This FAQ post is all about shelf life and storage options for homemade baked biscuit and cookie dog treats. We’re wrapping up the dog treat mini-series (and the treats) with a look at homemade dog treat shelf life, food safety, and storage. We’ve covered general storage for other types of treats their respective FAQ posts, but baked homemade dog treat shelf life and storage concerns are very common for home bakers, so we’re a doing more comprehensive overview. Let’s dig into the factors affecting shelf life and dog treat storage options.
Homemade Dog Treats vs. Commercial Dog Treats
Most commercial dog treats use preservatives and/or low-moisture content to extend their shelf life. Interested in knowing more? Dog Food Guru has an overview of synthetic and natural preservatives used within the pet food industry and Food Business News has an interesting article on some of the baking and drying technologies used in the pet food and treat industry.
The shelf-life of homemade baked biscuit dog treats is usually very limited in comparison to their commercial counterparts. Homemade treats are usually prepared without added preservatives. Moisture control can be used to some extent by home bakers as part of the preparation process, but most home bakers can’t achieve the same level or consistency as a commercial manufacturer. My preferred option for longer storage is to freeze baked treats and defrost for small quantity use. Let’s take a look at some of the main shelf life factors and options to help with managing or mitigating them.
Understanding Dog Treat Shelf Life
What Determines a Dog Treat’s Shelf Life?
The edible life of a homemade baked biscuit or cookie dog treat can vary greatly. Key factors include the treat ingredients, how the treat was prepared, and the conditions in which it is stored. We’ll take a deep dive into all of those factors in this post.
We talk about baked dog treats in general in this post. As a mini tip if you’re checking for specific foods, baked dog treats are similar to homemade human biscuits, cookies, or crackers. For general guidelines, sites like Still Tasty or Eat by Date can be helpful.
How Do Good Treats Go Bad?
Staleness. The first step towards a baked good “going off” is usually noticed as staleness. But unless you’re sampling the dog’s treats yourself, this would be missed. Most dogs are a little less picky that we humans, and would still eat a stale treat. Foods baked with starchy ingredients, including biscuit style dog treats, slowly go stale over time as the structure and moisture levels shift.
Oxidisation. Ingredients like oils and fats in dog treats can oxidise and eventually go rancid. Once again, unless you’re sharing the dog treats, you won’t notice changing flavours and potentially not scents either. Unlike staleness which usually just affects taste or texture, oxidisation can affect food quality or safety. Oxidised foods can have reduced nutritional value and/or develop potentially dangerous compounds.
Bacteria. Bacteria in treats or picked up on their surface can begin to multiply. Not all bacteria are bad, in moderation of course. We enjoy beneficial bacteria-rich foods like yogurt and kefir for example. But other unwanted harmful bacteria can lead to serious food-borne illnesses. While heathly dogs are generally more resilient to food-borne bacteria than people thanks to their acidic stomachs, vulnerable dogs and/or the people in contact with the treats or the dogs consuling them may not be so fortunate.
Mould. With time and exposure, everything starts to break down and treats are no exception. Dog treats can go mouldy. Dormant fungal spores are picked up from the air, surface contact, and/or during handling. They’re everywhere, even if you keep things very clean. Once on the treats, they can find enough moisture to start growing, and begin breaking down the treat for their own food. Mould is a natural part of the decomposition process, and no one want a rotten mouldy treat. Ewww. Yuck factors of scent, texture, other nasties aside, not all mould is dangerous, but some types produce harmful toxins.
Snack Safely, Furfriends
If in doubt, throw it out. Yes, wasting dog treats is always a bummer. But spoiled food can be dangerous for pets and the people around them. Better safe than sorry. Read on for more info on the factors that affect dog treat shelf life and treat storage options.
Ingredients and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life
Quality homemade treats start with quality ingredients. Whether for people or for pets, freshness and safe storage of ingredients is important. Read ingredient labels, trust your sources, select with care, store properly, and pay attention to use-by dates.
