydrator is a small appliance that uses built-in fan or fans to flow heated air around items on perforated racks. The warm moving air slowly pulls moisture from the items, drying them out until they’re at the desired state of dehydration. Dehydrators come in different shapes, sizes, and qualities. At minimum, look for one with even heat distribution and multiple temperature settings for safe versatile use. Using a dehydrator is very energy efficient compared to an oven. You can check out the different food dehydrators on Amazon (affiliate link) to get a feel for different models, features, and price points.
Using an Oven to Dehydrate Food
If you don’t own a dehydrator, you can create a similar effect by using your oven on low temperature. Preferably with fan setting and/or with the door ajar for airflow, although the latter may not be safe there are sniffing dogs (or curious kids) in the house. For even drying, you can either place the food onto of oven-safe racks for airflow or turn periodically on a lined baking pan.
Food dehydration uses of exposure to airflow and heat over time to remove the majority of moisture, making the food less prone to spoilage. Dehydrated foods are lighter, smaller, easier to handle than many raw foods, and more portable as treats. Plus, foods often become doggone deliciously chewy or crunchy when dried. Bonus!
Although I bought a dehydrator primarily for making homemade jerky dog treats, it’s become very handy for other treats. And non treats, as mentioned above. As a special help in the treat kitchen, I also use my dehydrator to further dry baked biscuit (cookie) style dog treats. Dehydrating can be used to improve homemade dog treat shelf-life, but it’s also great for making extra crunchy treats without over-baking.
How Long Does It Take to Make Dehydrated Dog Treats?
The time required to dehydrate treats (or anything else) will depend on the temperature, treat type, size and thickness, and distribution in the dehydrator. Ambient conditions can also play a part, especially high humidity. In our experience, dehydration typically takes around 6-8 hours, but can be as long as 24+ for some foods, especially certain fruits and veggies. Fortunately, this time is mostly hands off other than checks and/or rotations. Don’t try and speed things along by raising the temperature. This can cause the outside to dry too fast and seal moisture in the middle of your treats. Relax and be patient while you dogs enjoy the wafting smells coming from the dehydrator.
Making Meat or Fish Jerky Dehydrated Dog Treats
Selecting Suitable Meats and Fish
To make meat or fish jerky dog treats, start with quality fresh or thawed quality frozen meat or fish. Lean flesh is easier to dehydrate, healthier, and has a lower risk of going rancid after dehydration.
Preparing the Meat or Fish for Dehydration
Cut into small pieces or strips for dehydration. Remember, they will shrink somewhat as they dry, too. For chewier pieces, slice with the grain. For more tender jerky, slice against. Thicker strips will be chewier, but take longer to dehydrate thoroughly. Having trouble cutting thin strips? You may find it easier to slice meat or fish from whilst frozen or partially-frozen for firmness.
You can make jerky straight-up or marinate with little in a splash of citrus juice, apple cider vinegar, dog-friendly marinade and/or a gentle rub of dog-friendly herbs or spices. Some types of meats and fish need extra prep or heating for added safety before and/or after dehydration. Healthy dogs are far more resilient to most bacteria than us humans, especially if they’re accustomed to a raw or mixed diet. However, extra care can be helpful for safety, storage, and for the humans handling finished treats. Preheating while meats are wet is a common safety recommendation when making jerky for people, and you can use this as an optional safety step when making jerky for dogs. See the food safety notes later in this post for food handling tips and preparation options.
Dehydrating Meat or Fish Dog Treats
Once ready to dehydrate, arrange the prepared pieces onto the dehydrator tray. Dehydrate according to your specific dehydrator’s settings and instructions for dehydrating meat or fish. The dehydration time will depend on your machine as well as the size of your pieces. Expect it to take a while and beware, it can be smelly. Happy dogs dehydrating from drooling when we make jerky! Haha! When possible, I like to dehydrate jerky on a nice day. That way, we can dehydrate outside or air out the house. Ideally, we start early for plenty of dry time, and leave the dehydrator plugged in on the patio instead of indoors. Don’t worry. It’s usually well guarded, per the photo at the beginning of this post!
