Dehydrating Dog Treats

Natural preservatives, better shelf life, preventing mold – believe it or not, dehydrating dog treats addresses all of these things. We’ve gotten numerous questions about extending the shelf life of your gourmet dog treats and about the use of natural preservatives like Tocophorols or Vitamin E. (We’ll have more on this topic soon!)

We’d like to tell you that the number one way you can preserve and prevent mold is by dehydrating dog treats. For centuries and longer (since we had fire) cooking has been used to extend the shelf life of meats and other products. Naturally, cooking your dog treats is the first step to extending the shelf life. Cooking your dog treats:

1. Kills bacteria
2. Develops great color
3. Creats great texture
4. Imparts flavor

But with dog treats, there is more you can do than just cook your treats. If you simply bake your dog biscuits until they are done like regular people baked goods, there is still a lot of moisture hanging around in your treat.

Moisture + Dog Treat = Mold

We know a bit about dog treats and mold because it was a battle we had to overcome (!! Yes, even with a food scientist working for us, we had to learn by trial and error). Ok, so you’re sold – you need to dehydrate dog treats to make them last for longer than 2 – 3 weeks. But how? Well, here are a couple of methods you can use depending on what equipment you have available and how many dog treats you need to dehydrate.

Use Your Oven

Yep, that’s right! You can start dehydrating dog treats by using your home oven. No need to purchase a dehydrator just yet. You simply need to cook your treats at a lower temperature for a longer time. Depending on your recipe and the amount of sugars and / or honey that you use, you can look at temperatures between 250F and 300F. Total time is a hard thing to estimate because

1. Your recipe may have more or less moisture than another recipe
2. The thickness of your dough will impact time
3. How much leavening (baking soda or yeast) you use will also impact time (more leavening lets more moisture out)

You’ll need to experiment to determine what time works best for your treats. Different recipes may require different time and temperature combinations.

If you have a convection oven (an oven with a fan that circulates the air) EVEN BETTER! Convection ovens rapidly move the moisture that cooks off of your treats (steam) and keeps the surface dry, which then pulls more moisture to the surface! Basically, it dehydrates your treats faster! But even if you have a regular home oven, it does the same thing, it just takes a bit longer.

A general rule for dog treats – you want your maximum moisture percent (Max moisture %) from your proximate lab analysis to be less than 10% (ideally 8% or less). This means that there is little moisture in your treats. That’s right:

Crunchy Dog Treat with minimal moisture = Long Shelf Life

Use a Dehydrator

Now, you may find that using your oven at these lower temperatures and longer times really holds up progress. You may find that now you are only able to make 3 or 4 batches of treats a day instead of 8 or 10. If you are the occasional baker, usually this isn’t a problem. If you are running your own dog treat business, this can be a problem!

One way to help with your bottleneck (or the slow point in your production process) is to add another step so that your oven is freed up. You guessed it... dehydrating dog treats. You can add a dehydrator to your process.

What you would do in this case is to bake your treats according to your original recipe requirements. After cooking your treats (please make sure that you properly cook your treats when dehydrating dog treats), place them in a single layer in your dehydrator, turn it on (usually 125 – 175F) and let it go to work while you continue baking. Again, it’s hard to give you an exact estimate on how long you need to keep your treats in the dehydrator because of:

1. The thickness of your treats
2. The air circulation capacity of your dehydrator
3. How full your dehydrator is
4. How much moisture is left after you complete your baking process

We found times of 6 to 8 hours in the dehydrator not uncommon. But keep in mind that you can run your dehydrator over night and have it on a timer. We found this to work very well!! We could bake ahead, and as we unloaded our dehydrator, we could just reload it. Some of our treats got dehydrated right out of the oven, some of the treats would have to wait a day or two before they made it into the dehydrator.

There are several types of dehydrators out there – some are pretty fancy and built for commercial volumes such as the Excalibur. There are also some great home use dehydrators that have additional trays you can order to maximize their capacity such as NESCO American Harvest. Which one you select is entirely based on what your needs are. Things to consider are:

1. Total capacity
2. Potential to expand
3. Temperature range
4. Fan / Air speed (watts of drying power)

As you develop your dehydration process, you will begin to learn some things about making dog treats. Some things that we learned, and of course will be updating our site with, were the impact that the following things had on the end texture of your product:

1. Remaining moisture
2. Type of flour or flours you use
3. How much you work your dough to form it
4. How much leavening you us

(Again, we will post more information on this over the coming weeks). These factors become significant if you are creating dog treats for small dogs, or toy breeds. Those little pups have such tiny mouths and tiny teeth, that a super crunchy treat that a lab or retriever might love, may totally be inedible for these small fellows. Be sure to double check your treats after you have fine tuned your dehydration process by either feeding them to some of your “taste panelists” of the appropriate size, or by breaking a few in your hand to gauge how hard they are.

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Happy Dehydrating!!!