Doggie Breath Mints

Every month or so I break out the dog toothpaste and a little rubber toothbrush that fits on the end of my finger and attempt to brush Pacey’s teeth. He doesn’t like it much, but I’m usually able to get a few good swipes in. Even so, in the past year I started to notice that his doggie breath was a little stinkier than usual. Bad breath is often caused by tartar build-up inside a dog’s mouth, and I remembered hearing somewhere that tartar build up and dental problems can contribute to other health problems, so I decided to take Pacey to his vet to see if a professional cleaning was in order. The vet checked out his teeth and gave me some really good information about canine dental health. (Shout out to the awesome staff at Littlestown Veterinary Hospital in Littlestown, PA!)

General anesthesia, which carries a risk of complication for any animal, is needed for a teeth cleaning at a vet’s office, so it’s important to weigh the risk. In Pacey’s case, the vet said that his teeth still looked good and that we could hold off on a professional cleaning for a little while and try some other measures first. (But our vet is planning to do another assessment in about 6 months). However, if your pet has substantial tartar build-up, a professional cleaning is probably needed, since tartar is known to lead to:

-The gums being pushed away from the roots of the dog’s teeth, which will eventually cause the teeth to loosen and fall out.

-Infections inside the dog’s mouth. Antibiotics may be able to suppress the infection, but without removing the tartar, the infection will likely keep returning. (Infections also smell horrible and can cause very stinky dog breath.)

-In severe cases, tartar can break off and infection will enter the dog’s bloodstream. This can lead to serious conditions of the heart, kidney, and/or joints.

But there are some routine measures that you can take to aid your dog’s dental health:

-Feed dry dog food and hard biscuits made to help clean tartar (like Milk-Bones or Dentastix).

-Ask your vet about prescription food specially formulated to scrape the tartar off dogs’ teeth.

-Try giving a hard chew toy.

-Brush your dog’s teeth regularly. It may be tricky to get inside your dog’s mouth, but even getting a few swipes on the outside of their teeth with a toothbrush will help. Just be sure to use a toothpaste specifically made for dogs.

-Make sure that your vet takes a good look at your dog’s teeth at an annual check-up.

These minty treats won’t cure tartar problems, but they may help freshen up a case of bad breath. I use mint in this recipe because I think it’s stronger for covering odor than parsley. If you’d like, you could substitute fresh parsley or use a mix of parsley and mint.

Doggie Breath Mints

Makes about 180 bite-sized treats

 

1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint

1 egg

3/4 cup water, plus more as needed

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and mint.

3. Add the egg and water, and knead until a smooth dough forms.

4. Generously dust the countertop with cornmeal, and roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into pieces using your desired cookie cutter.

5. Arrange the treats on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

6. Turn off the oven, crack the oven door, and leave the cookies to dry for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

 

These crunchy treats should be stored in an airtight container.

Oatmeal Cookies

I’ll admit that these doggie drop cookies don’t have exactly the same texture as their traditional “people cookie” counterparts, but my taste-tester gave them an enthusiastic two paws up anyway. I would describe the consistency as slightly rubbery, but the crunchiness of the oats provides a nice textural contrast to the sponginess, and Pacey gobbled them right up.

Grains were not an original part of the canine diet. Dogs, who are natural carnivores, only started eating grains when we humans started feeding them to our domesticated pets. Today, grains are a common ingredient in most commercial dog foods and biscuits. If you’re going to feed grains to your dog (which many of us already do), oats are an excellent choice. Oats contain less gluten than wheat flours, so they are generally tolerated very well by dogs’ digestive systems. Oats have significant nutritional value as well. They are high in protein and are also a source of iron, magnesium, silicon, and B vitamins. Oats are also believed to calm the nervous system (of dogs as well as people), so they can be especially beneficial to anxious dogs.

Oats are a great source of soluble fiber. This has an up side and down side. The up side: oats are great for dogs that are getting up in years and are starting to have trouble with bowel regularity. The flip side: too much added fiber can cause diarrhea in dogs with more sensitive systems. If you’re concerned, just feed oatmeal very occasionally and keep an eye peeled for your dog’s response. (Note: unless your dog has some sort of allergy, the amount of oatmeal in these cookies should not pose a problem if they’re fed sparingly as a treat.)

I call for organic oats in this recipe simply because organically grown oats have a higher nutritive value than traditionally grown oats, but you can use the old fashioned kind if you’d like.

