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What to Know About Homemade Dog Treats (With Recipes)

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Haley

December 20, 2023

Dog Enrichment

What to Know About Homemade Dog Treats (With Recipes) thumbnail

Pet parents across the internet (and in person) love to share their favorite homemade dog treat recipes. Cooking for our pups is more common than ever! If you're not sure where to start, we've got you covered. Here's everything to know about homemade dog treats, including why they can be a great option for your dog, what types are most common, and a few go-to recipes.

After all, our canine companions are full members of the family — so why not whip up something special for them now and then?

Why change up your dog's treats?

Variety is the spice of life!

Your dog can get tired of eating the same thing all the time — especially when it comes to training. If you're working on building any new skills with your pup, it's a smart idea to switch your rewards from time to time to keep them on their toes. Adding new treat options can boost motivation!

You can read more about rewards and reinforcement in our dog training 101 article.

Pros of homemade dog treat options

Some dog parents prefer making their own healthy treats at home because:

  • You know every ingredient. You can feel confident about what your pup is eating and how every treat was prepared! You have complete control over the quality and source of ingredients, ensuring that your dog receives wholesome and nutritious treats — and you can tailor the treats to your dog's specific dietary needs or restrictions if they have any allergies or other sensitivities.
  • You can avoid preservatives. Homemade treats often lack the artificial additives, preservatives, and fillers commonly found in commercial dog treats, promoting better overall health for your pet.
  • You might save money in the long run. Making your own treats can be more cost-effective than store-bought treats in the long run — especially if you buy ingredients in bulk or use leftovers from your own meals.

Cons and potential risks of homemade dog treats

We're big fans of homemade dog treats — but there are still some possible downfalls to consider.

  • Introducing lots of new ingredients can cause allergic reactions in some dogs. Just like humans, dogs can have allergies and sensitivities to certain foods. Some pups need especially gradual transitions for any diet change.
  • Sometimes it's hard to estimate caloric content. Homemade treats can contribute to your dog's overall caloric intake — which might lead to weight gain. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that more than half of North American dogs are overweight, leading to a range of problems like increased joint pain. When you buy treats at the store, you usually know how many calories are in each bite.
  • Cooking anything — for dogs or people — carries a risk of foodborne illness and contamination. Improper handling or storage of ingredients can lead to contamination, which may cause foodborne illnesses in your pup or you. Always follow proper food safety guidelines.
  • Preparing homemade dog treats takes time. While it's often cheaper in the long run from a financial standpoint, you should consider the value of your time as well. Some pet parents are too busy — or simply don't enjoy — making treats themselves. That's okay!
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Common dog-safe ingredients for homemade dog treats

Here are some go-to ingredients you'll find in many homemade dog treat recipes.

  • Proteins: Cooked and lean meats (like chicken, turkey, beef), cooked eggs, fish, natural peanut butter (without xylitol, which is toxic to dogs)
  • Grains: Oats, brown rice
  • Flours: All-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oat flour, rice flour, coconut flour
  • Fruits: Apples, strawberries, blueberries, ripe bananas
  • Vegetables: Pumpkin (especially plain pumpkin puree — not pumpkin pie filling), sweet potatoes
  • Dairy: Plain yogurt, small amounts of cheese

Note that this is not an exhaustive list! If your dog has a favorite snack not listed here — and you've checked that it's safe for them to eat — feel free to include it in your homemade dog treat recipes.

Unhealthy or toxic ingredients to avoid in your treats

Do not use the following ingredients in your homemade dog treats:

  • Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, which can be toxic to dogs. Unsweetened baking chocolate and cocoa powder are the most dangerous. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, and, in severe cases, seizures and even death.
  • Xylitol is a sugar substitute found in many sugar-free products, including some peanut butter brands. Xylitol can cause insulin release, leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), seizures, and liver failure.
  • Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in some dogs. Even small amounts can be toxic and lead to symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
  • Onions and garlic contain compounds that can damage red blood cells, leading to anemia, weakness, lethargy, and gastrointestinal issues.
  • Even small amounts of alcohol can cause toxicity in dogs, leading to symptoms such as vomiting and loss of coordination.
  • Many nuts are unsafe for dogs to eat. Macadamia nuts are particularly toxic and can cause weakness, vomiting, tremors, and hyperthermia.
  • Sugar isn't healthy for canines and should be avoided, especially in large amounts. Some pure maple syrup or honey are usually fine in moderation.

Always check with your veterinarian if you're unsure about the safety of a particular ingredient for your dog — especially if they have any specific dietary restrictions or health conditions!

It's also a good idea to slowly introduce new treats and monitor your dog for any adverse reactions.

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Popular kinds of homemade dog treats

Most homemade dog treats are baked. Some pet parents love to dehydrate leftover meats, too — or freeze soft foods into bite-sized chunks. Here are some common varieties of homemade treats!