Ingredient Stability and Individual Shelf Life
If you consider all the different dog treat ingredients that can help make a homemade treat doggone delicious, many are shelf life limited. Some have brief safe consumption lives at room temperature and limited refrigerator lives, even if they’ve been heated or cooked. Think of tasty options like fish, meat, stock, purred fruits, pureed vegetables, dairy, eggs, and other popular homemade dog treat ingredients. Other ingredients lose their stability as soon as their containers are unsealed, and the contents of packets, cans, or jars are exposed to ambient air. Even for ingredients with long stable shelf (or refrigerator) lives, once you mix and bake them into a treat, all bets are off.
Soft fish and meat treats are the most vulnerable in our experience, but all homemade treats benefit from careful food handling and storage. Moist protein-rich foods are great breeding grounds for bacteria. Soft treats of all varieties are prime for growing mould, with plenty of moisture and organic material to act as food. The baking process initially kills most bacteria and mould spores (excluding certain heat-resistant exceptions), but these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air.
We don’t use any special preservatives when we make our dog treats, although these can be bought for treat making. Some treat ingredients have natural preservative properties, but these generally aren’t used in sufficient quantities to make a substantial difference to shelf life and/or their natural preservative properties may be altered by the cooking/baking process.
For most homemade dog treats, using quality ingredients, hygienic food handling, moisture control, and storage conditions are the primary lines of defence against spoilage. Let’s dig a little deeper into ways to help increase the edible life of homemade dog treats.
Moisture and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life
Moisture and Stability
In most cases, the drier the treat, the more stable it will be. Crunchy dry and dehydrated treats are more stable than moist soft cookies. They’re a less-hospitable environment for bacteria and mould, which helps to delay spoilage and extend shelf life.
Removing Extra Moisture from Baked Biscuit Dog Treats
Removing moisture from a treat through extended baking time (lower the temperature and lengthen the baking time) or post-baking dehydrating can help to extend shelf-life. It can also create a crisper crunchier treat. Dog treats can be dried after baking by leaving them in the oven after baking with door ajar and/or fan operating while the oven cools, or using a food dehydrator (affiliate link).
I sometimes leave treats in the oven while it cools, but if I want an extra dry crunchy treat, I use the dehydrator. And not just for food safety reasons. To be honest, I often dehydrate baked treats just for the crunch factor, even though I almost always store my treats frozen. I find that lightly baking and then dehydrating creates a better finished treat, especially if working with lower fat doughs and/or shapes and stamps. Removing additional moisture can, however, make treats more prone to cracking and crumbling. See our previous post for additional information on troubleshooting common problems with baked dog treats.
Avoid Additional Moisture During Storage and Handling
It’s important to allow the finished treats to cool thoroughly prior to storage. Putting warm treats into a container will trap residual steam and/or moisture, which can accelerate spoilage. Wait for them to reach ambient temperature first. Once completely cooled, transfer the treats to a suitable container. See cooling comments below regarding reducing exposure to new contaminants. Similarly, if treats are being defrosted from frozen,it’s beneficial to ensure they defrost dry before being transferred to sealed storage in ambient or refrigerated conditions. I usually just defrost treats in very small quantities for convenient fresh use.
Ambient Conditions and Homemade Dog Treat Shelf Life
General Food Handling
Cleanliness and good food handling practices are important during preparation, making/baking, and whenever handling the finished treats. As noted above, the baking process kills most bacteria and mould spores, but new these are easily picked up after baking during handling, surface contact, and/or ambient air.
Ambient Conditions and Spoilage
The ambient conditions will affect stored shelf-life, so store the container in a suitable location. Treats last longer in cool, dry, dark conditions. These are the least favourable conditions for the common modes of food spoilage that can affect baked biscuit dog treats.
