Maybe you’re tired of limiting your pup to the treats at your local pet store. Maybe you want to feed your dog healthier ingredients. Or maybe you simply want to dote on them with fresh, home-cooked munchies.
Here’s the good news: It’s perfectly fine to feed your dog homemade treats. However — and this can’t be stressed enough — you have to be safe about it. And it’s surprisingly easy to be unsafe, because many foods are unhealthy or even poisonous for dogs.
Store-bought dog foods are regulated by the FDA. They’re manufactured, packaged and distributed by businesses that have safety precautions in place. (Though in fairness, the pet food industry is not immune to missteps and recalls.) If you make treats at home, safety precautions are your responsibility.
But the DIY approach to treating your dog does carry tons of benefits — just so long as you do it right.
Why Make Homemade Dog Treats?
Making your own dog treats is a great way to exercise creativity, cater to your dog’s personal tastes, and offer them healthier alternatives to store-bought options. Here are some of the biggest benefits:
You Can Give Your Dog What They Want
Homemade treats are a lot more personal. Pet parents already know which foods their dogs love. So let's say your pooch digs peanuts: If you're working in your own kitchen, you can mix and match peanuts with a wide variety of different ingredients, some of which might not commonly be paired with peanuts in store-bought brands.
The customized approach can also be a godsend (dogsend?) if you’re looking to work around a food allergy or intolerance while still including other ingredients your dog enjoys.
You Can Make Your Treats Super Healthy
When it comes to your dog's health, store-bought snacks vary in quality. It’s not uncommon for some downright unreadable preservatives to grace an ingredients list. (Doesn’t “butylated hydroxyanisole” just sound delicious though?) If you make treats on your own, you won't have to worry about sketchy chemicals sliding down your dog's gullet.
What’s more, you can emphasize ingredients that are particularly healthful for your specific pet. If your dog is suffering from anemia, for instance, including beef liver as a common ingredient may help them in a big way.
You Can Make Leftovers Useful
Depending on what you have for dinner on a given night, it’s often perfectly healthy to use your own leftovers in your dog’s homemade treats. In fact, some treat recipes explicitly call for leftovers.
It’s a perfect way to avoid waste. It can even help you reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint.
You Can Save Money
Of course, some pet parents might splurge on top-shelf ingredients, and that’s perfectly fine if you can afford it. But if you use leftovers and/or reasonably-priced ingredients (some of which may already be in your home), you might spend a bit less on treats than you would at the store. Just something to keep in mind for if you’re the budget-conscious type.
Tips to Keep In Mind
Before you start making homemade treats, there are some basic guidelines you should always remember:
Consult Your Vet Before Major Dietary Changes
If you plan to make sweeping changes to your pup’s diet, you must talk your veterinarian first — especially if you think your dog's new treats will account for at least 5-10% of their diet, and if you're not sure which ingredients are safe. Your vet will help explain not only the potential benefits of these changes, but also the potential allergic reactions or long-term health effects.
Spice Isn’t Too Nice
Humans may crave a sprinkle of oregano or cumin from time to time, but your furry friend will be just fine without much seasoning. In fact, plainer treats are usually much better for their digestion. Some herbs and spices — even just plain old salt — can cause problems like stomach pains, diarrhea, vomiting, or worse.
You Don't Need Much Sugar or Fat, Either
When humans eat treats, we tend to indulge in sweets and fats. But for dogs, foods that contain too much fat, sugar, or salt can cause gastrointestinal illness and long-term weight gain. Dogs are better off steering clear of junk food. (Humans are too, but we all know that's never going to happen.)
Don't Confuse Treats with Meals
Even if you’re putting lots of TLC into your homemade treats, keep in mind that treats aren't a substitute for meals. Your pup’s daily caloric intake should remain fixed — so if you give your dog more treats, you should slightly shrink their meal sizes, and vice versa. As a general rule, treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories. Some vets even say even 10% is too much.
Protect Your Dog from Food Poisoning
You can make your dog sick even if you don’t include harmful ingredients. There are many ways to cause illness or gastrointestinal distress if you prepare, handle, or store food and ingredients incorrectly.
Here are some tips:
Make sure meat and eggs are cooked extremely well
Thoroughly wash any utensils you use for cooking or serving food
Wash your hands before cooking, handling, or serving food
Immediately dispose of all treats or ingredients that have spoiled or expired
Safe and Nutritious Ingredients
We'll explore which ingredients are dangerous in the next section — but there's no need to lead with alarmism and negativity. Many ingredients are perfectly safe and healthy for your dog, including:
Certain meats, including: Beef, lamb, organ meat, turkey, and chicken. (But avoid bacon, ham, and fat trimmings, which can cause indigestion and other stomach problem, and even pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal in extreme cases.)