Ready to make some treats? We walk you through the steps above, along with any other special instructions, in the individual posts for all of our dehydrated dog treat recipes. Making jerky is easy and doggone delicious. See food safety notes and link below.
Making Dehydrated Fruit and Vegetable Dog Treats
Selecting Suitable Foods
To make dehydrated fruit or vegetable treats, start with quality fresh or thawed quality frozen dog-friendly foods.
Preparing Fruits and Vegetables for Dehydration
Ensure that they are clean and ready to eat. Cut into small portion-sized pieces if/as necessary. Remember they will shrink somewhat, too. Some foods benefit from (optional) blanching or marinating to improve taste, texture, and other priorities when dehydrating. See below.
Dehydrating Fruits or Vegetables for Dog Treats
Once ready to dehydrate, arrange the prepared pieces onto the dehydrator tray. Dry according to your specific dehydrator’s settings and instructions for dehydrating fruits and vegetables. The dehydration time will depend on your machine, the type of food, and the size of your pieces. Expect it to take quite a while if you are aiming for a fully dehydrated treat. Some fruits and veggies take a very long time to dry.
Marinating and/or Blanching Fruits and Vegetables Prior to Dehydration
Some fruits and veggies benefit from pre-treating prior to dehydration.
Fruits like apples, pears, and bananas oxidise and brown when cut. This is an enzyme reaction between their exposed flesh and the air. Oxidisation can be partially inhibited by coating the slices with a dog-friendly acid like lemon juice or pineapple juice prior to dehydrating. Coating or marinating? Go ahead and add a few dog-friendly spices at the same time, if you’d like!
With some vegetables, briefly blanching can alter enzyme reactions to maintain better colour, flavour, and texture. It’s usually done by brief immersion in boiling water (steam blanching is also possible) followed by an ice bath plunge to halt the cooking process. It can be used as a tender-crisp cooking method, to prepare difficult foods for peeling, or prepare food for freezing. What many home cooks and dog treat makers don’t realise is that blanching can also be incredibly useful for better dehydration. In addition to the colour, flavour, and texture benefits, blanching can improve food safety and soften tough exteriors (e.g. green beans) for more consistent dehydration.
See the side-by-side examples with blanched and unblanched sweet potato (kumara) dog treats below. I don’t often make dehydrated veggie treats, as our boys enjoy many of their dog-friendly favourites either raw and/or in prepared treats; however, I made an experimental batch (blanched with stock to up the yum factor) just to test it out.
Although sweet potato (kumara) has long been touted as a healthy nutritious low-GI food for people and pets, opinions vary. High consumption of sweet potato, peas, beans, and certain other foods may be linked to a heightened risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs, potentially related to an overall dietary deficiency in taurine. Treats should never be a main element in any diet, but if you’re a fan of buying or making sweet potato chews or crunchy bean treats, it’s worth being aware. You can moderate or eliminate to suit your pet.
Other Types of Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
Other types of dehydrated dog treats can go as far as your dog-safe food sources and imagination can take you. Homemade jerky dog treats are our favourite, but we occasionally try other treats. I’ve even experimented with dehydrated low-sodium cottage cheese and dehydrated scrambled eggs. I’m currently working on a crunchy stick treat. Taste tests (so far, so happy) and recipe refinements ongoing.
You won’t see us making homemade organ treats because of Dalmatians and purine moderation. We also don’t have easy access to some of the “grosser” goodies that could be made with suitable sources. Although in confession, I’m not sure how keen I would be to try dehydrating some of the things our dogs would love. Haha! Check out our dehydrating dog pal Kai (kaihascookies on Instagram) and get inspired by some of the amazingly
disgusting doggone delicious dehydrator treats that her pawesome Mom Vanessa makes! We buy specialty dehydrated treats, like deer and bunny ears, for our boys from reputable local dog treat manufacturers and suppliers.
