Using natural food colouring ingredients to tint homemade dog treats. Whether you are not keen on artificial food colouring or just want to mix things up, here are some natural foods and add-ins to create all-natural colourful dog-friendly treats.
Can Dogs See Colour?
Contrary to what many people believe, dogs are not colour blind. They just see colours (and more) quite differently than people. Check out our post on dog vision vs. human vision for details and side-by-side photo examples, like the pictures below. It’s been a life-changing learning for our family, especially with Oli’s reduced vision. Definitely worth taking a little time to read and understand!
Using Food Colouring and/or Coloured Ingredients in Dog Treats
Dogs couldn’t care less about how pretty their treats are – as long as they smell and taste great. All that pretty prep is just for us crazy humans. Colour can be fun for special occasions or just because.
Commercial Ready-Made Food Colouring
Animal experts currently advise that most standard human food colourings (not alcohol-based of course) are pet safe. Just like with humans, there can be individual sensitivities and expert advice is always subject to possible change and new information emerges. Personally, I’m ok with using food colourings in homemade dog (or human) treats, but I still prefer keeping it natural, if possible.
You can buy ready-to-use natural food colourings online and from natural health or specialty stores. However, natural doesn’t necessarily mean dog-safe so it’s still always important to check ingredients.
Homemade Food Colouring
There are also tutorials online for making your own natural ready-to-use food colouring, if you’re keen. Again, consider all ingredients carefully for suitability for dogs. I haven’t experimented with making food colouring. I’d rather just use the natural colouring ingredients straight up and mix in small quantities at time of use, if needed.
Naturally Tinted Ingredients and Add-Ins
Many dog-friendly foods have their own natural colours that can be used alone or blended to create colourful treats. I prefer using these natural colouring options for tinting dog treats. They offer extra scent, taste, and/or nutritional value. They may not have quite the same colour palette or characteristics, but since the dogs prefer yum to looks, I’m cool with that. Let’s take a closer look at colours and options.
Naturally Coloured Ingredients for Homemade Dog Treats
Making Dog Treats with Colourful Fruits and Vegetables
Naturally coloured fruits and veggies are one of the easiest ways to add colour, as well as flavour and healthy goodness. There are options for almost every colour except true blue, as must “blue” foods like blueberries actually tint purplish. The the idea of getting sciencey with cabbage or baking soda just doesn’t appeal to my taste bud logic. Eww. I’d rather just skip the blue! Remember, although many fruits and veggies are safe for most dogs, some should be avoided.
Since pureed fruits and veggies are typically good binders, they work very well in dough for baked biscuit dog treats or truffle mixtures. They can also be added to prepared gelatin to make gummy treats, but remember to account for the full liquid volume when calculating the required amount of gelatin. They can be used either straight-up or blended with other ingredients to make frozen treats.
Making Dog Treats with Naturally Coloured Juices and Powders
If you are looking to colour a dough, icing, gelatin, or other mixture, juices or powders can be easier for adapting a recipe or adding a concentrated punch of colour. I often use powders in homemade treats. they’re easy to use, colourful, and our dogs seem to really love most of the tasty and smelly add-ins.
They can also be handy for boosting an already coloured base. For example, using turmeric to amp up a paler orange pumpkin or kumara dough, or beetroot powder to strengthen a pink berry dough (and help it hold colour when baked).
If you’re looking to tint something like coconut for sprinkling or rolling, you can also use juices or powders to mix you own tinted water-based custom colours.
Using Natural Ingredient to Create Treat Colours
Coloured Dog Treat Ingredient Options
Here are some of my go-to natural colouring ingredients for homemade dog treats:
- RED – Beetroot, Strawberry, Raspberry
- PINK – Beetroot, Strawberry, Raspberry
- ORANGE – Turmeric, Pumpkin, Squash, Carrot, Sweet Potato (Kumara)
- YELLOW – Egg Yolk, Turmeric
- GREEN – Wheatgrass, Kale, Spirulina, Green Veggies
- PURPLE – Blueberry, Blackberry
- BROWN – Carob Powder, Blackstrap Molasses, Peanut Butter
These are all colourful potential dog treat ingredients that offer other value-added benefits to the treats either in terms of handling and baking consistency, scent and taste, and/or nutrition. Using them in compatibly flavoured treat combinations works nicely and has extra benefits other than just making us crazy humans happy about cute treats.
Tinting reds can be tricky depending on the treat base. White and pale bases tend to mix as pinks instead of reds, just like adding red to a white paint. I’ll share more on pinks vs. reds as well as a few tricks for tinting better reds later in this post.
My Preferred Homemade Dog Treat Tinting Options
My preferred tints vary depending on the type of treat. I usually have powdered carob, turmeric, beetroot, and spirulina (and sometimes other green powders) on hand and use most other fruits and berries either pureed from fresh or thawed from frozen. Green veggies are not something we typically use because many green vegetables are higher purine options. We try to moderate purines since our dogs are Dalmatians, so I usually make green tints with pale neutral bases and other add-ins instead.
