Friday, 15 July 2016

Choosing Ingredients for Homemade Dog Treats



One of the great things about making your own homemade dog treats or food is that you know exactly what's in it and can tailor the ingredients to suit your pet's needs, preferences, and work around any dietary issues.  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.  Here are some of our personal choices for common treat ingredients and why we use them:

Meat and Fish - No surprises here - dogs love meaty treats! Our favourite homemade meat treat is dehydrated jerky - so simple and healthy. Meatballs and meatloaf-style cakes are easy meat-based options, especially for special occasions and we used canned fish (water-packed, low salt) to make irresistibly smelly baked treats. I also use is homemade stock/broth, which is just the plain unseasoned cooked-out liquid from cooking meat for homemade dog food. I simply skim off any fat, measure it into small containers, and freeze for future use.  Delicious and "free"! Raw meaty bones are a great zero-prep treat for many dogs, but did you know that bone broth is great for dogs (and for you as well if you're into that sort of thing)?  Quality gelatin also offers some of the benefits of bone broth with much lower effort and greater versatility for non-meaty flavoured treats.

Fruits and Vegetables - There are many dog-safe fruits and vegetables that can be used in making homemade treats or enjoyed straight-up as a fresh treat together. Many make great dehydrated snacks as well.  Flavourful and nutritious, they can be a useful binding ingredient, just like in human baking. Most fruits and veggies can be prepped quickly from fresh/frozen and used either raw or cooked by grating or pureeing; however, some need longer prep. Pumpkin (squash) is a favourite, and for convenience, we cube, bake, and then freeze it for ready-use. Unsweetened applesauce is another quick and convenient option, and baby food (check the ingredients for safety) works well as an occasional shortcut to easy treats in fruit, veggie, or even meaty flavours.

Eggs - Eggs are nutritious and a very effective traditional binding ingredient for baking.  My dogs also love eggs straight up.

Dairy - Although we've never had any issues with our dogs, if I am using milk (e.g. puppuccinos) I often use a low-fat lactose-free milk, just in case. Other dairy ingredients, like yogurt, sour cream, and cheese are much lower in lactose (read more here). If using yogurt, try to go natural or low-sugar/low-fat where possible and double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol (highly toxic to dogs).

Flour and Grain - Our dogs are (fortunately) not sensitive to wheat or gluten, however, many dogs are, so we share a wide variety or recipes with different flours.  Whole wheat is a classic baking choice. Almond meal, rice flour, oat flour, buckwheat, and coconut flour are all gluten-free alternatives (read more here).  They all have different absorbances and form different dough textures, and you may need extra binding for gluten-free dough vs. wheat flour, especially for coconut flour. I find that it can be harder to make roll-and-cut treats with gluten-free flours, but rice flour (either brown or white) and oat flour make a great smooth workable dough and are my personal favorites for rolling/shapes. Chickpea flour is another healthy and nutritious gluten-free option, but although I use it in human cooking you won't see it in our dog treat recipes because I try to keep things lower in purine for our Dalmatians. Other common flours like cornstarch, tapioca, or arrowroot are higher GI and best reserved for infrequent use, like making dog-friendly "icing".

Oils and Fats - I try to avoid adding oils and fats to homemade treats where possible.  Occasionally, a touch of olive oil may be used, but I'll usually turn to a nut or seed butter instead.  The exception is coconut oil, which I actively include in my dogs' diet (read more here). Without including lots of fats and sugars in baked treats, homemade dog biscuits/cookies can often lack "snap" and "crunch", but you can leave treats in the cooling oven or pop baked treats into a dehydrator to remove moisture and add crunch factor.  This also helps to extend shelf life, but I still prefer to use treats fresh so I always freeze my extras.  Freezing is also a great way to have different options on hand so you can easily mix things up for variety. :)

Peanut Butter and Nut/Seed Butters - Most dogs LOVE peanut butter, and it's a handy helper for binding as well as adding a little fat if needed for consistency. I occasionally use other nut and seed butters, like pumpkin seed butter, but that's just me mixing things up for variety. When using ingredients like peanut butter, try to go natural or low-salt/low-fat where possible and double-check the ingredients to ensure that there is no xylitol (highly toxic to dogs).

Nuts and Seeds - Nuts and seeds are nutritious, tasty, and add texture. Many variety are dog-friendly, but always check any new ingredient before use - in particular, never use macadamias (toxic to dogs) and it is recommended to avoid walnuts. Make sure that they are an appropriate size to avoid choking hazards or digestion problems: larger nuts and seeds can be chopped or even ground into a nut meal (or homemade butter - yum!).  A very special mention goes to flax, which I include in many of my treats in ground-form (increased digestibility) as a very healthy add-in.  

Carob -  Carob is a dog-friendly alternative to chocolate (toxic to dogs).  Made from ground carob tree pods, it is surprisingly nutritious (good for humans too!) and most dogs LOVE carob. Many pet/grocery stores sell carob drops or melts, but they are usually high in fat and/or sugars, so best used in moderation (like all treats, of course).  Pure carob powder and plain raw carob can be tricky to find.  I order mine from an organic health food shop.

Blackstrap Molasses - While I generally avoid adding sweeteners (other than perhaps a rare drop of honey or maple syrup), blackstrap molasses is a "sweetener" for which I make an exception...although it's sweetness is debatable!  It is packed with nutritional goodness and my dogs LOVE the smell.  A little goes a long way, so adding a small amount to treats to make them extra smelly and tasty is guilt-free in my books.

Herbs and Spices - There are plenty of dog-safe herbs and spices that you can use for added scent or flavour in your treats.  Some have different benefits or purported health properties, so you can even tailor your seasonings to suit your dog's health needs.  Turmeric is one of our favourites. Don't add unnecessary salt or sugar.

Hungry for tasty treats?  See all of our recipes here. Remember, treats are for spoiling your pup in moderation. Some dogs have special dietary requirements and/or food allergies/intolerances. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about your dog's diet and health, have a chat with your vet.


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I'm wanting to start making more treats and eventually food for our dog but am struggling with where to start and how to keep them simple healthy and tasty. Any suggestions or advice for a complete beginner?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Heather! What's best will depend a lot on your dog (size, activity, health, etc) and household (What do you normally have on hand? What are you comfortable serving/making?). Try and find balanced articles and references where you can with pros/cons (there are definitely both) and ease in slowly as you would with any dietary change. If you are ever in doubt or have questions about your dog's diet and health, have a chat with your vet.

      In our personal experience it is almost impossible to go wrong with adding quality meat - be it raw, cooked, dehydrated, etc. I currently mixed feed our dogs (homemade breakfast, quality premade kibble dinner, a combo of homemade/bought treats). They like the kibble but they LOVE their breakfasts and anything meaty! I'm a vegetarian, so they know that meat in the kitchen is always for them and something to get crazy excited about! We make lots of different dog treats, but jerky is a favourite - it's easy, healthy, can be used fresh or frozen, and the dogs love it.

      Other dog friendly whole foods either fresh (e.g. carrot stick, apple slice, etc) or cooked (e.g. plain pumpkin) are also easy places to start testing foods. You can continue to experiment as you feel confident - don't let my pretty treats be an obstacle as your dog is all about the smell/taste, not the looks. That's for us crazy humans. :)

      Hope that helps and good luck!

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