Hey there, furfriends! Interested in making homemade dog treats? It’s time for another special segment of our FAQs, Tips, and Troubleshooting topics, and this time we’re sharing (and drooling) all about DIY dog treats! Before I jump into tips and troubleshooting for specific types of homemade dog treats, here’s an introduction to why I started making our own dog treats, the potential benefits and pitfalls, and different approaches to treat making.
Why I Started Making Homemade Dog Treats (and Mixed Feeding)
From Dabbling to DIY
I dabbled with making homemade dog treats for Oli over the years, but only as an occasional special project driven more by fun and love than anything else. As years went by, I started learning more about dog nutrition, food options, and treat ingredients in an effort to help his health and well being. You can read more about our journey in our behind the scenes post about making homemade dog food for our mixed feeding approach.
The Dalmatian Dilemma
Dalmatians metabolise purines differently than other dogs, which places them at a heightened risk of kidney and urinary crystals and stone formation. Many common dog ingredients are high purine, which makes it difficult to buy quality commercial dog foods and treats. Fortunately, we haven’t yet had any issues with our boys. They aren’t on a restricted diet and we are somewhat flexible with foods, but we do try to moderate purines. You can read more in our post about Dalmatians and purine.
Senior Dog Support
As Oli has aged, we’ve also started to include extra health boosting ingredients in their diets, including lots of different antioxidants and add-ins with natural health benefits. We’ve also added even more high-quality protein. All dogs (excluding special medical conditions) benefit from a healthy high-protein diet and high quality meats are a good way of adding extra protein to their diet. As dogs age, like our very special senior pup Oli, they slow down and burn less energy on exercise and play but this doesn’t mean that their bodies need less protein. Quite the opposite. A quality protein-rich diet can help seniors maintain muscle and their support organ and immune functions in their golden years.
Benefits and Pitfalls of Making Homemade Dog Treats
There are a lot of potential benefits to making your own dog treats, but there are also a few potential pitfalls to be wary of when experimenting with homemade treats, whether from a book or internet recipe, from or your own special custom recipe creation.
Knowing Exactly What’s in the Treats
When making homemade dog treats, you have complete control over ingredients. There are no hidden ingredients, mysterious additives, and you control the quality. Check out our post about choosing ingredients for homemade dog treats for an overview of common ingredients, their uses, and some of our personal favourites.
Tip: If you aren’t keen to make your own, that’s totally cool too! Instead, another great option is to start making it a habit to read the labels on dog treat and food packages. Pay extra attention to the ingredients and nutritional content breakdown. Even in our treat crazy household, we don’t make all of our own treats or food, but I am choosy about what we buy regarding sources and ingredients.
Customising Treats to Suit Dietary Needs and Preferences
With homemade dog treats, you can ensure that the ingredients suit your pet’s needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues. You look for a suitable dog treat recipe to work from or, with a bit of basic baking knowledge, you can easily create your own recipe, tailor one from here (or elsewhere), or even adapt a favourite human recipe to suit your dog.
High Quality Dog Treats at a Reasonable Cost
Homemade dog treats can be high quality and cost effective. Healthy homemade dog treats (and food) can be very economical. Healthier commercial dog treats and food are often expensive, and understandably so. They usually contain high quality ingredients and/or higher quantities of “the good stuff” and less low quality ingredients and fillers. It can be very cost effective to use high quality ingredients and make your own excellent treats.
Making Homemade Treats is Great Together Time
Our dogs love (absolutely love love love) watching me in the kitchen. They always know when I’m making something special for them. Noses on high alert, drool on max, my sous chefs are always on standby for clean up duty and taste testing.
Making Dog Treats is Quick and Easy
Treat making can be super easy if you pick a simple recipe. Common ingredients and a few minutes (plus hands-off time for baking, setting, freezing, or dehydrating) are all that’s required for many treats.
Making Dog Treats is Fun
Treat making can be an opportunity for you to have a little fun. The kids can have fun making treats for their furry bestie or you can have a little fun of your own experimenting with shapes and colours. The dogs only care about the yum factor, but I still love playing with cute cookie cutters, stamps, and moulds just for my own enjoyment.
Homemade Dog Treats Might be Lower Waste, but Not Necessarily
Commercial treats are made in bulk, which may be more efficient. Different product will have different footprints depending on ingredients, sources, location of manufacture vs. purchase, packaging, retail, and shipping. With homemade treats, it depends on your individual ingredients, their footprints, and how you store the treats.
Homemade Doesn’t Automatically Mean Healthy
Some dog treat recipes are very heavy on low value ingredients and light on quality. A whole lot of flour with a little binder and flavour may bake well and be happily eaten, but doesn’t offer much nutritional value for the calories.
Not all Human Foods are Safe for Dogs
When making dog treats, ensure that you use only dog safe ingredients. If unsure, double or triple check (or just skip it altogether). Read all ingredient labels, and watch out for hidden hazards like salt, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.
Tip: Be aware that recipes may include ingredients that are disputed (for example, garlic is a common subject of disagreement) and perhaps even some that not suitable for dogs. That said, there are lots of awesome recipe resources out there, so just take the time to choose with care and make informed choices for you and your individual dog. Ingredients that I use with our pets have been checked for suitability using reputable online references, such as the AKC, SPCA, Dogs Naturally, and others, however, it is important to note that expert opinions may vary, differ, and/or evolve over time.
