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While a home-cooked diet can be a healthful alternative to commercial pet food, it can be very time-consuming and expensive to make sure it meets all your dog’s needs — and should never be done without help from a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
An easier way to make sure you are feeding your pet everything she needs is to select dog food made by large, reputable pet food companies that have a board-certified veterinary nutritionist on staff and also ideally someone with a Ph.D. in nutrition who is up on the latest research about the best mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for dogs. In addition, large, reputable companies that have been in business for a number of years have superb quality control. And responsible companies routinely test their foods for unintended contaminants such as pathogenic bacteria and other unsavory components. Moreover, all batches of the food contain the right balance of nutrients. There’s no hit or miss depending on what’s in the fridge.
Treats are a different story as, by definition, they are not necessarily nutritionally balanced. Yet some treats fit more easily into a dog’s healthful diet than others. And one of them you can prepare right in your own home, providing your pet with the love you put into your cooking — an ingredient missing from bags of kibble or cans of wet food. Better still, your dog will absolutely love it!
Dried chews from scratch
The treat we’re talking about is dried chews made from fruit. Unlike a number of chews you can buy at the store, these can be relatively low in calories and salt — two things your dog doesn’t need that much of — and they will take your pet a little time to eat as he’ll need to rip them up, as he would any chew. They’re really easy to make.
1. Choose from apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, or whatever other fruit you might happen to have around.
2. Consider peeling the skin. You don’t have to, but the skin makes it harder for moisture to escape, thereby making it more difficult to turn the fruit into a dried treat.
3. Slice the fruit into pieces of the same size, shape, and thickness so it will dry uniformly. (If you slice, say, an apple thinly enough, you’ll get chips instead of chews. Some dogs like that crunchy texture.)
4. If the fruit oxidizes easily, which means it browns fast once sliced (and also undergoes vitamin loss), consider pre-treating it by dipping it into a solution of equal parts bottled lemon juice and water. The ascorbic acid in the juice will prevent discoloration.
5. Set the fruit pieces on a tray without letting them touch each other and put on a rack in the oven set to 140 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. (Higher than that and the outer surface will harden, preventing moisture from escaping from the center.) Leave the oven door open 2 to 3 inches to allow moisture to escape.
6. After 1 hour, reduce the temperature to 135 to 140 degrees to finish drying. (This could take several more hours depending on the fruit.)
7. The fruit is dried when it is pliable (or snap-able, if thinly sliced) and no beads of moisture form when you press it between your fingers. Pack it loosely in an airtight container for several days to distribute the remaining moisture evenly. If condensation forms inside the container, the fruit needs further dehydrating.
Keep in the freezer for 48 hours for safety, and then store in the refrigerator for longer shelf life.
Tip: Talk to your dog as you prepare the fruit and let him know it’s going to be for him. That will make it all the more special to him once you finally give him some.