 

Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 45 cookies

 

1 1/2 cups (uncooked) organic oats

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 egg

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup natural, unsweetened applesauce

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a bowl.

3. Add the egg, applesauce, honey, and water, and stir to combine.

4. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto a prepared baking sheet. The cookies should be placed 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart to allow for any spreading.

5. Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 11 minutes. When finished baking, turn the oven off, crack the oven door, and leave the cookies to dry for about 2 hours.

 

These moist cookies are best stored in the refrigerator.

Super Simple Honey Dog Biscuits

Honey has become somewhat trendy in the food world lately. After seeing honey featured not only in pastries, cakes, and ice creams, but also in savory dishes like Provencal Lamb (on Saveur magazine’s website), I thought to myself:  why not give honey a starring role in a dog biscuit? But choosing a honey isn’t quite as simple as it used to be. According to the National Honey Board there are now over 300 unique types of honey available in the United States. The specific characteristics of each type of honey depend on the bees’ environment. For example, honey produced by bees that gathered their nectar from clover will have a very different flavor than honey made from nectar gathered from orange blossoms. A good general rule when selecting a honey is that the lighter the color of the honey, the milder the flavor.

These honey-flavored treats are super quick and easy to make. You probably already have all of the ingredients standing by in your pantry. These treats also make great gifts for picky pooches, because they don’t contain any unusual or strong flavors. When I made this recipe I used a really large cookie cutter. It’s about 2 by 4 inches—hence the lower yield that’s listed below. Using a cookie cutter appropriate for a smaller dog, you could easily cut out twice as many biscuits as this recipe yielded for me. Just remember that smaller biscuits won’t need to bake as long.

 BEST

Super Simple Honey Biscuits

Makes about 20 (very) large biscuits

 

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 eggs

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup water

 

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Knead until a smooth dough forms.

3. On a generously floured countertop, roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thick, and cut out biscuits using your desired cookie cutter. If the dough is sticking to the rolling pin, lightly dust the top of the dough with flour.

4. Bake the biscuits on a prepared cookie sheet until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes. After baking, turn off the oven, crack the oven door, and leave the cookies to dry out for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

 

These crisp biscuits can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Homemade Dog Treat Storage 101

One of the advantages of homemade dog treats is that they don’t contain any chemicals or preservatives, but this also means that there are some special considerations when it comes to storage. While store-bought dog biscuits contain preservatives that allow them to be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time, the shelf life of a homemade treat is totally dependent on the freshness of the ingredients, the product’s moisture content, and its storage conditions. With these things in mind, here are a few of my tips for getting the most out of your baking efforts.

The drier (i.e. crunchier) the treat, the more stable it is at room temperature. Therefore, dry biscuits and cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature—ideally in a cool, dry place—while moist treats, like muffins and cakes, and any treats containing meat and/or cheese should be stored in the refrigerator.

I have found that most crunchy dog biscuits and cookies will keep for about 3 weeks when stored properly. Chewy and/or moist treats, however, will only keep for about 10 days.

That said, freezing will greatly extend the shelf life of any of these products. If stored neatly in a properly sealed, airtight container, most dog treats will keep well for 2 to 3 months in the freezer. Pacey is a fairly small dog, so it can take a long, long time for him to snack his way through a full batch of my homemade treats. Rather than race against an “expiration date,” I typically freeze half (or more) of the baked treats right away. Every few days I’ll pull out only the amount of treats that I’ll need. If you’re really organized, you could even freeze the treats in small, resealable bags, so that they’re already portioned into whatever amount is practical for you and your dog. For the best quality it’s important that all of the treats are completely cool before you place them into the freezer.

Remember that I’m only offering general guidelines here. Always use your discretion. As with “people food,” if a treat looks or smells moldy or spoiled at all, do not serve it. Dogs are susceptible to bacteria just like humans, and your dog deserves only the very best.

Apple Mini Muffins

With their delicious natural sweetness, apples make a great flavoring ingredient for dog treats. Whenever you’re baking it’s very important to choose a crisp apple with flesh that won’t break down into mush in the oven. The classic choice for baking is Granny Smith, which I used when I developed this recipe, but there are plenty of other varieties of apple that hold up equally well in the oven. You may want to branch out and try a Jonathon, Jonagold, Braeburn, Fuji, or Cortland apple, for example.

