All dogs love treats, but not all treats are the same.
Many store-bought dog treats are filled with ingredients that are either unpronounceable or questionable. (Do you really want your puppy to snack on Potassium Sorbate or Propylene Glycol?)
And while there are healthy commercial treats available, even the best on the market undergo a manufacturing process that reduces their nutritional punch and increases the potential for contamination.
The solution? Put on your chef’s hat and make your own healthy dog treats at home!
You’ll know exactly what’s in them and can tailor them to your own pet. If you’re a culinary novice, making homemade dog treats is a great way to learn; cooking for dogs is much less stressful than sweating over a four-course meal for an important client or someone you’re trying to impress. Not to mention, a dog will always give you a glowing review in the form of a wagging tail or even a tippy-tappy happy dance.
But before you put on your apron, be aware that the following ingredients are toxic to dogs:
Xylitol (a.k.a., Birch Sugar)
Raw yeast dough
Treats not only show your dog how much you love them but are also an essential component of training. Don’t get carried away, though. After too many treats, you may have too much dog. Treats should only make up so much of a dog's food—around 10% of their daily caloric intake. Ask your vet how many calories your particular dog should eat daily.
The following five easy homemade dog treat recipes pass the canine taste test and are simple to make with healthy ingredients.
Filled with good-for-you ingredients, these dog-approved biscuits provide enough protein and carbohydrates to power your pup through his or her next trip to the dog park.
Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and good fats, while the egg adds more protein and healthy fat along with a powerhouse punch of iron, folate, riboflavin, selenium, and vitamins A and B12, and the banana provides potassium, fiber, and biotin. (Just so you know, peanut butter also mixes well with a variety of other fruits and veggies, like apples, carrots and even zucchini.)
Each peanut butter and banana biscuit has approximately 128 calories.
½ cup mashed banana
1/3 cup peanut butter (no Xylitol or birch sugar)
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg white, lightly whipped
By the way, it's perfectly fine in many dog treat recipes to substitute gluten-free flours like oat flour, rice flour, or coconut flour.
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the egg, banana, peanut butter, and honey, and blend until smooth. Add the wheat germ and cup of flour, and mix until it becomes doughy. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and roll it out into a ¼” thick sheet. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters, then put them on a baking sheet and brush with the egg white. Bake for around 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let it cool on a wire cooling rack.
Perfect for the holiday season, these treats are so full of flavor that you’ll have to restrain yourself from eating them. They are easy to make and require no baking. Pumpkin is a dog’s superfood, with tons of fiber, vitamins A, C, K, and E, and minerals including iron, copper, magnesium, and potassium. According to the AKC, plain, canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) contains a higher amount of nutrients and fiber than fresh pumpkin (who knew?). Pumpkin is also good for your dog’s digestion. These treats have 59 calories each.
1 cup canned, organic pumpkin
½ cup organic peanut butter
3 tablespoons honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
2½ cups rolled oats
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (available at the grocery store). Mix together the pumpkin, peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon until fully blended. Slowly add the oats. If the mix is too wet, add a pinch of oats until thoroughly combined. Take small amounts, shape into bite-sized balls, and place on a cookie sheet. Then pop the cookie sheet in the refrigerator. Once the bites have hardened slightly, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for around 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
With only four ingredients, this recipe is easy to make and healthy, too. The sweet potato is a fat-free superfood rich in fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and B6, and the minerals iron, calcium, and magnesium. The sweet potato also helps regulate digestion. This recipe uses a cookie cutter, so you can choose the best size for your dog (a little dog might get small hearts, while bone-shaped biscuits are perfect for gentle giants). These dog treats have around 43 calories each.
1 sweet potato
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
Preheat the oven to 350°. Use a fork to puncture the sweet potato, and microwave for around 6 minutes until tender. Or puncture with a fork and pre-bake the sweet potato on a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven at 425° until tender, around 40 to 50 minutes. Once done, cut in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl. Mash the potato until smooth, using a food processor, a potato masher, or a fork. Using one cup of the mashed sweet potato, mix in flour, applesauce, and eggs and work until it forms a dough. Turn out onto a hard, well-floured surface and roll out until around ½-inch thick. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place them on a dry baking sheet. Bake until crisp, around 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, and then transfer them to wire rack to finish cooling.
Frozen treats are perfect for hot summer days or relaxing in the afternoons in warm climates. There are so many different ways to make pupsicles for your dog, so you can choose ingredients you know your dog loves (as long as the ingredients are dog-safe).
You can use a popsicle mold or just plain ice cube trays, but skip the stick, which is a potential choking hazard. If you’re making popsicle-shaped treats for larger dogs, use a dog biscuit instead of a stick; for small breeds, get some paw print or bone-shaped silicone molds. Always supervise your dog when they're snacking on these frozen treats.
Pick a recipe based on what your dog craves. This one is for dogs that favor sweet, fruity treats. You can swap out fruit, but only use fruit that is dog-friendly. Both strawberries and bananas are healthy choices. Strawberries have both fiber and vitamin C, with an added bonus: They contain an enzyme that will whiten your dog’s teeth. Fruits contain sugar, so give these in moderation.
2 cups strawberries, sliced (either fresh or frozen)
1 cup plain or Greek yogurt (if yogurt upsets your dog’s tummy, use a non-dairy yogurt)
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup water
Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Put paper towels or a baking sheet under the silicone molds, and pour mixture in. For larger treats in popsicle shape, use a dog bone instead of a stick. Freeze for around 30 minutes or until hard. Empty treats into a freezer-safe container or bag. Makes approximately 56 treats using both smaller and larger-sized molds. Around 8 calories per treat.
Even if your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, they can still enjoy special treats. In this case, though, be careful you don’t overdo it. (And always ask your vet before introducing new foods into your dog's diet!)
Dogs with diabetes often experience increased thirst, a ravenous appetite while losing weight, and lethargy. By giving your dog daily insulin injections under the skin (which sounds scarier than it is once you get used to it), their body will be able to convert insulin to energy, so they can live a fairly normal life.
Besides insulin treatment, managing your dog’s diet and providing sufficient exercise play an important role in your dog’s well-being. Liver is an excellent source of lower-fat protein and nutrients, including vitamins A and D, folic acid, iron, and other minerals. (Just FYI, beef liver is lower in fat than chicken liver.) Whole wheat flour has a low Glycemic Index of 51 (stick to foods that have a GI of 0-55), and stone-ground flour is less processed. These treats are healthy for diabetic dogs, and your dog will love them (and you).
1½ pounds beef liver, cut into small pieces
½ cup stone-ground whole wheat flour
You’ll need a 10x15-inch jellyroll pan or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the liver pieces in a food processor and pulse until chopped finely. Add the flour and eggs and process until smooth, or if your food processor is too small, empty the processed liver into a bowl, add the flour and eggs, and using a wooden spoon, mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture out evenly in the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the center is firm. When cooled, the consistency should be spongy. Let cool, then cut out shapes or squares using a pizza cutter. These treats can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. You can freeze any treats that won’t be eaten within a week in a zip-lock bag.
There you have it! Easy, simple dog treats that you can make in your own home. Remember to follow proper food safety practices and ALWAYS tell your vet before you introduce a new treat or food into your dog's diet.