Cooling Prior to Storage
In order for you baked goods to cool thoroughly prior to storage, they have to transition through temperatures that are perfect for new ambient bacteria and mould spores. Commercial facilities sometimes use special vacuum cooling systems to accelerate cooling speed and control exposure between baking and packaging. Some also use special surface decontamination methods prior to packaging, such as infra red radiation and ultraviolet light. In the home kitchen, practicing good hygiene and careful food handling after baking can help. If you’re using the cool-down oven or post-baking dehydration, keeping your treats in these environments until completely cooled can help lower exposure risks. It reduces handling after heating and avoids treats sitting in uncovered in the ambient kitchen environment to cool.
Make sure your treat storage containers are thoroughly cleaned and sanitised. Well-used plastic containers can be difficult to completely sanitise due to surface scratches, which is an issue worth noting for human food safety too. I use them for storing dog treats in the freezer (like the box in the photo above) because I have lots and they stack great. I like to use small glass jars (repurposed empties) for any short term supplies at room temperature and for refrigerated treats. For our dogs ready-made store bought foods and treats, we have a combination of larger glass jars and stainless food storage containers.
For most dog treats, airtight is best and less air is better, so aim for a full container (or sealed bag) if possible. If you opt to put the container in the fridge, it should be airtight irrespective of the treat type.
If you are mixing treats in a container for ambient storage, avoid combining soft cookie style treats with dry biscuit treats (although this isn’t necessary if you are freezing right away). Moisture from the soft treats will make your dry treats soggy. Treats can also absorb each other’s scents affecting flavour, but it’s unlikely the dogs would object! I often mix baked treats to economise space, as you can see in the photo above, when freezing. Other types of treats (meatballs, jerky, etc) I prefer to freeze in their own separate containers.
Storage Location and Conditions
The ambient conditions in your kitchen or pantry can vary significantly depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and your home heating and/or cooling. Treats will spoil faster in hot, sticky, humid conditions.
Refrigeration and freezing are ways of modifying the ambient conditions to be even less favourable to spoilage: cool, dry, and dark. Low temperatures slow the growth of microorganisms as well as the rate of oxidisation and other chemical changes within food. When these temperatures drop below freezing, water becomes unavailable for continued growth. Microorganisms are further slowed and may go dormant until conditions return to a more favourable environment.
What's the Best Way to Store Homemade Dog Treats?
Well, that’s a matter of personal opinion, but I prefer to freeze homemade dog treats for extended safe storage. In addition to being the safest option and super easy, it also allows me to keep a variety of treats on hand so that there’s always something different available to the treat jar and a walkies pocket treat bag.
Defrosting uncovered allows the treats to thaw without trapping moisture or condensation for dry thawed treats. I just pop a few into a small jar or dish to defrost. They can then be consumed or the lid popped on for short-term sealed dry storage. Pawfect! I sometimes take treat straight from the freezer and into a pocket bag. Or straight into a dog’s waiting mouth.
In theory, treats can be frozen indefinitely, but most frozen food is vulnerable to freezer burn. This doesn’t usually affect food safety, just food quality. Freezer burn is caused by exposure to cold dry air, leading to dehydration over time. Fortunately, if your aim is a dry, crispy, crunchy dog treat, then having the cold freezer suck residual moisture out of your treats isn’t cause for panic, although it may also affect appearance, flavour, texture, and/or crumbliness. Not frost free? You might also have issues when defrosting if the drawn out water crystalises as frost on your treats. The less air there is in your treat container (or wrapping) and the better it’s sealed against air transfer, the lower the risk and severity of freezer burn. Freezer burn can also be exacerbated by temperature settings or fluctuations in the functioning of your freezer. Keeping things consistently cold, closed, and well-sealed can help lower the freezer burn risks to your treats and to everything else you have store in there for people or pets.
Keen to Try a Few Treats?
We have all sorts of treat related posts in the archives. 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. 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 archives. You can also use the category and tag labels to find recipes that might be of interest or use our internal search 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.