All of the ingredients in this recipe are readily available at most grocery stores. If you can’t find wheat germ in the baking aisle, it may be hiding in the organic or health food section. Although wheat germ is generally accepted as a safe ingredient and is perfectly harmless to most pets, some dogs can develop sensitivities to wheat (i.e. gastrointestinal issues). If this is the case with your pooch, you can omit the wheat germ and whole wheat flour in this recipe and substitute 2 cups of all-purpose or unbleached white flour instead.

For easy clean up and, of course, for the cuteness factor, I used decorative paper muffin cups to line the pan, but they’re not really necessary. Just remember to spray the pan generously with cooking spray if you’re not using the liners, because this batter tends to stick to the pan. And hopefully this goes without saying, but . . . if you use the paper liners, remember to remove them before serving to your dog.

These treats can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature but will last longer if stored in the refrigerator.

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Apple Mini Muffins

Makes about 42 muffins

 

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/3 cup wheat germ

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup natural, unsweetened applesauce

1/4 of a granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and small diced (about 1/3 cup)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Combine the flour, wheat germ, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

3. Add the egg, honey, water, applesauce, and diced apple. Stir to combine.

4. Prepare the mini muffin pan by lining with paper muffin cups or spraying lightly with cooking spray.

5. Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about three-quarters of the way up.

6. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and spring back when touched, about 9 minutes. Allow the muffins to cool completely before serving.

NOTE: To make standard size muffins, prepare as above but increase the baking time to about 20 minutes.

Gingerbread Cookies

Until I started doing research for this blog I wasn’t even sure if ground ginger was safe for dogs. I have since discovered that a small amount of ginger not only is safe but can actually be quite beneficial. A bit of ginger will ease nausea and motion sickness, and some believe that it can also help prevent arthritis, colitis, bronchitis, and other inflammations. If your dog is prone to motion sickness, you may want to keep a few of these cookies on hand in your freezer. Give your pup the treat about 30 minutes before hopping into the car to help ward off nausea.

I chose to cut my cookies into the traditional gingerbread man shape and decorate them using melted yogurt chips, which nicely mimics the look of the sugary icing that adorns our human baked goods. White yogurt chips can be found in most health food stores, but you could also substitute candy coating melts, carob chips, or specialty “dog treat coating chips,” or simply leave your gingerbread men au naturale.

These crunchy treats should be stored in an airtight container.

 Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread Cookies

Makes about 45 (3-inch cookies)

 

1/2 cup water

2/3 cup molasses

3 1/2 cups wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground ginger

White yogurt chips, as needed for piping (optional)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the water and molasses.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and spices.

4. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, and knead until the mixture forms a smooth, homogenous dough.

5. Generously flour the countertop and roll the dough out into an even sheet about 1/4-inch thick. You may also need to flour the top of the dough to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Use your desired cookie cutter to cut the dough into shapes.

6. Arrange the cookies on a prepared baking sheet, and bake until firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

7. If you’re going to pipe decorations, bring a small pot of water to a simmer over medium to medium-high heat.

8. Place the yogurt chips in a glass or metal bowl just large enough to fit on top of the pot of simmering water. Place the bowl onto the pot. Be sure to stir frequently with a rubber spatula as the yogurt chips melts to prevent them from scorching. Be very careful, because if the yogurt gets overheated and scorches it becomes virtually inedible. If the water begins to boil vigorously enough to actually touch the bowl, remove the bowl from the pot and turn down the heat before replacing the bowl. To avoid overheating, be sure to remove the bowl from the heat as soon as the yogurt coating is completely melted.

9. Transfer the melted coating to a piping bag. Use scissors to snip off the very tip of the piping bag. (You don’t really need to use a coupler or piping tip for this small project).

10. Once the cookies are completely cool, pipe on your desired design. Be sure to allow the coating time to set completely before serving.

Bacon Waffles

The idea for these breakfast time treats was sparked by a recipe from Three Dog Bakery along with my own dog’s irrepressible love of bacon. And while I generally try to avoid any recipe that requires special equipment, I figured I would make an exception here since the waffle maker doesn’t even have to be plugged in (or be in working order for that matter). Plus, that iconic waffle design is just too darn adorable.

