A number of seniors have pampered pooches that are greedy for dog treats. For years, we economically purchased large bags of Costco or Sam's Club chicken jerky at around $8 a pound. After recent reports of dogs getting sick from jerky manufactured offshore, we started to look for alternatives. "Made in the USA" chicken jerky typically costs as much as $24 a pound, which is too much dog pampering for those on a fixed budget.
One day, a neighbor brought home with a food dehydrator that she scored at a swap meet for $10 and turned it over to me for experimentation. It was a rudimentary model without temperature controls or a circulation fan. However, it had five racks for drying a variety of food slices.
After much trial and error mainly centering around the optimal thickness and size of the meat (and learning techniques such as slightly freezing the chicken breasts to better manipulate slicing and removing fatty areas which don't dehydrate or store well), we were off and running. We've produced a variety of healthy treats including:
- sweet potato and apple chips (frankly, my two canines won't touch these but a number of their neighborhood buddies enjoy them)
- meat jerky such as beef (the tougher the meat, the better the chewing action) and chicken (the all time favorite)
- organ meat including chicken gizzards and beef or chicken liver which are remarkably inexpensive at the market. Word of warning, dehydrating liver produces an unpleasant odor so a well ventilated area for this type of drying is recommended. While these meat cuts sound gross to us humans, internet articles indicate that chicken gizzards contain chondroitin and glucosamine for dog hip/joint health, and most pups enjoy liver treats.
If more flavoring is desired, you can (early in the session) lightly apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce which typically contains honey or brown sugar, smoke and spices (avoid sauces containing preservatives and consult the ingredient list to ensure dog friendly results). Based on the tailwagging and begging brown eyes of our dogs, I'd give a thumbs up to investing in a food dehydrator.
Creating the jerky in a kitchen oven at 200 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit works well also. I usually start the process with baking the meats at 350 degrees for half an hour to speed up the process, and then drain off the juice and drop the temperature to 250. We haven't noticed any increased electrical costs (each dehydration session lasts 3 to 6 hours depending on how 'dry' you'd like the jerky to be; you should not see/feel any moisture but the dried jerky should be pliable when bent).
Packing the jerky into plastic bags and noting the type of jerky and production date makes it easy to store and distribute. Throw in some homemade baked dog cookies and you'll be the most popular house to visit!
Hope to hear from any of you who have suggestions on other treats enjoyed by their furbabies.