Certain fruits, including: Apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, and many others. (Steer clear of grapes, raisins, currants, unripe (green) tomatoes, the pits/stems of cherries, and the cores/seeds of apples. All of these can be highly toxic to dogs, especially if eaten frequently or in large amounts.)
Certain vegetables, including: Carrots, peas, green beans, Brussels sprouts and others. (But keep your dog away from avocados, mushrooms, onions, and chives, which are all toxic. Broccoli can be healthy in moderate portions, but can cause stomach irritation when eaten in large quantities.)
Certain herbs and spices, including: Basil, ginger, parsley, aloe vera, and rosemary. (But say no to salt, garlic, nutmeg, cocoa powder, pepper, and a handful of other herbs and spices that can make your dog ill — sometimes dangerously so. Also, just keep in mind that your dog doesn't need much spice at all — always better to err toward bland.)
Peanuts: Dogs often adore peanuts, and they're quite healthy if they're unsalted, unsweetened, and eaten in moderate quantities. (Many dogs love peanut butter as well; just be absolutely sure to choose a type of peanut butter without any xylitol, an artificial sweetener that's highly toxic to dogs.)
Speaking of which...
Ingredients You Should Always Avoid
If you want to make homemade dog treats, this is absolutely critical to bear in mind: Many foods that are safe for humans are toxic and even life-threatening to dogs. If you’re making treats from scratch, you won’t enjoy the protection of FDA regulations or corporate oversight; you’ll have to get things right on your own.
With that said, here are some foods you should never feed to your dog:
Chocolate. Dogs can’t eat chocolate, period. The darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is — though lighter chocolate isn’t safe either. Chocolate is for humans, and only humans.
Xylitol. This sugar substitute can cause severe abdominal illness in dogs, resulting in pain, vomiting, and even liver disease. If you ever see any food or ingredient that contains xylitol, keep it well out of paw’s reach.
Undercooked Meat and Raw Eggs. Many raw and undercooked meats are risky for humans, and that’s the case with dogs as well. Undercooked meat can cause illnesses and symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. The same goes for raw eggs.
Grapes, Raisins, and Currants. Grapes, raisins and currants are extremely toxic to dogs. Eating even a single one can cause acute — sometimes fatal — kidney failure. Oddly enough, veterinary researchers still haven’t discovered why these fruits have this effect on dogs. But one thing's for sure: Your pup shouldn't be eating them.
Apple Seeds/Cores and Cherry Pits/Stems: These items all contain — gulp — cyanide, and in large enough quantities to be extremely harmful to your dog, especially if eaten on a regular basis or in large quantities. Apples and cherries are perfectly healthy if you exclude the poisonous parts, but you need to be extremely cautious when preparing them. That's especially true with cherries; it's easier to core an apple than it is to fully pit and destem a cherry.
Nutmeg: Nutmeg may be a tasty addition to all sorts of drinks and confections made for humans, but it’s potentially deadly for dogs. Nutmeg can cause problems like diarrhea, hallucinations, and even seizures.
Macadamia Nuts: Macademia Nuts can cause dangerous symptoms like vomiting or even hyperthermia (a dangerous state of elevated body temperature). A no-no for Fido.
…And Yet More Nuts: Walnuts, pecans, almonds, and most other nuts contain excessive fat and oil. They can cause your pet gastrointestinal distress and even pancreatitis.
Garlic, Onions, and More. Dogs can’t safely eat anything from the “allium” family of flowering plants. This includes not just garlic and onions, but also scallions, leeks, chives, and shallots. These foods can cause dangerous symptoms like weakness and increased heart rate.
Bacon, Ham, and Fat Trimmings: As a rule, you should keep your pup away from any food items that are loaded with salt and/or fat. Bacon, ham, and fat trimmings certainly qualify; they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis.
Yeast Dough: Not only can ingesting yeast dough lead to alcohol toxicosis, it can also cause bloat or bloat-like symptoms as the dough continues to rise while in your dog's stomach. Raw bread dough is verboten for dogs — and for humans too.
Just FYI, this list isn't 100% exhaustive — there are a lot of foods that are harmful to dogs. If you remain uncertain about any ingredients, be absolutely sure to consult your vet first.