Dog Treats VS. Dog Food

My taste-testers: Corby, Abner, Marley, and Pacey

My taste-testers: Corby, Abner, Marley, and Pacey.

I think that it’s important for me to take this opportunity to make a clear distinction between the dog “treats” that I typically make and discuss on this blog and “dog food.” Just like humans, dogs should have balanced diets. According to the ASPCA, “treats should make up only 5 to 10 percent of your pet’s diet–the rest should come from a nutritionally complete pet food.” Quality commercial dog food is specifically formulated (by veterinarians and nutritionists) to give your dog the vitamins and nutrients that he or she needs to be healthy. It’s important to always be conscious that treats are special snacks that should not in any way be considered a substitute for your dog’s regular food.

Baking homemade dog treats can be a fun and rewarding experience if you just use common sense. I like to approach treats for dogs in the same way that you should approach dessert for humans. A special treat is perfectly fine in moderation but can do harm if eaten in excess. For example, a pupcake with cream cheese frosting or a cheesy biscuit is totally okay if it’s given very sparingly as a special reward; you will, however, inevitably give your doggie an upset stomach if you load him or her up with too large or too many dairy-laden treats. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I know from experience that when you love your pet and want them to feel pampered it can be very easy to overdo it. Simply exercise good judgment, and if you’re ever in doubt, consult your veterinarian.

Similar to the manner in which you would slowly integrate a new type of dog food into your pet’s diet, it’s best to introduce any new treat in very small amounts. Just like humans, some dogs can have allergies to foods or ingredients that are considered safe and healthy for the general population. When you are baking a treat recipe for the first time or trying a new ingredient, be sure to give your dog only a small taste at first and keep an eye out to make sure that they have no negative reactions. The most common allergic reactions are vomiting, diarrhea, and itchy skin. Obviously, if you notice any of these symptoms, stop giving your dog the treats, and if there’s any type of severe reaction, call your veterinarian immediately.

If you ever have any feedback or questions (in reference to a post or recipe on this blog or just a general question), please leave me a comment. I’m no expert, but I’m always happy to do a little research to try to find an answer to your questions about canine health.

No-Bake Hidden Treasure Cookies

I got the idea for this recipe from a batch of “human cookies” that have a Hershey’s Kiss hidden in the center. I switched up the ingredients to make these cookies dog friendly, but they are still really tasty for humans too. The cookies are also very quick to prepare and travel really well on long walks or car trips.

If you want to be extra fancy, you can roll the treats in finely chopped peanuts (unsalted), shredded coconut, or carob powder before putting them in the refrigerator to set.

 Hidden Treasure Cookies

No-Bake Hidden Treasure Cookies

Makes about 45 treats

 

2/3 cup natural peanut butter, no salt added

2 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup oat bran

2 tablespoons wheat germ

Unsweetened carob chips, as needed (about 1/3 cup)

 

1. Place the peanut butter, honey, oat bran, and wheat germ in a bowl, and stir until well combined.

2. Take about 1 teaspoon of the mixture, and form it into a ball around 1 carob chip. Repeat until you’ve used all of the mixture.

3. Allow the cookies to set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

These treats should be stored in the refrigerator. They also freeze well—you can actually serve them right out of the freezer if your dog likes chilly treats.

Banana Cookies

Just like us, individual dogs have distinct taste preferences. As you try out more and more treat recipes, you’ll get a better idea of what your dog likes and doesn’t. Banana is not a flavor popular with all dogs. I’ll be honest—Pacey isn’t a big fan. However, bananas are naturally creamy and sweet, so some dogs absolutely love them. And that creamy texture also lends itself very well to baked goods.

Bananas have nutritional benefits as well. Dogs are able to quickly metabolize the natural sugars, so bananas can offer an energy boost. Bananas also contain potassium, electrolytes, minerals, vitamin B6, and vitamin C and are fiber rich.

When you’re preparing this recipe, do not panic if the cookie dough seems wet when you’re mixing it. When I made this recipe, the dough was very moist, bordering on a batter, but when I portioned the dough (using a 2-tablespoon scoop) the cookies held together well and didn’t even spread out too much in the oven. I did press gently on the tops of the baked cookies as they came out of the oven. This flattened them out a little bit and gave them a neater appearance, but that’s completely optional. Just leave them as-is if you’re okay with a more rustic look.

