Features September 2012 Issue

How to Make Your Own Top-Quality Dog Treats

Imagine not having to worry about treat recalls or ingredient sources, or, for that matter, whether the actual ingredients match what’s on the product label. It’s not a dream; in fact, it’s well within anyone’s abilities. It’s easy, it costs less than commercial products, and as an added bonus, you get the peace of mind from knowing these treats won’t be recalled.

Heck, you have to go grocery shopping anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem to pick up the necessary ingredients while shopping for the other members of your family. Whether you shop at Safeway or Whole Foods, one thing is certain: the quality of the raw ingredients you’ll buy in human grocery stores is far higher than what is used in most commercial treats.

Making dog treats is amazingly simple. No special equipment is needed. You can use a dehydrator for dehydrating if you have one; but all you really need is an oven, which you can use for dehydrated meat treats or baked, cookie-style treats. My oven uses natural gas, and can be used at very low temperatures (under 200 degrees). That’s very useful for slow, even, and complete dehydration, which is what’s needed to make a good treat.

My oven is old, and has a pilot light, so I can even store my “ready to eat” treats therein. They will stay dry and not mold because of that pilot light, so they don’t require refrigeration. Don’t forget to remove them before preheating that oven for something else, however! If your oven lacks a pilot light, you will need to store your treats in the refrigerator or freezer.

For dog treats, “simple is best.” What do most dogs like best of all? Meat. One of the dehydrated treats I make is London broil (bought on sale for $3 to $3.50 a pound). I use London broil because it’s a lean cut of beef with good, solid texture. Fat is on the outside of the piece of meat, and so is easy to trim off. Visible fat must be trimmed. High-fat treats must be fed in limited amounts, and are at greater risk of rancidity if not fed within a few days.

After visible fat is trimmed, place the meat (which is usually about an inch thick) flat into a pan of boiling water until it firms up. This step is not essential; but it speeds the dehydration process, and makes it less messy as well. Cut the firm meat into cubes, between 3/8- and 1/2-inches square, and then place the cubes on a cookie sheet, not touching each other. Put the cookie sheet into the oven at an ideal temperature of 150° - 200°F. Check the treats every half hour or so, move them around on the cookie sheet, and if there is a lot of liquid on the cookie sheet, drain it off. The treats need to be really, really dry; as dry as kibble; moisture is your enemy.

You can use a food processor or hand mixer to combine canned pumpkin and lightly boiled liver. If you don’t have time to bake the treats right away, store the combined “dough” in air-tight containers in the refrigerator or freezer.

I store the dehydrated treats in food-grade chewing gum dispensers that snap open easily for access. That way, they do not defile my pockets! And the dogs can’t immediately tell I’m carrying treats.

I can’t estimate what these treats cost someone else to make; I figure my out-of-pocket cost is $3 for the meat, which leaves me with an estimated 6 oz. of treats, after trimming and shrinkage. I have to allow for energy costs, so the true cost is higher than 50 cents an ounce; and if the meat is $3.50 a pound on sale, that increases the price, too. But I still think it’s the best bargain in town, and encourage you to try it.

Here’s a more complex recipe, with two ingredients. Don’t worry; it’s still simple. I came up with this recipe for baked liver-pumpkin cookies when I found that feeding liver-only treats often causes loose stool. Many people wish to avoid feeding grains, but to cut the effect of the liver, something had to be added. Pumpkin functions well as a binder and is palatable to most dogs, to boot. It’s just too good to be true that pumpkin acts to firm canine stools if they are too loose, and to loosen them if they are too firm; it’s the perfect companion ingredient for liver.

To make liver-pumpkin cookies, combine a can of canned plain pumpkin (not the kind that comes pre-seasoned for pies) and an equal amount of pureed lightly boiled liver in a food processor. Spoon drops of the mixture onto parchment paper-covered or lightly greased cookie sheets. Flatten out the drops so they are an equal height and will bake evenly. Bake in a slow oven (325° - 350°F) for 20 minutes or until firm enough to handle. Remove from the over, cut the spoon-dropped pieces into the size you want, and then continue to bake them until they are dry. Store in the refrigerator or freezer; they can be layered with waxed paper separators, or they can crumble a bit – the dogs won’t care.