Small training treats

These treats are small and usually low in calories, making them perfect for training sessions. Dehydrated meat broken into tiny pieces works especially well.

Larger treats for special occasions

Some dog parents bake special pet-safe birthday cakes or holiday treats. These tend to be larger snacks given only once in a while (as opposed to training treats which might be a regular part of your pup's daily diet).

Homemade healthy treat recipes

The options are endless. Here are a few favorite homemade dog treat recipes to start with!

Simple recipe for dehydrated meat treats

Dehydrating meat at home to make dog treats is a straightforward process. Here's a basic guide!

Ingredients and supplies

  • Lean meat (chicken, turkey, beef, or venison are common choices)
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Dehydrator
  • Paper towels (optional)

Steps

  1. Choose lean meat: Select lean cuts of meat to minimize fat content. Excess fat can lead to spoilage during the dehydration process.
  2. Prep your meat: Slice the meat into thin, uniform strips or small cubes. The thickness should be consistent to ensure even dehydration.
  3. Arrange on dehydrator trays: Place the meat slices or cubes on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they are spaced apart to allow proper air circulation.
  4. Set temperature: Set the dehydrator to the appropriate temperature, typically between 145 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures can help kill bacteria and ensure the meat is safe for your dog!
  5. Dehydrate: Dehydrate the meat for several hours, depending on the thickness of the slices and the type of meat. The process can take as little as four hours or as long as a full day. Most small training treats will be ready on the shorter end of that window.
  6. Check for dryness: Periodically check the meat for dryness. It should be firm and dry to the touch, with no moisture remaining.
  7. Cool before storing: Allow the dehydrated meat to cool completely before storing or serving. This helps prevent condensation and mold growth.
  8. Store properly: Store the dehydrated meat treats in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags to maintain freshness. Keep them in a cool, dry place. Enjoy giving them to your dog!

Simple recipe for frozen pumpkin yogurt treats

These get a little messy at room temperature, so they aren't ideal for training sessions away from home — but they can be a great addition to meals or enrichment toys!

Ingredients and supplies

  • Plain pumpkin (puree, not pie filling that has added sugar and spices)
  • Plain greek yogurt
  • Silicone molds, small ice cube tray, or baking sheet lined with parchment paper

Steps

  1. Mix: Mix the pumpkin and yogurt together.
  2. Dish mixture into tray: Spoon the pumpkin-yogurt mixture into a silicone mold or small ice cube tray. If you don't have either of those, you can make small dollops on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Freeze until solid: This usually takes a few hours.
  4. Store in the freezer: Once the treats are set, you can take them out of their mold or off the baking sheet and store them in an airtight container in your freezer.

Baked pumpkin peanut butter dog treats

Ingredients and supplies

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (make sure it's pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup natural or organic peanut butter (unsalted, with no added sugar or xylitol) — if your dog really loves it, you can add some extra peanut butter without affecting the treat texture too much
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (you can also use oat flour, coconut flour, or rice flour for a gluten-free option)
  • 1 egg
  • Oven
  • Baking sheet
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters
  • Food processor (optional depending on your flour choice)

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven: Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C).
  2. Combine wet ingredients: In a mixing bowl, combine the canned pumpkin, peanut butter, and egg. Mix well until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
  3. Add dry ingredients: Gradually add the whole wheat flour (or oat flour, coconut flour, rice flour, whatever option you chose) to the wet ingredients. If you're using oat flour, you can make it by grinding rolled oats in a blender or food processor until you achieve a flour-like consistency.
  4. Knead the dough: Once the ingredients are well combined, knead the dough on a floured surface until it comes together.
  5. Roll out the dough: Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.
  6. Cut shapes: Use fun cookie cutters to cut out shapes from the dough. If you don't have these, you can also simply use a knife or pizza cutter to cut freehand squares or circles.
  7. Place on prepared baking sheet: Place the cut-out shapes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. They shouldn't expand much, but leave at least a little space between each treat.
  8. Bake: Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 10-12 minutes or until the treats are golden brown.
  9. Cool: Allow the treats to cool on a wire rack.
  10. Store: Once completely cooled, store these homemade peanut butter dog treats in an airtight container. You can also refrigerate or freeze them for longer shelf life.
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How to feed your homemade dog treats

You're limited only by your imagination (and your dog's dietary restrictions). Homemade dog treats can be great for:

  • Giving as reinforcement during training sessions
  • Rewarding your dog for behavior they offer throughout the day
  • Spicing up their regular kibble as a meal topper
  • Including in enrichment toys and puzzles
  • Building a positive association with a crate
  • And more!
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Haley photo

Haley

December 20, 2023

Dog Enrichment

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