Not all Treats are Suitable for all Dogs
This potential pitfall applies equally to bought or homemade treats, but it’s still worth a mention. Different animals will have different preferences (likes and dislikes) and dietary needs. Some pets may have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies or intolerances. Avoid any known medical contradictions, and introduce new foods slowly and in moderation. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about what’s suitable for your pet, have a chat with your trusted vet.
Homemade Dog Treat have a Limited Shelf Life
Unlike preservative packed and/or commercially dried treats, shelf life is limited for most homemade dog treats. Depending on the type of treat, they’re typically best used within a few days and frozen for longer storage. I freeze most of our treats.
Different Types of Homemade Dog Treats
Raw and Ready-to-Serve Foods as Dog Treats
These are more sharing foods than actual homemade treats, with the exception of uncooked bones, which you’re probably not keen to share. Hehe. There are lots of human foods that dogs enjoy in moderation. Our boys particularly enjoy fruits and berries, carrots, cheese, yogurt, kefir, coconut oil, nut butters, etc. I use many of these as ingredients in prepared treats, but a fresh carrot from the garden or a lick of a spoon is still considered a treat-like prize by the dogs.
Dehydrated Dog Treats
Dehydrated jerky dog treats made with lean meat and fish are simple to make using a dehydrator (or oven). Our dogs love them and have great nutritional content. You can also experiment with dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and other dog safe foods.
Baked Dog Treats
I have to confess that I love baking dog treats! There is always an assortment of dog biscuit (cookie) style treats in our freezer. I defrost them in small batches for ready use. You’ll find all sorts of different treat recipes (and crazy shaping and decorating ideas) here on the blog! I also bake dog-friendly meatballs and meatloaf-style special occasion dog cakes.
Chilled and Frozen Dog Treats
Dog-friendly liquids and purees can be used as chilled (e.g. coconut oil) or frozen dog treats. We keep small coconut oil treats in the fridge and make cooling frozen treats in the warmer months. I’ll occasionally make truffle-style refrigerated treats as well.
Gelatin Gummy Dog Treats
Technically these are a chilled treat, but I love them so much that they deserve a special mention of their own in this list. Gelatin gummy dog treats are very easy to make and can be extremely healthy, depending on your added ingredients. The dogs consider these a treat, but I consider them more of a health supplement (shhh…don’t tell the dogs!). We always have a small batch of gummies on hand in the fridge. I also make bone broth. Definitely a dog favourite!
Shortcuts for Quick and Easy Dog Treat Making
Homemade Dog Treat Ingredient Shortcuts and Time Savers
- Broth or stock can be frozen in cubes and store for ready use. We’ve shared all the details in a previous post about making and storing homemade stock and broth for dog treats. Yummy, convenient, and best of all it’s virtually free!
- Pre-cooked ingredients like pumpkin, kumara (sweet potato), bacon, meat, etc. can be prepared in bulk (or kept from leftovers) and frozen for convenient ready use. To help with small quantity use when baking, freeze cooked chunks or shreds on lined tray, then transfer to a container for free-flow ready-use frozen ingredients. Alternatively, soft ingredients can be pureed and frozen in measured quantities or in ice cube trays.
- Shredded raw ingredients like carrot or apple can be processed in bulk and frozen, but will have a different texture than fresh. This softness can be helpful with handling in doughs, but the extra moistness may affect the required amount of flour and/or baking characteristics.
- Fruits for pureeing can be fresh or frozen (self-stored or purchased). Frozen is often more economical, depending on seasonal availability. Defrost prior to pureeing. If you’re a tad short on the measurement and don’t want to defrost and puree more, unsweetened applesauce makes a handy top-up for pureed fruit. You can also puree in bulk and freeze in cubes for future ready use if you have excess fruit… or want to avoid washing the food processor. Haha!
Homemade Dog Treat Making Shortcuts and Time Savers
- Although we share a lot of cute treats, the dogs don’t care about looks.
- Don’t want to cut shapes? For baking, instead of the muss and fuss of rolling and cutting, hand forming into small balls and pressing to flatten is quick and cute. Alternatively, simply pressing into a lined pan and cutting or scoring is a super fast way to make baked treats. See our simple shortcuts for making baked dog treats in any size for ideas and tips.
- Baking in bulk (whether a single big batch or several different small batches) consolidates the prep, oven energy use, and clean-up. Treats can then be stored frozen for later use.
- Alternatively, some treat doughs can be frozen and thawed for baking at a later date. Wrap well, thaw and warm to ambient temperature before working. Beware that there may be changes in texture or other characteristics, depending on the ingredients.
- Many frozen treats and gummies are inherently easy. Just prep, pour, and set. The actual hands-on time can be very short, but there will be a wait for the treat to freeze or set. If you don’t have silicon moulds, ice cube trays are a good substitute for frozen treat making. Gummies can also be set in a container or pan, and then sliced into bite-sized pieces.
- Dehydrated treats can also be easy and most of the drying time is hands-off. Slice and dry! Easy. Note that depending on the treat type, ingredients may benefit from blanching, marinating, or a food-safety pre/post-heat. These take a little extra time, but still not a big effort.
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.