Using natural food colouring ingredients in my favourite way to tint homemade dog treats. Why bother with colour? It’s totally optional. The dogs care far more about tasty than pretty, but we can still have fun making and sharing cute dog treats. With naturally coloured ingredients, you can make colourful homemade dog treats and still keep things healthy. Win win! Whether you’re 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 able to see colour. They just naturally see colours (and more) quite differently than most people. Curious? 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! But even with that added awareness, colouring and decorating treats is much more about our enjoyment in making and serving them than pleasing the dogs. Dogs don’t care how pretty their treats are, just that they smell and taste great. Yummo! All that pretty prep is just for us crazy humans, and using colours can be fun for theming treats for special occasions or just because it’s doggone cute! So what are the options for choosing and using food colouring for dog treats?
Using Food Colouring or Coloured Ingredients in Dog Treats
Commercial Ready-Made Food Colourings
Animal experts currently advise that most standard human food colourings (non alcohol-based) are pet safe. Just like with humans though, there can be individual sensitivities and expert advice is always subject to possible change and new information emerges. Personally, I’m ok with occasionally using food colourings in homemade dog treats (or human treats), but I prefer using natural ingredients, if possible. There are so many natural tinting options in dog-friendly scents and flavours that can be used instead!
You can buy ready-to-use natural food colourings online and from natural health or specialty stores. However, being natural doesn’t necessarily make food colouring (or any product) dog-safe. It’s always important to check ingredients with care. The same also applies to specially marketed ready-to-use food colouring for dog treats. If you read the fine print, some are the same ingredients as the human equivalents in different packaging. Check ingredients, shop with trusted suppliers and sources, and choose/use products with care.
Homemade Food Colourings
There are lots of 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. Personally, I haven’t experimented with make-ahead food colourings. Why bother? For the way I bake, I prefer using the natural colouring ingredients straight up and mixing with small quantities at time of use. It’s simple and always fresh.
Using Naturally Tinted Ingredients as Food Colouring for Dog Treats
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 creating colours and tinting dog treats. In addition to colour, they often 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 some dog-friendly treat ingredient colourings 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 perhaps true blue. Most blueish foods, like blueberries, actually tint purplish. Getting sciencey with cabbage or baking soda doesn’t appeal to my taste buds. Eww. I’d rather just skip the blue! The dogs would probably agree, too. Haha! Although many fruits and veggies are safe for most dogs, some should be avoided. If in doubt, leave it out.
Since pureed fruits and veggies are typically good binding ingredients, these can work very well when making dough for baked biscuit dog treats or truffle treat mixtures. They can also be added to prepared gelatin to make gummy dog treats, just remember to account for the full liquid volume when calculating the required amount of gelatin. Or simply use one of our recipes where the measures are all done for you. Purees can also be used straight-up or blended with other ingredients to make frozen dog treats. If your dog likes chilly treats, pupsicles are some of the easiest homemade treats to make and it’s very simple to customise mixtures.
Making Dog Treats with Naturally Coloured Juices and Powders
If you are looking to colour a dog treat dough, icing, gelatin, or other mixture, then using naturally coloured liquids, juices, or powders can sometimes be easier for adapting a recipe. They’re also great for adding a concentrated punch of colour, especially some of the powders. I often use pre-made powders in homemade treats. They’re easy to use, colourful, and our dogs seem to love many of these tasty and smelly add-ins. See the list below for some of our favour natural food colourings for dog treats.
Even if you’re working with a recipe that has some natural colour, added a little extra tint can also be handy for boosting a naturally coloured base. For example, using turmeric to amp up a paler natural orange pumpkin or kumara dough, or using beetroot powder to strengthen a pink berry dough. Added tints can also help doughs hold colour when baked. If you’re looking to tint something trickier, like coconut for sprinkling or rolling, you can use juices or powders to mix you own tinted water-based custom colours.
Using Natural Ingredients to Create Dog Treat Colours
Coloured Dog Treat Ingredient Options
Here are some of my go-to natural food colouring ingredients for making 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 colourful potential dog treat ingredients all 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 some bonus info on pinks vs. reds as well as a few tricks for tinting better reds at the end of this post.
My Preferred Homemade Dog Treat Colouring Options
My preferred dog treat 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 example naturally coloured gummies created for this post were made using gelatin with the following add-ins to create a rainbow of treats for our post 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. That last one is a bit pale because I ran out of berries to squeeze. Ooops! Sorry, furfriends.
Tips and Tricks for Using Natural Food Colouring in Dog Treats
You can use the same colour theory with combinations of natural food colouring for dog treats as you would with ink, paint, etc. Playing with quantities and combinations allows you to get different strengths and tints. Colour theory can be very helpful when you’re mixing colours, but it’s also useful if you want to counteract or take advantage of the influence of a treat base on the tint.
Colour Strength and Changes
Natural food 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 dog 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. Turmeric, beetroot, and spirulina powders are currently some of my favourite helpers.
Other than that, 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 or beetroot powder, can usually be added easily. Larger volumes of dry ingredients, like creating a chocolatey brown colour with carob powder, may require you to reduce flour or increase liquids for a workable dough. Large adjustments might also affect the dough consistency for handing or properties after baking.
Similarly, 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 may (depending on quantity) alter the consistency of your dog treat dough. To compensate, you might need to reduce the wets or use little more flour to restore a sticky dough for working. If you are using large amounts like 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 many 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. These often become pink rather than red. That’s pawfect for Valentine’s Day, but not so great if you’re aiming for a true red. Not that the dogs care. But we have some extra tricks to help keep the humans happy!
Revving Up a Red
You can try to overcome the pinkishness by using tons of added colouring, but that’s not 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. Come into the dog treat kitchen for a little peek at one of my favourite techniques for reds.
Combining Pink with Yellow or Orange for a Better Natural Red
Using a yellow or orange ingredient in the base recipe or adding a little yellow or orange tint is my secret method for creating redder-reds in natural dog treats. See the side-by-side example below of a split dough, naturally tinted with beetroot. One is straight beetroot and is a vibrant pink. In the other, turmeric powder (my favourite yellow add-in) has been added to help create a red dough instead of pink. Both beetroot and turmeric hold colour well through baking, their flavours work in combination, and they’re healthy too. Pawfect! And my dogs seem to love both, and are especially drawn to the scent of turmeric.