Dehydrating Your Own Treats

Dehydrating Pet Treats
Until not so long ago I’ve been naughty and went against everything we as raw feeders stand for and gave my dogs biscuits (shop bought or homemade) when we went out or had to leave them in their crates .
Other treats would be the occasional filled Kong, pig ear, tripe stick you name it.
Sometimes I was able to get hold of dehydrated fish, fish skins (for pets) and such which they love
So in general they got the readily available store bought stuff.

Frequently I see posts where people ask what they can give their pet as a treat when they start feeding a species appropriate raw diet, and due to the above I used to avoid answering those questions.

When you start raw feeding, you learn that cooked/processed foods are a no no, but does this count for the treats we give them as well?
In short yes it does, we started feeding a species appropriate diet for a reason and giving the commercial shop bought treats (stuffed with carbohydrates and preservatives) can have a negative effect on what we want to achieve when feeding raw even when the amount given is small
We also learn that to do it right we should calculate the amount of treats in with the total meal allowance, but do we all actually do this?
Personally I don’t, a treat is just that, a Treat

The advice that is often given, is to give something like a chicken wing, chicken foot or sardine / sprat as a treat, but what if you’ve got a small dog, or when you’re out and about?

Giving them a wing or foot as a treat will soon exceed their daily bone allowance and they’ll get constipated.
Not just that but it is not always convenient to give a chicken foot as a treat, especially not when you’re out in public for a walk or doing some training, or think about the smell that follows you everywhere especially in summer if you’ve got a fresh product in your pocket..

For training treats people often mention cheese, but most of our pets are lactose intolerant and or have other food related sensitivities, so cheese is not always a good option either.

Some recommendations to use as training treats or treats when out and about was for freeze dried or dehydrated raw.
I knew there are freeze dried and dehydrated raw food varieties (tried some myself), which are very convenient for those who like to go on camping trips or other holidays with their pets and thus will not have any freezer space for some time.
When by chance I saw people post treats they made themselves, by using a dehydrator it got me thinking and decided to look more in to it, even joined a treat dehydrating group.

Are dehydrators expensive?
After moaning for quite some time, my partner finally caved in and bought me my first dehydrator, a cheap one to start with £20 from eBay) as personally I didn’t want to spend money on something if for some reason it didn’t work out for me, which I am still using.
Just the thought of finally getting one got me excited and the day of ordering the dehydrator, we went to a supermarket nearby to get some sprats, and chicken fillets.

The only downside with a cheap one is that the plastic trays will start getting porous or break, so if you are serious about wanting to make your own treats (which can become a rather addictive hobby) and you can afford it try and buy one with Stainless Steel trays(which is the next thing on my wish list)
The ones with SS trays are more expensive, but they will last you a lot longer and thus will make it worthwhile in the long run
I’ve seen this 8 tier Biochef on eBay for £80

You’ll just have to make sure that the temperatures on the dehydrator go up to 70c/155 (some will even go up higher).

So what can we give our pets as treats?
With a dehydrator the options are endless, all you need is your imagination and know what your pet likes

You Probably have bought, or seen meat jerky’s, fish skins, pig / cow ears, trachea’s and such in your pet store and thought wow these are pricey.

To be honest in my opinion they are, especially when you’re on a low budget and know you can get a kg of fresh trachea (which is often a Pack of 4 for roughly £3, why would you want to pay £1.59 for 1 dried one from Pets at Home for example?
Any type of protein can be dehydrated, and maybe if your pet doesn’t like offal (liver and kidney for example), dehydrating it and giving it as a treat might just be the way for your pet to start eating offal.
Just make sure that when you give offal as a treat that you do not exceed their daily 5%/5% as this can cause tummy upsets)
My dogs refuse to eat raw fish but love dehydrated fish skins and sprats

In the dehydrating group I’m in,  I’ve seen people mixing minces of different protein and making fancy shaped treats, others like myself keep it simple and stick to one protein source at a time.
But as said the options are endless.

You yourself can decide how big or small you want your treats to be.
For example if you want small bite sized treats for training or walks, you can either cut meat in small pieces or flatten mince on a dehydrator/ baking sheet and cut lines in it so they easily break apart once dehydrated, or what some people use is a silicon 160 mould (ice cube tray) giving you evenly sized treats.

Will the products I use lose their nutritional value?
Any product that is subjected to heat will have a loss in nutritional value, though if you dehydrate at the right temperature for the product the loss of nutritional benefit should be minimal compared to highly processed product which you buy in stores.
Some water soluble vitamins and or minerals will be lost in the dehydrating process, think of Taurine in heart for example

Rules
As with everything else there are some guidelines
All meats you use for your pet can be put in the dehydrator raw.
Don’t let grease or other fluids run in to the fans or motor (if your fan is in the bottom like mine), some mixtures, mince for example can be gooey/ runny and easily slide through the gaps of the tray. Using a dehydrator sheet (which can be purchased separately) will help to prevent this. Remove the sheet once the product has set (not runny/gooey anymore)