 Banana Cookies

Banana Cookies

Makes about 50 cookies

 

2 cups all purpose or unbleached white flour

2 cups (uncooked) oats

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2cups natural, unsweetened applesauce

3 very ripe medium-sized bananas, mashed

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

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

3. Add the applesauce and bananas, and stir to combine.

4. Drop the dough by the heaping tablespoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. These cookies may spread slightly during baking, so be sure to leave about 1 inch between the drops of dough. (Optional: I like to press down gently on the top of each drop of dough to flatten the cookies out a little bit—this is purely for looks.)

5. Bake until the cookies are light brown and spongy to the touch, about 11 minutes. Turn the oven off, crack the oven door, and allow the cookies to harden for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

 

Definitely store these moist treats in the refrigerator.

My Furry Valentine

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! This week I tweaked my standard Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits recipe (posted on 4/17/12) to make dog-themed “conversation heart” cookies to send as valentines to my four-legged friends.

I followed the posted recipe, cutting the cookies out with a 2 1/2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. To ensure that the cookies bake flat enough to neatly pipe the writing onto them, it’s essential to dock the dough by gently poking it a few times with the tines of a fork. This will help keep air bubbles from puffing up as the cookies bake. Using my cookie cutter, the recipe yielded about 45 cookies that needed to be baked for about 15 minutes at 350°F.

While the cookies are baking, prepare the icing that you’d like to use. I melted plain yogurt chips because the white color contrasted nicely with the color of the cookies and made the writing stand out. If you’d like, you could use melted carob chips or natural peanut butter chips instead. The method used to melt them is essentially the same.

Bring a small pot of water to a simmer over medium to medium-high heat. 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 on top of 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.

The water should stay at a simmer. If it begins to boil enough to actually touch the bottom of the bowl, remove the bowl from the pot and turn down the heat to establish a simmer before replacing the bowl. Be sure to remove the bowl from the heat as soon as the yogurt coating is completely melted.

Transfer the melted icing to a piping bag fitted with a small, round piping tip. Once the cookies are completely cool, pipe on Valentine’s Day sayings or whatever messages you like. Unless you make much larger cookies, the sayings will have to be very short. I picked cutesy ones like you might find on those conversation heart candies that we all love this time of year. Here are some of the sayings I used:

-U R Top Dog

-I Dig U

-My Pet

-I Woof U

-Paw Some

-Puppy Love

-Fur Fect

-Hot Dog!

Be sure to allow the coating enough time to set completely before wrapping these sweet treats up in a pretty package for your furry valentine.

Carob Cookies

Although dogs aren’t able to eat the chocolate candies that we humans so appreciate receiving for Valentine’s Day, these little carob cookies make a sweet substitute. I can pretty much guarantee that your dog will love the rich carob flavor, and you can enjoy the cookies right along with your dog if you want to!

The recipe is so simple that you can have these cookies mixed, cut out, and baked in less than half an hour—perfect for those times that you find yourself needing to whip something up at the last minute.

Carob Cookies

Carob Cookies

Makes about 25 2-inch cookies

 

1/2 cup carob powder

1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more if needed for dusting

1/4 cup honey

2/3 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Combine the carob powder and flour.

3. Add the honey and water, and stir to combine. Knead by hand until a smooth dough forms.

4. Roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thick, lightly flouring the countertop and/or rolling pin if needed. Cut the dough into pieces using your desired cookie cutter, and arrange the treats on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

5. Bake until the treats are firm to the touch, about 12 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before serving.

 

These treats may be stored at room temperature, but if it’s particularly hot or humid where you live, it’s better to keep them in the refrigerator.

Chicken Dog Biscuits

I created these dog treats as a homage to my Hungarian roots. They feature chicken and paprika, the flavors of the famous Hungarian stew Chicken Paprikash. Paprika is such a strong spice that you don’t want to use too much or it can become irritating to more sensitive digestive systems, so I only put about 1 teaspoon in this recipe. The paprika can easily be omitted all together if you are concerned, or you could get creative and substitute a teaspoon of another dried herb, like parsley or sage. If you are including the paprika, take care that you’re using “sweet” paprika only, not “smoked” or “hot” paprika.

 Chicken Biscuits

Chicken Dog Biscuits

Makes about 40

 

2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 egg

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken broth

 

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and knead by hand to form a smooth dough.

3. Continue kneading until the dough is elastic enough to roll out, 2 to 3 minutes. The kneaded dough will be easiest to roll if you allow it to rest (uncovered at room temperature) for a couple minutes before rolling it out.

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

5. Arrange the treats on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes.

 

NOTE: If your dog prefers crunchier treats, turn off the oven, crack the oven door, and leave the treats to dry out for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

 

These biscuits are best stored in the refrigerator.