The way you cut out this dough will depend entirely on the size and shape of the waffle maker that you’re using. I was using an 8-inch round maker, so I used a template to cut the rolled dough into 8-inch circles that fit perfectly into my waffle maker. (For those of you who aren’t as anal retentive as I am, you can just eyeball it.) I decided to cut the pressed waffles into quarters, which worked out fine for larger dogs. For smaller dogs you’ll probably want to cut your waffles into smaller pieces, or you can just break the waffles into bite-sized pieces after they’re baked.

Since these treats contain bacon, they should be stored in the refrigerator.

Bacon Waffles

Makes about 20 (large) servings

 

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 cup cornmeal

3 slices crispy bacon, crumbled or finely chopped

1 egg

1 tablespoon bacon fat or vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups water

 

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and bacon.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, fat or oil, and water.

4. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients and knead to form a smooth dough. Divide the dough in thirds.

5. Generously dust the countertop with flour, and roll the first piece of dough out to 1/2-inch thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into pieces an appropriate size and shape to fit your waffle iron. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

6. Place the first dough cut-outs into an unplugged waffle iron and press down firmly in order to imprint the design into the dough. Carefully remove the pressed dough from the waffle iron and cut it into pieces using a knife or pizza cutter. Repeat with the remainder of the dough cut-outs.

7. Arrange the waffles on a prepared baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 50 minutes.

8. Allow the waffles to cool completely before serving.

 

NOTE: If you’re concerned about the fat content, you can easily use turkey bacon instead of the real thing.

Meet Marley

Back when I was in college, my parents rescued this sweet dog when someone dropped her off in a cardboard box on the side of a road. She was the cutest puppy in the world and quickly broke down my parents’ long-standing rule of “no dogs sleep in the bed.” She’s still a championship cuddler (who will cuddle up with pretty much anyone who will sit and give her attention).

No, she’s not named for Bob Marley. Marley came to us about a week before Christmas, so we wanted to give her an appropriately seasonal name. It was surprisingly hard to think of something that wasn’t too cheesy. We finally decided to name her after Jacob Marley, a character in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I might add that this Marley was named long BEFORE the book Marley and Me came out and made the name super popular. Just for the record.

Marley loves to be outside, whether that means going for a walk or just laying around in the backyard. I think she’d romp outside all day everyday if you let her.

Older now, Marley often enjoys napping on the couch, but she will sometimes join in rough-housing with her two doggie “brothers,” Corby and Abner . . . although she has little to no use for cousin Pacey.

Marley has been known to gobble up just about anything, but I like to think that my Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits are her favorite treat.

Parmesan Cheese Bites

Dogs love cheese. It’s a universal canine characteristic—at least in my very non-professional opinion–so these little treats are always a big hit. The Parmesan imparts a strong cheesy flavor (and fills the kitchen with a delicious aroma as it bakes), but in a pinch you could easily substitute finely shredded cheddar or pretty much any mild cheese that you happen to have sitting in the fridge. Just remember that switching up the type of cheese may affect the baking time or the amount of water that is needed.

I like to cut these treats into small bite-sized pieces rather than large biscuits, because the fresh Parmesan cheese is packed with flavor (and you also never want to overload you dog with too much dairy). For this recipe, I used a 1-inch round cookie cutter. If you decide to make larger biscuits, you’ll need to increase the baking time to 20 minutes or more.

Since these treats contain cheese, they are best stored in the refrigerator.

Parmesan Cheese Bites

Makes about 125 small treats

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 large egg

3/4 cup warm water

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and cheese. Add the egg and mix to combine.

3. Add the water a little at a time, kneading the mixture by hand to form a smooth dough. (If the dough starts getting too wet, don’t add all of the water. If the dough is too dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough reaches the right consistency for rolling.)

4. Generously dust the countertop with cornmeal. Divide the dough in half, and roll the first half out into an even sheet about ¼ inch thick.

5. Use a cookie cutter to cut the dough into your desired shape and size. Repeat with the remainder of the dough. If the dough is sticking at all, try dusting both sides with more cornmeal.

6. Arrange the treats on a lightly greased baking sheet, and bake until firm to the touch, about 16 minutes. You do not want these treats to get too brown. I like to turn the treats over halfway through the baking time to help ensure even color.

7. Allow the treats to cool completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

NOTE:  These treats are not extra crunchy, which can be a nice change from traditional hard dog biscuits. But if your doggie prefers crunchier treats, try leaving the baked biscuits in the oven (with it turned off) with the oven door widely cracked open for a few hours to overnight.