Oven Blasting
Even though it probably won’t make a difference to your pet (unless he/she has a compromised immune system), it is advisable to oven blast treats once they are dehydrated.
Why?
Oven blasting kills remaining surface pathogens on the treat, making it safe for you and or others to handle.
We often share our treats with other pet owners, or hand someone a treat to give to our pet, but what do we know about the other person?
Elderly people, people with a lower immune system not to mention our kids (especially young ones who like to put everything in their mouth) are amongst the most vulnerable and we don’t always know who falls in to what category.
So to be on the safe side without risking anyone getting ill, oven blasting is advised.
Better safe than sorry right?
How do I oven blast?
Oven blasting is really easy, heat the oven to:
Gas 150c / 300f (convection or gas mark 2)
Fan assisted 130c/ 255f
Then put the treats in for 3 minutes, let them cool down and they’re ready to store.
What needs to be oven blasted?
Any bird species: Chicken, Duck, Turkey, Pigeon, Pheasant, Partridge etc
Beef, Bison basically all protein sources starting with a B, organs however are excluded, so no need to oven blast liver, kidney etc

Can I dehydrate things that have bone in them?
Even though I have seen dehydrated chicken feet for sale, personally I would not feed them to my dogs, and I do not advice dehydrating anything with bone in.
Why?
Most dehydrators on the market that are sold for home use, simply are not powerful enough to dehydrate bone to the extent that it crumbles when you squeeze them, which in turn will make them dangerous to feed, think of splintering and or leaving sharp edges which can cause internal damage.
You’ll need a dehydrator that pulls more than a 1000w to be able to dehydrate bone but even then personally I would not risk it.

Storage
All dehydrated foods draw in moisture quickly and thus spoil quickly.
For the above reason I tend not to dehydrate too many treats and only make new ones once I’m about to run out, but if you store your treats properly they should keep for a good while.

Store your dehydrated treats as soon as they have cooled down in an air tight Glass jar, zip lock/ freezer bag, or if you have a vacuum sealer use a vacuum seal bag.
Store your treats in a cool area with temperatures no higher than 15c /60f
Only store treats in the fridge for a week.
Access treats or treats that are oily are best stored in the freezer.

Glass jars like kilner jars are air tight and great to store dehydrated treats in

Ziplock and freezer bags mostly are slightly porous.
Squeeze out as much air as you can and double bag to keep as much moisture and air out as possible
Vacuum sealer
Vacuum sealers are great to have if you’re making large batches, or have an access of treats.
Not only do vacuum sealed bags keep the moisture out, but all air has been drawn out as well, keeping your treats fresh for longer.

You can use instant (not dry white) rice or couscous to absorb excessive moisture
Always check the treats you want to feed to ensure they haven’t spoilt.

If I don’t have a dehydrator, can I still make dehydrated treats?
The simple answer is yes
You can dehydrate treats in your oven, but compared to a dehydrator it will cost you a lot more in energy use, as it takes a long time for products to dehydrate and thus your energy bill will run up considerably.

How long do I dehydrate my product for and at what temperature?
In the dehydrator
If your dehydrator has a fan at the bottom check your product regularly as the trays at the top might not dehydrate as fast as the ones at the bottom.
If this is the case you will have to rotate your trays every few hours.
If you have a dehydrator like the Biochef mentioned previously, chances are your fan is at the back of the machine and your products will dehydrate evenly on all trays.
All meat products should be dehydrated at 70c/ 155f

  • Sliced or small diced meats: 8-12 hours
  • Mince (meat mixes) 10-14 hours (on sheets first to avoid dripping for 2hrs or so, then remove sheet)
  • Offal slices 12-16 hours (on sheets first to avoid dripping for 2hrs or so, then remove sheet)
  • Poultry offal 14-18 hours (on sheets first to avoid dripping for 2hrs or so, then remove sheet)
  • Testicles 14-18 hours
  • Ears 18-24 hours
  • Skins 16-28 hours
  • Intestines 18-36 hours
  • Trachea 36-48 hours
  • Pizzle (bully stick) 48 hours
  • Tendons 36-48 hours

The times can vary due to the type of dehydrator used, the thickness of cut, type of protein.
For example a rabbit ear will dehydrate faster than a pig’s ear
If your product is solid non bendy it is done.

In the oven
Your oven has to be able to hold a stable temperature of 75c /170f and have a fan
The door has to be left ajar (roughly an inch wide open) to let moisture escape
Times for dehydrating a product are the same as for a dehydrator.

Temperature guide
Herbs, weeds, flowers 35c/ 95f
Vegetables 55c/ 135f
Fruit 60c/ 155f
Meat, fish and other animal products 70c/ 155f

Can I use my dehydrator for other things as well or is it only for pet treats?
Not only can we use a dehydrator to make dog treats, but think of healthy snacks for yourself as well, Banana or other dries fruit for example.
You can also dehydrate seasonal vegetables or herbs and spices which would normally be hard to get hold of at other times of the year.
If you use herbs from the health (food) store, think of how much you can save if you can dehydrate them yourself. For example Nettles are sold in health stores, but grows in most gardens (it does in mine any way).

Some treats I have made with my dehydrator









If you want to know more, or simply want some more ideas of what type of treats you could make, request to join Dehydrated Dog Treats (Recipes and Advice) on facebook
There are also multiple facebook groups that can help with ideas and or provide help on dehydrating fruit, vegetables and herbs
Dehydrating Foods is Fun and Healthy 
Dehydrating Made Simple
Are just a few examples