My dog (like many!) loves sweet potatoes. These easy to make treats are not only inexpensive, vegan, and free of any additives, they'll also help keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy.
My dog Max is pretty awesome. I'm guessing most people feel that way about their pet, but Max is truly deserving of the title (just look at that face!). And while it might seem a bit trivial to some, when I realized I didn't want to buy foods containing animal products, I decided I might want to reevaluate my pet's diet as well.
I was a bit skeptical at first, and also concerned. Afterall, I know how I'm feeling after a meal, and I can adjust my diet accordingly. What if I switched Max to a vegan diet and it didn't work for him? How would I know? So I switched him over slowly, first to a vegetarian dog food that I was pretty happy with, and eventually to a vegan one. Throughout the process I didn't notice any change in his energy levels whatsoever. In fact, he seemed healthier than ever!
So we've stuck with a vegan dog diet and, so far, no complaints. We've moved across the country several times since then, and all the veterinarians I've spoken to agree that as long as he is on a high-quality dog food, the source of his protein is irrelevant. He even loves black beans, edamame, tofu, peanut butter and tomatoes (all in moderation, of course). His real love though is sweet potatoes.
Max actually gets pureed sweet potato every morning to help him take his arthritis medication. I also wanted to provide him with a chew that could replace rawhide, to help keep his gums and teeth healthy! Despite loving some foods, Max is a picky eater, but I knew that some sweet potato chews would definitely do the trick. They're even available at regular pet stores, but the prices can be astronomical!
So I picked up a few sweet potatoes and gave it a shot. Here's the recipe I came up with.
Dehydrated Sweet Potato Dog Treats
What You'll Need
2-3 sweet potatoes (depending on how many treats you want to make)
1 cookie sheet
What You'll Need to Do
Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (around 175-200°F).
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Slice the potatoes along their width with a sharp knife so that you have long, slender pieces, 1/4" in thickness. The width and length you choose will depend on how large you want the treats to be (remember they will shrink significantly during baking).
Place sweet potatoes on the cookie sheet and set them in the oven. You can really crowd them on there, as they will shrink during baking.
Bake for 2-5 hours, checking every hour or so. For harder, crunchy treats, bake longer. For chewier treats, decrease baking time. Don't be afraid to give them a nibble as they're baking to test the consistency!
My Tips and Tricks:
I'm kind of obsessed with parchment paper. If you've never used it before, it's an awesome way to make baked goods, etc. without needing to grease or oil a pan or sheet, and without worrying about sticking. Unlike aluminum foil, it won't heat up, so it really allows your food to cook in the same way as it would if it were placed directly on the pan or sheet. If you cook as much as I do, you use a ton of parchment paper, and I have to admit I feel a little guilty about that. To be as environmentally friendly as possible, I like to use the "FSC Certified Unbleached Parchment Baking Paper" (just follow the link for more on this).
Slicing potatoes like this requires a very sharp knife and some pretty good chopping skills to get everything even. If you've got a mandoline, this is the time to use it. Without one it's certainly a bit of a challenge, but I managed!
In terms of the treats, you want to set your oven really, really low. If you have a dehydrator, problem solved. For the rest of us, you'll have to rely on your oven's lowest setting. While mine was 200°F, my oven often crept up to around 250°F. My first round of treats was in the oven for about 5 hours, and they were super crunchy. My next round was only in the oven for about 2 and a half hours, and they were much chewier, but still with a slight crunch.
Here's Round 1:
Before baking (above), and after (below)
And Here's Round 2:
The difference? Kind of a lot. In the first round I cut my slices pretty thick, but also pretty small. On average they were probably a little bit thicker than a 1/4". After baking for about five hours, they were very crispy. All those dark brown regions are very, very crunchy. This is a little bit difficult for Max's small mouth to chew, and wasn't quite what I was going for, so I decided to try again.
The second time, I cut much larger, slightly thinner pieces (1/4" in thickness each), which were about 1.5" x 4" each. I baked them for only about 3 hours, and I was much happier with these results. Ideally though, you'll probably want to cook yours slightly longer at a lower temperature (I had trouble getting mine to stay at 200° for some reason).
Also, if your dog loves sweet potato as much as Max (and even he doesn't), keep an eye on him while he eats! Max liked to think he could swallow a huge chip all in one go. Needless to say, he couldn't even get close, but it's probably a good idea to make sure your dog doesn't take on more than he can safely chew.
And finally, keep in mind, sweet potato (like pumpkin) helps regulate your dog's digestive tract (if you catch my drift). So while you may love giving your dog the treats he loves, just be sure it's all in moderation, particularly if your dog is on the smaller side.