Dried Liver Biscuits

This was my first time experimenting with freeze-dried beef liver, and I would say it was a great success. I found it at my local pet store labeled as “PureBites Freeze Dried Beef Liver Dog Treats.” If you’re unsure about what you’re getting, just check the label on the package. The only ingredient listed should be “liver,” with no additives or preservatives.

The freeze-drying process preserves the flavor and nutritional value of raw beef liver. It also preserves the odor. Our dogs were going crazy over the liver-y aroma wafting through the kitchen as I was preparing these treats, but I personally found the odor, to be blunt, disgusting. It was very stinky business grinding the freeze-dried liver pieces into powder (and I immediately washed out my food processor extremely well afterwards). But I’ve decided that my momentary revulsion was worth it, because all the dogs LOVED these treats. Each dog very enthusiastically gobbled up a treat as soon as they were cool, and even my pickiest taste-tester begged for seconds.

The tomato paste turns this dough a reddish color, so I decided to cut the treats out using a heart-shaped cookie cutter appropriate for the season. Wrapped up in pretty packaging, these biscuits would make great valentines for your furry friends.

Dried Liver Biscuits

Makes about 42 treats

Freeze-dried liver pieces, as needed (about 1 cup)

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 cup no salt added tomato paste

1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Using a food processor or blender, process the freeze-dried liver pieces into a fine powder. Measure out 1/2 cup of liver powder. Reserve the rest for later use.

3. Combine the 1/2 cup liver powder with the flour.

4. In a separate bowl, combine the tomato paste and water.

5. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, and knead by hand until a smooth dough forms.

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

7. Arrange the treats on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until the treats are firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

These treats are best stored in the refrigerator.

Wheat-Free Pretzel Treats

There are quite a few dogs who have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, so I’ve been meaning to post a wheat-free recipe for a while. I’d like to give special thanks to Otis the Labradoodle (who is on a wheat-free diet) for giving me a friendly reminder this week.

Many of the most commonly used flours are made from ground wheat:  bleached, bread, cake, pastry, self-rising, and all-purpose, to name just a few. However, there is an increasingly wide variety of flours available that are made using other grains, nuts, legumes, or seeds. When used in baked goods, these “alternative flours” are able to provide structure in much the same way that wheat flour does.

This recipe calls for a combination of rice flour and oat flour. I used white rice flour because it tends to bake up a little lighter than brown rice flour, making the finished product less dense, but you could use the brown if you’d like. You also have a choice when it comes to the oat flour. You can buy premade oat flour (I know Bob’s Red Mill brand offers one), or you can just process rolled oats into a coarse powder at home using a food processor.

I think it’s important to take a moment here to distinguish between “wheat” and “gluten,” because I’ve heard a lot of people (erroneously) use the terms interchangeably. Wheat is a grain. Gluten is a protein. Gluten is a natural component of wheat and other grains. This recipe is wheat-free, but it is technically not considered gluten-free since oats, which are a grain that is often grown in rotation with wheat crops, may contain a very small amount of gluten via cross-contamination. If your dog has a true gluten allergy, you’ll need to buy organic oats that are specifically designated as “gluten-free” on the package.

Making this recipe with rice and oat flours, I found that I needed to work the dough quite a bit to get it to hold together enough to be twisted into the pretzel shape. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t the right texture right away—just keep kneading and squeezing it until it’s flexible enough to shape. As I picked up each individual handful of dough to roll into a log, I took another few seconds to squeeze it together before I started shaping it. With a little elbow grease eventually all the dough shaped up quite nicely. The texture of the finished pretzels is dry and crumbly, as you can see in the photo. They break rather easily, so handle these treats with care if you’re packaging them as a gift or want a really nice presentation.

This is a base recipe that you could really get creative with. I made the pretzels plain, but you could garnish them with sesame seeds, dried parsley flakes, finely grated parmesan cheese, or another dog-friendly topping. Just lightly sprinkle the topping onto each pretzel after you eggwash it for the second time. Have fun with it!

Wheat-Free Pretzel Treats

Makes about 25 pretzels

 

2 1/2 cup white rice flour

1 cup oat flour

1 egg

1 cup beef broth (be sure to buy “low sodium” if you don’t make it yourself)

 

Optional eggwash:

1 egg

1 tablespoon beef broth

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the rice and oat flours in a large bowl.

3. Add the egg and beef broth to the flours, and stir to combine. Knead the dough by hand until it holds together enough to be rolled out, about 2 minutes.