DIY Dog Treat Dehydration and Food Safety
Quality homemade treats start with quality ingredients. This is especially true when dehydrating. Cleanliness and good food handling practices are also extra important, for both your own health and the finished treats. Keep your hands, work surfaces, and working tools clean. If marinating, follow safe practices and refrigerate until transferring to the dehydrator.
Temperature is a very important factor in food safety when using a dehydrator with meats and fish. Your dehydrator needs to be able to hit a high enough temperature for initial “wet heat” to ensure any present bacteria are destroyed and then maintain a suitable drying heat. You can also dehydrate pre-cooked food, use pre-heating, and/or exposure to higher temperatures as added precautions. In some cases, the texture will be different, but the dogs are unlikely to complain! One of the many great things about making homemade dog treats.
Various food safety control measures help to minimise the risks of parasites in store-bought foods. However, if there is any chance that your meat or fish may contain parasites (e.g. hunted game or caught fish), extended pre-freezing (or freezing the finished jerky), pre-heating, and/or exposure to higher temperatures may be used as added precautions. Check safety guidance for your specific ingredients.
You can read more about food safety for dehydrating meat on the FSIS website. Their guidance has been revised since this post was first written and we’ve updated the links. When making jerky for humans, they recommend pre-heating as an added safety step to make sure that you get a suitable temperature early in the process, while the meat or fish is still wet. As noted above in our prep steps for meat and fish jerky, you can use this as an added safety measure when making jerky for dogs.
Storing Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
Cool Prior to Storage
Allow the finished dehydrated dog treats to cool thoroughly prior to storage. Putting warm treats into a contain will trap residual steam or moisture, which can accelerate spoilage. Once cool, you can transfer the treats to a suitable container for storage.
Safer Storage Conditions
Dehydrated dog treats last longer in cool, dry, dark conditions. Dehydrated foods should be stored away from heat, light, and moisture. Moisture is particularly detrimental, for obvious reasons, when you have dehydrated foods. Including sealed desiccant (save the little food-safe packets from vitamin/supplement bottles or other food packaging) in your container or vacuum packs can help with moisture control. Be careful to ensure that the dogs do not have access, as desiccants can be harmful to people and/or animals if swallowed.
Dehydrated jerky dog treats can be kept in a sealed container in ambient conditions; however, since homemade dog jerky doesn’t use preservatives and isn’t heavily salted like human jerky, to be on the safe side, it should be eaten within a few days of making, vacuum packed, or frozen (my preference) for longer storage.
I freeze our homemade jerky. Dehydrated jerky dog treats store very well when frozen. They’ve already been stripped of moisture, which means that the meat or fish isn’t as vulnerable to freezer burn as typical frozen foods. Dehydrated fruits and veggies, if thoroughly dried, may be stable longer in ambient conditions, but otherwise benefit from the same approach to storage and handling as jerky.
My Preferred Storage Method
I store all of our dehydrated dog treats frozen, and defrost in small quantities for ready use. Defrosting seems to work best when uncovered to avoid trapping moisture or condensation. Our dogs will also happily eat treats straight from the freezer, although I think warm must be better for scent and taste. I’ll often pop their frozen treats straight into my pocket in a small dog treat bag where they warm while we walk. Oli’s new senior dog stroller has actually been nicknamed the jerky wagon because of the treats! I carry high value treats for getting him used to the stroller and to help cement it as a good part of his extended senior’s adventures.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
Hungry? 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 something specific. You can also hop over to our DIY Dog Treat Recipes board on Pinterest or dig around our Pet Chef Help board on Pinterest for links on things like ingredients, substitutions, or conversions. Check out the full mini-series topic for an introduction to the main categories of different homemade dog treats we make and share here on the blog:
- Why (and How) to Make Homemade Dog Treats
- Frozen and Chilled Homemade Dog Treats
- Homemade Gelatin Gummy Dog Treats
- Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
- Homemade Birthday and Special Occasion Dog Cakes
- Homemade Baked Biscuit (Cookie) Dog Treats
- Decorating Homemade Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
- Homemade Baked Dog Treat Shelf Life and Storage
Hungry for more tasty treats? There are all sorts of homemade dog treat ideas in our blog archives. You can also 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.