Try one or both of these two recipes. You have nothing to lose but your worries about potentially harmful treats.

Shari A. Mann lives in San Francisco with her dogs Meg and Zebra. She currently mans the “help desk” at bullterrierrescue.org, enthusiastically supports dog rescue, and pursues a lifelong interest in all things canine.

Comments (12)

Thanks for the recipe ideas. I made the chicken liver / pumpkin treats last night. I kept enough out for a week and froze the rest. I wasn't sure how long to keep baking "until dry". Love the ideas. Thank you!

Posted by: Alexandra B | August 5, 2013 8:57 AM    Report this comment

So I look up "London Broil" and discover that it is grilled flank steak.
Then I wonder why canned pumpkin is concsidered 'fresh ingrediants'. Can you people not buy fresh pumpkin?

Posted by: Jenny H | August 3, 2013 8:08 PM    Report this comment

Another comment on London Broil - what cut it really is used to vary from east coast to west. Years ago in Cleveland we thoroughly enjoyed it as a tender "different grain" than sirloin, etc. When we moved to Boise, the butchers didn't know what I was asking for (1972). Alaska - NA. Now in Washington, its very different than what I remember. Oh well! Thanks for the great ideas! Barb & the whippets

Posted by: Barbara H | August 3, 2013 1:44 PM    Report this comment

this much liver can easily cause digestive upset (runny stools) in my 3 terriers. It might be worthwhile to make a higher ratio of meat to liver and then add pumpkin and spices.

Posted by: bedlingtons | August 3, 2013 9:38 AM    Report this comment

We use london broils to make jerky treats. just slice thin and dehydrate. london broil is generally inexpensive and makes lot's of treats.

Posted by: Kana | May 24, 2013 5:44 PM    Report this comment

Just one thing -- there is no such cut of meat as "London Broil." This is a term used by supermarket meat departments when they want to charge more for a cut of meat than that cut is worth. London Broil is a method of cooking that can be used for various cuts of meat; any butcher who tells you otherwise does not know his/her meat. What you probably want for these treats is any lean beef that's priced well -- top round, bottom round, sirloin, whichever is on sale.

Posted by: dogmangene | May 23, 2013 6:35 AM    Report this comment

the london broil treats are terrific, could i just ask, once cooked and cold can you safely freeze them.

Posted by: nikki1@f2s.com | March 2, 2013 3:46 AM    Report this comment

The London Broil treats have become my go-to for agility class. Easy, the dogs love them, and I know exactly what's in them. Thanks so much for these, which have made me eager to make more of my own!

Posted by: Amy S | February 6, 2013 4:33 PM    Report this comment

The London Broil treats have become my go-to for agility class. Easy, the dogs love them, and I know exactly what's in them. Thanks so much for these, which have made me eager to make more of my own!

Posted by: Amy S | February 6, 2013 4:33 PM    Report this comment

Two really nice recipes, thanks so very much for the info. I also try to use certain spices/herbs whenever possible because of the antioxidant qualities and/or other health benefits. Unless we are growing our own produce, even though we might buy organic and we are careful in the handling and preparation, it's unfortunate that our food is actually less nutritious than it was just a couple of decades ago due to soil depletion, pollution, water/soil contamination, etc.. Cinnamon is an excellent spice to add to the pumpkin - liver treats. Even though cloves are VERY high in antioxidants, you can quickly turn a carefully prepared dish into an inedible mess if you are too heavy handed when adding ground cloves, so go lightly when using this potent spice - your dog will be no more eager than you to eat your mistake!

Posted by: shaunaru | October 6, 2012 1:38 AM    Report this comment

Sounds good AND easy. Thanks!

Posted by: Lana W | September 4, 2012 5:16 PM    Report this comment

very useful... thanks, will try...

Posted by: Unknown | August 22, 2012 4:49 AM    Report this comment

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