4. Take a small handful of dough and roll it into a log against the countertop. (Do not dust the surface with flour.) Ideally you want the log to be about 1/2-inch thick and 8 to 10 inches long. Twist both ends of the long inward and criss-cross to create the traditional pretzel shape. Repeat with the remainder of the dough.

5. Arrange the pretzels on a lightly greased baking sheet.

6. If using the eggwash, combine the egg and broth and whisk until just slightly foamy. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of each pretzel with the eggwash. Take care not to use too much eggwash or it will coagulate in the oven and your pretzels will look like an eggy mess.

7. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pretzels from the oven and lightly eggwash each one again. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the pretzels are dry and firm to the touch.

8. Turn the oven off, crack the oven door, and allow the pretzels to dry for about 8 hours.

 

NOTE: The eggwash may add a touch of flavor, but it is primarily used to give an attractive shine to the finished pretzels. If you prefer, it can be omitted. If you choose to omit it, simply bake the pretzels until dry and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes.

 

These treats are best stored in the refrigerator.

DIY Doggie Bow Tie

Pacey looking dapper in his brand new bow tie

Pacey looking dapper in his brand new bow tie

Last week I stumbled upon a really cool tutorial on how to sew your own kid-sized bow tie on a blog called “A Lemon Squeezy Home.”  I’d seen these types of tutorials before, but I thought this one was particularly well done. The size of the bow tie and its Velcro closure made this particular pattern easy to use as a dog bow tie, so I decided to try making one for Pacey.  I followed the instructions, except I cut the pattern pieces a little bit smaller to be exactly Pacey-sized. Please visit http://www.lemonsqueezyhome.com/2010/04/bow-tie-tutorial.html for the full tutorial.

I consider myself fairly crafty, but I am new to sewing. I do own my own sewing machine, but I am a very, very, very novice sewer. However, these bow tie instructions proved super easy to follow, even for me. And for my first attempt I think that Pacey’s new bow tie is pretty frickin’ adorable. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did cheat a little bit when I made it . . . I didn’t sew the extra pleats into the bow itself. I also didn’t actually hem the ends of the collar, because Pacey’s fur is long enough that it’ll never show, and I hot glued the Velcro pieces on instead of sewing them nicely as the tutorial instructs. I used a sewing machine, but this is a small enough project that you could really sew it by hand if you wanted to take the time and effort. It took me less than an hour from start to finish—again, I’m a beginner–so it’s a great little project for a Saturday afternoon. This bow tie would be extremely cute for your dog to wear for a wedding celebration, on holidays like Easter or Christmas, or for any other formal occasion on his/her busy social calendar. It would also make a sweet homemade gift for a fellow dog-lover.

Here are the materials I started with.

Here are the materials I started with.

And here's the finished product. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

And here’s the finished product. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Dogs-Love-Em Carob Brownies

Most people have heard somewhere along the way that chocolate is toxic to dogs. This is true.  However, there is a rather tasty substitute for chocolate that is perfectly safe for canine consumption. It’s called carob. Carob is the edible pulp of a pod harvested from a Mediterranean evergreen known as the carob tree. Carob is naturally sweeter than chocolate, and it does NOT contain theobromine, the chemical found in cocoa pods that makes chocolate poisonous to dogs.

Carob is commonly sold powdered, in chips, or as a syrup. These brownies call for carob powder, which can be used interchangeably with cocoa powder in most human food recipes. In my small town I was able to find carob powder at both the health food store and the regular grocery store, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble hunting it down. I found that the price of carob powder is comparable to that of quality cocoa powder and it’s just as easy to work with.

Carob Brownies

Carob Brownies

Makes about 24 servings

 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1/4 cup carob powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup natural, unsweetened applesauce

2 tablespoons honey

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the flour, carob powder, and baking powder.

3. Add the eggs, oil, applesauce, and honey, and beat well to combine.

4. Immediately pour the batter into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake until the brownies are fully set and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

5. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting into 2-inch squares.

 

NOTES: This is one treat that it’s easy to enjoy right along with your pets–which makes it a great recipe to make for a doggie birthday party or play date. I’m not ashamed to say that I ate one of these brownies, and it was actually pretty good. Not as sweet and flavorful as a real chocolate brownie (obviously) but still enjoyable.

 

These treats should be stored in the refrigerator. You can transfer the uneaten brownies to an airtight container for storage, or simply leave the cut brownies inside the baking pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap before placing in the fridge.