A treat is the surest way to a pet’s heart. But with tainted treats and poisoning scares, consider making healthy treats from scratch with these recipes.
By Ruthanne Johnson
Beagles are known for their love—scratch that, obsession—with food. And Kerry Karamian’s dogs are no different. Adoptees from the Longmont Humane Society, Joey Bagel and Addie are constantly on the hunt for food. But while Joey’s need to nibble has meant an ongoing battle of the bulge, Addie’s food fixation irritated her sensitive stomach, causing her to vomit and lose weight.
The solution for Joey’s weight problem was easy: less food, fewer treats. Addie’s health issues were more complex. Puréed, high-calorie meals twice a day simply weren’t enough. But store-bought treats—meant to provide extra calories—were rough on her digestion. Joey Bagel reacted badly to the treats, too. “He’d scratch and scratch underneath his arms until it was raw and almost bleeding,” says Karamian, who was washing Joey Bagel with allergen-free dog shampoo. “So I knew it was something else.”
She researched dog-food ingredients and found that many commercial treats are chock-full of fat, sugar and low-grade ingredients. “A lot of them are nothing more than gut fillers,” she says. “If I wouldn’t eat it, then my dogs shouldn’t have to eat it.”
While quality pet treats exist on the market, news reports of pet-food recalls and poisonings from tainted food are far too common. In 2013 alone, dozens of pet foods were recalled due to salmonella and other contaminants, including jerky treats with ingredients sourced from China that caused the death of nearly 600 dogs and sickened thousands more. The FDA issued a warning about the deadly jerky treats, but has not forced a product recall. After the poisonings, The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement calling for stronger regulations to protect the safety of pet food and treats. (Visit petrecall.com for pet-food recall information.)
Ingredients regularly used in commercially produced pet foods can also trigger allergic reactions, and the high calories in some treats can contribute to pet obesity. While most dog treats range anywhere from 10 to 50 calories apiece, one large Milk Bone dog biscuit has 115 calories! According to a 2010 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, approximately 53 percent of cats and 55 percent of dogs in U.S. homes are overweight or obese.
Homemade treats can be a healthy alternative to commercial products, says Jennifer Bolser, chief clinic veterinarian for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. They help pet owners know exactly what ingredients and how many calories their cat or dog is eating, and they can prevent food allergies. Making your pet’s treats can also be a fun, cost-saving activity.
To keep her two retrievers fit, Bolser bakes homemade kale chips (see her recipe below) and cuts up fresh veggies. Occasionally, she’ll make diet doggy biscuits. “Substituting traditional pet treats with foods such as carrots, green beans or a homemade low-calorie treat is a simple way to help reduce caloric intake for our pets,” she says. Around the holidays, she indulges her dogs’ taste buds with mini cinnamon bun bites drizzled with cream-cheese frosting (see recipes below).
[accordion title=”Treat Me Right Recipes” close=”1″]These homemade dog and cat treats will get your pooch or puss begging for more.
Peanut Butter & Apple Biscuits
These biscuits are to drool for! I make them with organic ingredients.
2 cups whole wheat flour
2½ cups oat flour
½ cup dried apples, diced
1 Tbsp cinnamon
½ cup palm oil or vegetable shortening
²⁄³ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup honey
²⁄³ cup chunky peanut butter with no additives
Preheat oven to 250˚ F. Measure out wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine and mix. Dough will be stiff. Roll the dough to desired thickness and cut into small dog-biscuit-shaped cookies and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 2 hours. Cooked biscuits will be hard, and should last a couple of weeks. Refrigerate biscuits to keep them fresh, and freeze some for later.
—Source: Karen Benker,
Furry Friends Biscuit Bakery, Longmont,
Joey Bagel Doggy Biscuits
This is the one recipe I still make for Joey Bagel, but it has a very short shelf life and should be refrigerated.
2 cups organic green beans and carrots, cooked, well drained and chopped
1 cup cooked organic brown rice
¹⁄³ cup water
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 cups oatmeal flour (or grind oats in a Vitamix or blender to flour consistency)
1 cup old-fashioned oats
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Mix together all ingredients. Roll out the dough and cut with biscuit cutters or by hand. (I hand cut biscuits to make bigger ones for my large dog.) Bake biscuits on parchment paper 12-18 minutes, depending on the biscuit size. Thoroughly cool biscuits before feeding to your dog.
