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.

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.