The gummies created for this post were made using gelatin with the following add-ins to create a rainbow of treats for these photos. Red: beetroot powder. Orange: turmeric with a small quantity of beetroot powder, Yellow: small quantity of turmeric, Green: kale powder, Blue: food colouring, Indigo: blackberry/blueberry juice augmented with blue food colouring, Violet: small quantity of blackberry/blueberry juice… It’s pale because I ran out of berries to squeeze! Ooops!
Tips and Tricks for Using Natural Dog Treat Tints
You can use the same colour theory with combinations of natural colourings as you would with ink, paint, etc. to get different strengths and tints. This can be very helpful when you’re mixing colours, but also if you want to counteract or take advantage of the influence of a treat base on the tint.
Colour Strength and Changes
Natural colourings and tints are often less vivid than concentrated food colourings. Most natural tints hold colour fairly well when used in no-bake, low-heat, or frozen treats, although some natural ingredients may also change colour when raw and exposed (e.g. apple, banana, etc.). Others loose some of their vivid colour strength when heated or baked.
Most doughs will change colour when baked, some more than others. Colours often get lighter, fade, or brown. When baking treats, to avoid browning and maintain other properties, I often bake lightly and then dehydrate. As noted above, using a tinted add in can help boost and hold colour when baked. I often augment fruit and vegetable treat doughs with a powdered add-in for better colour and to help the colour hold through baking.
I usually just roll with what happens naturally, but using a little acidity (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, etc.) can sometimes help to reduce the colour shift in treats as they are exposed to air and/or baked. When dehydrating fruit or vegetables for dog treats, marinating and/or blanching prior to dehydration can help them to hold better colour (and improve texture and taste).
Adapting a Dog Recipe to Include Tinting and Colouring Ingredients
Adding tinting ingredients to recipes where consistency is flexible, like pupsicles, is easy. Others can be a little trickier, depending on quantity. Baked biscuit or cookie dough requires careful consideration of consistency, especially if you’re making roll and cut treats.
Small volumes of dry ingredients, like powdered colour and powerful natural tints like turmeric, beetroot powder, etc. can usually be added easily. Larger volumes like creating a chocolatey brown colour with carob powder may require you to reduce flour or increase liquids for a workable dough.
When the dough is being tinted with wet ingredients, you may need to compensate for the added liquid. Natural wet colourings (beetroot juice, molasses, etc.) and liquid food colourings can (depending on quantity) may alter the consistency of your treat dough. You may need to reduce the wets or use little more flour to restore a sticky dough for working. If you are using naturally coloured pureed fruits or veggies to create your tints, you will need to make full recipe adjustments to compensate.
Adding Tints and Colourings to a Treat Dough
When the dough is being tinted all the same colour, it’s easiest to evenly combine and distribute colour when the mix is wet, allowing you to tweak the flour or wet ingredients to compensate for your additions during subsequent mixing. This does have the pitfall of leaving you guessing as to the strength of the final colour if you aren’t familiar with the recipe or tinting strength of your ingredients. As a sneaky compromise if colour strength is important to you, I will sometimes mix most of the way but not all and then tint the dough when it’s still sticky/wet before topping up the last of the flour to final consistency.
When the dough is being split and tinted different colours, it’s often more convenient to mix the full batch, divide the dough, and then tint. To add tint, I make a small divot in the dough ball, put my tint in the divot, squeeze the dough around the tint, and then knead it through to blend the colour. When you are tinting after mixing with dry tints, it is sometimes easier if you mix most of the way but not all, split the still wet-ish dough for tinting, and then tint the dough when it’s still sticky before topping up the flour to final consistency. With liquid tints, you can compensate with flour, if needed.
See our post on decorating homemade baked dog treats for additional tips on mixing colours and other treat decorating ideas.
Bonus Tinting Tips for Ravishing Reds and Pretty Pinks
Adding Colour to Base Ingredients
With many colours, adding a tint to a light or white base just results in a paler or more pastel version of the tint colour, which can be adjusted upwards in strength. As noted above, reds are a little trickier since they become pink. Pawfect for Valentine’s Day, but not so great if you’re aiming for a true red.
Revving Up a Red
You can try to overcome the pinkishness by using tons of tint, but that’s not really something I like to do with my dog treats. And you may just get a darker pink anyways. Using a highly concentrated tint, like paste, gel, or powder food colouring from a specialty baking store, can create a much more intense red tint. But, if you’re keen to keep things natural, you can use a little sneaky colour theory to warm up the pink to become closer to a red.
Combining Pink with Yellow or Orange for a Better Natural Red
Using a yellow or orange base or adding a little yellow or orange tint is my secret method for redder-reds in natural dog treats. See the side-by-side example below of a split dough, tinted with beetroot, where turmeric powder (my favourite yellow add-in) has been used to create a red dough. Both beetroot and turmeric hold colour well through baking, their flavours work in combination, and they’re healthy too. Yass! And my dogs seem to love them, especially turmeric.
🦴 Remember, treats (bought or homemade) are for spoiling your pup in moderation. We share ideas here from treats that we make ourselves for our pets, but different animals will have different preferences (likes or dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies or intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what’s suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.