—Source: Kerry Karamian,
Kerry’s Canine Cookies, Erie,
These treats contain no oil or salt, only taste and nutrition.
1 bunch kale
Wash kale leaves, pat or spin dry, and remove the ribs. Tear kale into bite-sized pieces and spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350˚ F 15-20 minutes until crispy.
—Source: Dr. Jennifer Bolser, chief clinic veterinarian, Humane Society of Boulder Valley (Note: Dr. Bolser also makes Cinnamon Bun Bites during the holidays; find the recipe here.)
Gluten-Free Dog Treats
Many dogs have wheat allergies. These yummy treats replace wheat flour with gluten-free garbanzo flour.
1 ripe medium banana, mashed
3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
1 large egg
1¾ cups garbanzo bean flour
¼ cup quinoa, cooked
Preheat the oven to 300˚ F. In a small bowl, combine the banana, peanut butter and egg. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and quinoa. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to a piece of heavily floured wax paper. The dough will be sticky, so flouring everything (the wax paper, rolling pin and cookie cutter) is important. Roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness and cut out cookies with a cookie cutter. If you don’t have a cookie cutter, scoop out dough by the teaspoonful and flatten it with your palm. Transfer the cookies to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and space them 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow the cookies to come to room temperature on a cooling rack. Cookies will stay fresh for up to two weeks in an airtight container.
—Source: Margaret Cohen, Pet Nutrition Consultant, Only Natural Pet Store,
Luscious Liver Treats
One of the most popular cat treats in our house is made from fresh chicken liver. Our cats go crazy over it!
½ cup powdered milk
½ cup wheat germ
1 tsp natural honey
3 oz. fresh chicken liver, chopped or blended
Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Combine powdered milk and wheat germ. Drizzle honey on top. Add blended liver and stir until everything is mixed well. Form the mixture into balls and place them on an oiled cookie sheet. Flatten balls with a fork and bake 8-10 minutes. The consistency should be like fudge. Refrigerate the balls in a jar. Freeze any leftovers after three days.
These treats will get your cat meowing for more.
6 oz. undrained chunk light tuna in water
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
¹⁄³ cup water
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Measure all ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness and cut into treat-sized pieces. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool crackers thoroughly before feeding to your cat.
The Itchy & Scratchy Show
Baking for allergies takes forethought. Determining your pet’s allergy source can be tricky, and usually involves an elimination diet under the direction of a veterinarian. “The most common allergens for dogs are beef, dairy and wheat,” Bolser says. “In cats it’s beef, dairy and fish.” Once the harmful ingredients are identified, it’s easy to customize your pet’s diet.
To appease her furry food fanatics, Karamian took to the kitchen. She whipped up a scrumptious low-calorie biscuit for her itchy chubster Joey Bagel, made with garbanzo-bean flour, apples and eggs. Because of his age, she also included blackstrap molasses for its nutritional value and reputation for relieving arthritis symptoms. Addie’s high-calorie biscuits include real peanut butter, pure molasses, whole-wheat flour, rolled oats and apples. While Addie has filled out nicely, Joey’s weight and scratching are under control. The biscuits were such a big hit that Karamian started a business called Kerry’s Canine Cookies from her home in Erie. “Dogs go nuts over these treats,” she says.
Like Karamian, Furry Friends Biscuit Bakery owner Karen Benker in Longmont began her journey into the dog-biscuit business after researching pet-food ingredients and wanting healthier options. “Good food is linked to good health for people,” Benker says. “It’s the same for dogs.” She looked up treat recipes on the Internet and visited pet stores to note popular flavors. She experimented in the kitchen and came up with a liverwurst biscotti based on a human recipe she’d found. The biscuit is her most popular seller to date.
While Benker has graduated to treat flavors such as buffalo pumpkin and elk blueberry, she suggests keeping it simple at the beginning and focusing on tantalizing aromas. “A dog’s scent ability is at least 100 times greater than ours,” she says. “I think about the meat, herbs, spices, and other flavorings that will appeal to their sense of smell and taste.”
Because of additives in many human foods, Karamian suggests choosing organic products, if possible, and ones with wholesome natural ingredients. “Some peanut butter has a lot of sugar,” she notes. She makes her own applesauce, sans the sugar found in most store-bought brands.
For the biggest cost savings, make large batches and portion them into airtight bags before refrigerating or freezing for freshness. Also, check the ASPCA poison-control website beforehand (www.aspca.org) to make sure you don’t feed your pet something harmful.