It is relatively cheap, healthy and simple to make your own treats for your cat and dog. Packaged treats can be full of artificial ingredients and are often very high in fat, simple sugars and salt. They may also be unsuitable for pets with special dietary needs. With just one basic recipe and a bit of imagination, you can find something to suit even the most fussy pet.
WHY MAKE YOUR OWN TREATS?
Many dogs and cats are on special diets or have food intolerances and allergies, so making your own treats satisfies their desire and yours, to occasionally have something a little different. You may also want something you can easily carry with you for training sessions.
Packaged dog treats can be full of artificial colours, flavours and poor quality ingredients. The labeling requirements are also very different from those on human foods. Many labels list minimum amounts for fat but do not indicate the actual ingredients or calories contained.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
- Onions and garlic, including onion and garlic powder – cause damage to red blood cells.
- Some stock cubes and powders- which can contain onion.
- Baby food- often contains onion powder.
- Cheese and milk -many dogs and cats are lactose intolerant.
- Liver – this is fine in small quantities, but large amounts cause vitamin A toxicity.
- Chocolate and Coffee – toxic to dogs and cats.
- Raisins, grapes and sultanas – toxic to dogs and cats.
- Macadamias and Walnuts – toxic to dogs and cats.
- Green potatoes – the green parts are toxic to humans and pets.
- Artificial sweeteners – particularly Xylitol.
SUGAR AND SALT
Dogs have less taste-buds than we do, so the subtleties of flavour that we enjoy may be lost on your pets. The good news is that you don’t need to share that lovely creamy french brie with your dog and it also goes some way towards explaining why dogs eat the things they do.
Dogs and cats are are more smell sensitive than taste-sensitive, even though the two are linked. This means you can easily cut out sugar and salt and your pet won’t miss it at all. Humans have acquired a taste for sweet and salty things, we don’t need to pass this onto our pets. Avoid adding large amounts of fat to treats, or feed these in very small quantities, particularly in dogs. Fatty and rich foods will often lead to a very smelly mess, with consequences such as diarrhoea and pancreatitis.
INTRODUCING NEW TREATS
Whenever you introduce a new food, feed a very small amount first. If your pet is prone to allergies or could have a food intolerance, you may need to wait up to a week to ensure they are not going to react.
Some allergies occur quickly, others are a little slower and more subtle. A food allergy may lead to itchy skin (particularly ear infections and licking the paws), loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea. Make sure not to change anything else in your pet’s diet to ensure you know what has caused the signs. If you suspect your pet has an allergy or food intolerance, get some advice from your veterinarian on how to do a proper food trial and formulate a nutritionally balanced diet.
VERY SIMPLE BISCUITS
If your pet is a fan of dry food, and is a bit fussy, or is on a special diet and can’t have treats, the easiest way of making treats is to use their regular dry food. Simply place some biscuits into a bowl and pour in enough water to just cover them. Allow them to sit for ½ hour, then use your hands to mould them into shapes on a baking tray. These can then be baked in a cool oven at 100°C for an hour.
BASIC BISCUIT RECIPE
If you want to branch out into making your own dog treats, experiment with this basic recipe. You can add additional ingredients such as mashed pumpkin, grated carrot, whole oats, wheatgerm, oat bran, bacon bits, Vegemite, canned tuna or salmon.
2 cups flour (substitute rice flour or any other type of flour if you like)
1 tablespoon of oil
½ cup hot water with 1 tsp of salt reduced stock added
- Whisk oil and egg, then add flour.
- Gradually add water and stock mixture until desired consistency is reached.
- Roll out dough onto floured surface then cut using biscuit cutter.
- Alternatively if the dough is a softer consistency you can shape them with your hands and place them on a baking tray.
- Bake at 180°C for 15-20 mins.
Cats are sometimes a little more discerning than dogs and may test your baking skills. Certainly I would not make a big batch of biscuits for a cat without trying a smaller quantity first. Cats often have a preference for seafood, so adjusting the basic biscuit recipe to include a can of tuna can be a real tempter. Adding some Vegemite is also a great flavour enhancer.
Always be a little cautious if you regularly feed your cat a diet that strays from the normal formulated canned or dry cat foods. Many diets, particularly ‘fresh’ meat diets, contain preservatives that lead to Taurine and B vitamin deficiency. Cooking or freezing also degrades these essential nutrients. Your veterinarian can help you ensure the diet you feed is not missing any vital ingredients.
You can easily make your own dried meat treats, either with a food dehydrator, or in the oven on the lowest setting. Meats such as beef tongue, heart and liver work very well. You can really use any cut of meat for jerky, but if there is a large amount of fat the jerky will go rancid more quickly.
The first step is to slice the meat into thin strips. Remember it will shrink, so aim for around 1 cm thick. Freezing the meat first makes it much easier to cut neatly and thinly with a sharp knife. Place the thin strips on a wire rack and place the rack on an oven tray to catch any drips. Cook at 100°C for around 1-2 hours, depending on how chewy or firm you want the jerky. The jerky will be a little flavourless, so you can add some marinade prior to cooking.
Many pets are also very happy to have fresh veggies as a treat. Try pieces of raw carrot, beans or whatever you are cooking up for dinner. You can just as easily carry carrot sticks with you to the dog park to train with, if your dog likes them.
A food dehydrator can also be used to make dried vegetable treats for your pets. Similar to jerky you can also dehydrate vegetables such as sweet potato in the oven after boiling for 5 minutes and drying. Bake thin slices of sweet potato or pumpkin in the oven at 100°C for 2 hours.
STORAGE OF TREATS
Generally all baked treats will keep for up to a week in an airtight container. Jerky will last for 3-4 days in an airtight container. You can also freeze jerky or biscuits for up to 6 months and thaw them in the refrigerator before use.
Bon Appetit! We hope you enjoy baking for your pets, and please share any recipe successes with us. The great thing about cooking for our pets, is that they are usually very grateful for anything, whether you are a gourmet cook or not.