Dehydrating meat, fish, or dog-friendly fruits and veggies is an easy way to make healthy homemade dog treats. When I (and probably many other folks) think about dehydrated dog treats, homemade jerky treats are probably the first thing that comes to mind, but there are all sorts of different options for dehydrating. As the next instalment in our current special FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting mini-series topic all about DIY dog treats, we look at an introduction to homemade dehydrated dog treats, including food safety, treat storage, and handy tips.
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 way 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 several years now.
Understanding How a Dehydrator Works
A dehydrator is a small appliance that uses heat and a built-in fan(s) 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 and versatile use. Using a dehydrator is very energy efficient compared to an oven.
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, they may become doggone deliciously chewy or crunchy when dried. Bonus!
Although I bought a dehydrator primarily for making jerky, it’s become very handy for other treats. I also use my dehydrator to further dry baked biscuit (cookie) style dog treats. This technique can be used to improve shelf-life, but it’s also great for adding extra crunch to 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.
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). For chewier pieces, slice with the grain. For more tender jerky, slice against. Thicker strips will be chewier, but take longer to dehydrate thoroughly. 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.
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 how thick your particularly jerky pieces are, but expect it to take quite a while and beware that it can be smelly (happy dogs are also dehydrating from drooling when we make jerky). When possible, I like to dehydrate jerky 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. Usually well guarded, per the photo at the beginning of this post!
Caution: See food safety notes and link below.
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 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). Some foods may benefit from (optional) blanching or marinating to improve taste, texture, and other priorities when dehydrating. See note below.
Dehydrating Fruits or Vegetables for 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 fruits and vegetables. The dehydration time will depend on your machine, the type of food, as well as how thick your particularly treat pieces are, but 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 turn brown when cut. This is an enzyme reaction between their exposed flesh and the air. It can be (at least partially) inhibited by coating the slices with a dog-friendly acid like lemon juice or pineapple juice prior to dehydrating. Go ahead and add a little dog-friendly spices at the same time, if you’d like!
With some vegetables, briefly blanching can help to alter enzyme reactions to maintain better colour, flavour, and texture. It’s usually done with brief immersion in boiling water (although 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 help prepare difficult foods for peeling, and is commonly done to prepare food for freezing. What many home cooks and treat makers don’t realise is that it can also be incredibly useful for better dehydration. In addition to the colour, flavour, and texture benefits, blanching can improve food safety as well as help soften tough exteriors (e.g. green beans) for more consistent dehydration.
See the side-by-side examples with a blanched and unblanched sweet potato (kumara) treat 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.
Note: Although sweet potato (kumara) has long been touted as a healthy nutritious low-GI food for people and pets, research has indicated that high consumption of sweet potato 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 of making sweet potato chews, it’s worth being aware of and moderating or eliminating 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, just because. I’m currently working on a super-crunchy stick treat. Taste tests (so far, so happy) and recipe refinements ongoing.
You won’t see us making homemade organ-based treats because of Dalmatians and purine moderation. We also don’t (at least for now) have access to some of the “grosser” goodies that can be made with suitable sources. Although in confession, I’m not sure how keen I would be to try dehydrating some of the things the 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, and 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 marination 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 cooked food (texture will be different, but the dogs are unlikely to complain) or use pre-heating, and/or exposure to higher temperatures as added precautions.
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 can be used as added precautions.
You can read more about food safety for dehydrating meat on the FSIS website.
Storing Homemade Dehydrated Dog Treats
Cool Prior to Storage
Allow the finished 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, transfer the treats to a suitable container for storage.
Safer Storage Conditions
Treats last longer in cool, dry, dark conditions. Hot or sticky humid weather will accelerate spoilage. Dehydrated food should be stored away from heat, light, and moisture. Moisture is particularly detrimental, for obvious reasons, when you have dehydrated foods.
Tip: Including sealed desiccant (save the little packets from vitamin/supplement bottles or food packets) 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. Dehydrated jerky treats store very well when frozen as they have already been stripped of moisture which mean 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 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 it 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 very high value treats for getting him used to going in/out and to help cement it as a good part of his extended senior’s adventures.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
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
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. 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.