Updated July 25, 2021
If you want to feed treats to your dog or cat it’s important to know how to find safe and healthy options. Below are treat ideas using Jerky | Fruit & Veges | Raw Bones | Commercial & | Homemade Treats from us and thanks to our Facebook community.
First, a disclaimer. We cannot guarantee the safety of these ideas and recipes, even though we think they are great options. Any treats need to be made and stored with the same attention to hygiene that we give to our own food. That means, don’t freeze them, use them within a week and make sure they are fully dried and stored airtight to prevent mould.
ALL ingredients need to be foods fit for human consumption, not sold as pet foods (why?- read our blog).
Second, the amount you feed a dog or cat is very important. This means you need to be tough enough to say ‘no’. No more than 10% of their calories should come from treats. We consider treats to be ’empty calories’ which could affect your pet’s health if fed in too large an amount. This is especially true for puppies.
When possible, use low calorie treats (see below) or break them into tiny pieces if used frequently, and give them in a structured way such as during training or when leaving.
Third, although they can be fed safely, you don’t have to feed treats at all. Most dogs and cats would much prefer a walk, play or cuddle to a food reward and this is healthier too.
Fourth, we consider wheat or other carbohydrates to be perfectly safe ingredients as part of a balanced diet. But do read our guide to toxic foods for dogs and cats.
And lastly, these treats are all well and good if you’re at home but may not be up to scratch at training classes. We normally don’t recommend processed meats and cheese for treats but if your classmates at dog training are using them, you might just have to as well.
Now, let’s get started.
Chicken Liver or Beef Jerky Treats
Every pet owner needs to know the dangers of preserved jerky and tender treats. You can make jerky treats for cats and dogs from any meat you prefer. However, we recommend you only use meat fit for human consumption. Sliced meat dries the fastest but cubed meat also works well and is easier to put in a treat dispenser.
If you intend making a habit of drying meat or liver several brands make food dehydrators (like in the picture) which make it easy. If you have a dehydrator, simply follow the instructions supplied with the appliance.
To dry the meat using a conventional oven requires very low temperatures over a long time. Lilly’s treats are pictured bottom right at the start. Jerky cooks for 2.5-3 hours @ 100C. Crunchies cook for 1 hour @ 150C then 2 hours @ 100C with the oven door ajar. Tessa’s liver treats are made by boiling liver, thinly slicing it, then drying in a low oven or a dehydrator.
Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs
People often don’t believe their dogs see fruits and vegetables as treats. That’s because they see the treats through human eyes, not their dogs’. Please give it a go; if your dog likes peas, watermelon, capsicum or apple you now have a guilt-free treat; Peppi loves her carrots. Just don’t feed grapes or any of the onion family.
During summer, Sassy gets frozen apple and weetbix treats. Her owner mixes weetbix & diced apples with a little bit of water, grabs a handful of the mixture and forms it into a stick. It then goes into a freezer bag. Her dogs love them.
We’re pleased that so many people responded with fruits and veges. Broccoli, capsicum, pumpkin, carrot, cauliflower, apple, celery, frozen carrots. Here’s Loki with his broccoli stalk. Sadie even gets frozen bananas in her Kong.
Many people are worried about cyanide in apple seeds. This page on feeding apples, cores and seeds to dogs shows that to poison a medium sized dog would require them to eat (and grind up) the seeds from 200 apples. I think they would die of indigestion first.
Many cats love to nibble on fresh herbs such as mint and parsley. If you buy them anyway, why not put them in a sturdy pot where your cat can have a chew.
Commercial Pet Treats
We prefer to recommend treats we make ourselves. However, experience tells us that there are some excellent, safe treats available. We particularly like Greenies, Dentastix, Veggie ears and Vets Best Rewards liver treats. You can also use some of the same food your dog or cat gets for meals.
Just look at the joy on any dog’s face. For most dogs and some cats, there is no food which comes close in terms of enjoyment. Many people told us they feed their dogs raw bones, and many also feed raw chicken necks to cats. So do most Aussie vets.
Due to the potential risks associated with feeding bones, we strongly recommend visiting us first to discuss whether your dog or cat is a good candidate, and how to feed bones safely.
Homemade Dog Treats
Be very careful using other people’s recipes. For example, many commercial stocks contain onion or garlic, and salt and fat levels are often too high.
Andrew’s Easy Dog Biscuits
These treats always get Andrew’s dogs to come running and have been great for training them to like the new kitten (when the kitten doesn’t steal them). Some of the cheese in this recipe can be easily substituted for meats such as crumbled liver treat, chopped bacon or home made jerky. You could use this recipe for cats with finely chopped fish instead of veges. Carbohydrates are less suited for cats but it isn’t a problem at treat levels.
- 2 cups wholemeal flour.
- 1 egg.
- ½ cup grated cheese.
- ½ cup grated fruit or vegetable (our dogs love capsicum, but you could usezucchini, carrot or apple).
- Water to create a firm dough (around ½ cup).
- Preheat oven to 160°C.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Knead dough until it forms a ball
- Roll dough out onto baking paper until ½ cm thick. Any more and it won’t dry.
- Cut into slices. Ours are 1 cm wide. (you can get fancy and cut out shapes if you prefer)
- Place on oven tray and cook for 30 minutes
- Cool and store in an airtight container
Hills Pet Nutrition Homemade Treat Recipe
This simple recipe uses Hills Science Diet canned food. It can be augmented with your own healthy flavours based on what your dog or cat likes.
- Open the can and shake the loaf of food out of the can.
- Cut the loaf into ¼” thick slices, and then cut the slices into bite-sized pieces.
- Bake the treats in a microwave oven on high for approximately 2½ to 3 minutes.
- Store baked treats in the refrigerator and discard leftovers after 5-7 days.
- Homemade treats should not exceed 10% of your pet’s total daily intake
For a conventional oven, follow the instructions above and place the bite-sized pieces on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 180 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until crispy.
Diandra’s Kong Stuffing
Here’s a recipe from Diandra for stuffing Kongs or similar hollow toys.
- Mix 2 tablespoons bran cereal with 1 teaspoon of melted low salt peanut butter
- Add some chopped up apple and carrot bits
- Seal one end of the Kong with a small amount of low fat cream cheese and fill with mixture.
- Add a few dog kibble and a few almonds or cashews.
- Fill up to the top with low salt liquid beef stock, sit upright in a container and seal the end with more cream cheese.
- Freeze overnight
We hope this article has inspired you to try something new. Health scares over pet treats and warnings from Australia and the USA show that parts of the pet food industry remain a problem. With these ideas you have the chance to know exactly what you are feeding your pet.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!