At the grocery store recently, I noticed canned pumpkin on sale, so I put six cans in my cart. When I checked out, the young woman bagging my groceries said, “You’re either making a lot of pumpkin pies, or you’re making dog treats.”

She was on the money! I was, indeed, stocking up for homemade dog treats! (How did she know? She said her mom makes dog treats, too.)

Why shouldn’t we enjoy baking for the canine members of our households? I love making treats for our little dog, Pal — an irascible, bewhiskered old fellow whom we love beyond measure. By making the treats myself, I know that they are fresh, nutritious — and vegan!

Yes, I feed Pal vegan dog treats and vegan kibble. He is 14½ years old, gets yearly check-ups, and is in excellent health. His vet gives our diet plan the thumbs-up.

Most people assume that dogs must eat meat to be healthy. Actually, dogs need protein (and other nutrients) but it doesn’t need to come from animal products. Dogs are “opportunistic omnivores” who evolved to eat whatever they could scrounge, and they thrive on a diet rich in plant foods.

Pal with his bag of Halo “Garden of Vegan” kibble. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)
Pal with his bag of Halo “Garden of Vegan” kibble. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)

The dog-food dilemma

Packaged dog food is a relatively modern convenience. The dog-food industry was established in the early 1900s when Ken-L Ration marketed cans of horse meat, but the industry really took off with the rise of factory farming in the 1960s. Pet food offered a way to profit from the detritus of dead, diseased and dying animals and parts that don’t get packaged for human consumption.

I vowed years ago not to support the factory farm system, so for a time, I used dog foods based on bison or salmon. But then I learned that there’s an even better option: let my dog go vegan! I switched to Halo’s “Garden of Vegan” dry kibble. Both Petco and PetSmart in Duluth stock it. It is fortified with the specific nutrients dogs need — taurine, for example, which is essential for dog heart health — and Pal likes it.

Another choice is “V-Dog,” which can be purchased online and is delivered to your door on a regular schedule. Shawna Weaver, training specialist for the Humane League, has been feeding V-Dog to her pooch Durga for four years. Shawna says, “Durga eats V-Dog and loves it. She’s a fairly picky eater. All the dogs I’ve fed in recent years like it: five for five!”

Shawna adds, “I also recently met the founder of Wild Earth, a new vegan dog food company that was featured on 'Shark Tank.' Wild Earth has a similar model to V-Dog for online ordering. Durga has tried their treats and likes them.”

The V-Dog website notes: “Vegan diets for dogs have been on the market for decades, and pet parents are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits. Not only are these diets beneficial for senior dogs (they have natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help with conditions such as arthritis), but dogs who switch to a vegan diet often go on to live into their late teens and early twenties — even in breeds with a much shorter life expectancy.”

Green and Orange Treats with carrots and green beans are quite pretty. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)
Green and Orange Treats with carrots and green beans are quite pretty. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)

Vegan Dog Treats from Your Kitchen

I enjoy the convenience and nutrition of packaged vegan dog food, but I like to supplement Pal’s kibble with food that I make myself. It gives him more variety and freshness, and he enjoys it. The easiest fresh treats are plain vegetables. I’ve heard that some dogs like to nosh on raw veg such as carrots and cucumbers, but Pal doesn’t. He prefers steamed broccoli and green beans, so these are frequently on his menu. Green beans are particularly good for dogs because they are a rich source of taurine. I steam enough for a few days and keep them in the fridge.

Warning: there are some vegetables and fruits that should NEVER be fed to a dog. These include onions, garlic, avocados, grapes and raisins. And no chocolate, either.

When I’m in the mood to bake, I make dog treats based on a dog-friendly veg (green beans, carrots, broccoli, pumpkin or winter squash, parsley, carrot tops, or peas) and quick oats, plus plain, unsweetened, unsalted peanut butter. If you have a peanut allergy, or if you want a lower-calorie treat for an overweight dog, you can omit the peanut butter. The treats will just be a bit more crumbly.

The following treat recipes are all thoroughly kitchen-tested and Pal-approved!

Pal reaches for a homemade vegan dog treat. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)
Pal reaches for a homemade vegan dog treat. (Emma Ambrosi / For the News Tribune)

Basic instructions for Pal’s dog treats

The basic instructions for all my baked treats are the same: Blend veg and peanut butter (if using) in a food processor. Scoop out into a bowl and stir in the quick oats by hand. If you have time, let this mixture rest for five minutes — it will hold together better. On an ungreased or lightly oiled baking sheet (parchment paper optional) form the mixture into bars, round cookies, or any shape you like. The thinner you make them, the crispier they will be. Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes, until they are as done as you want. For crunchier treats, after baking, turn the oven off but leave the treats in the oven as it cools. Your homemade dog treats don’t have to be as dry and crunchy as store-bought ones, because your treats are not going to sit in a bag on a shelf for several weeks. Refrigerate your dog treats when cool, or freeze for longer storage. These recipes can be doubled or tripled.

Green Bean Cookies

1 cup steamed green beans (if using canned, drain and rinse)

2 tablespoons plain unsweetened unsalted peanut butter

1 cup quick oats

Broccoli Bars

1 cup lightly steamed broccoli

2 tablespoons plain unsweetened unsalted peanut butter

1 cup quick oats

Orange and Green Treats

1 large carrot, cut into large chunks

Handful of green beans, trimmed (about 20 green beans) or 1 cup frozen green beans

¼ cup plain unsweetened unsalted peanut butter

1 cup quick oats

Cook carrot and green beans in a pan of water for ten minutes. Drain. Combine with peanut butter in food processor, pulsing as needed to get the green beans to blend. Continue as in basic instructions.

3-P Dog Treats

The three P's are pumpkin, parsley and peanut butter. These are our absolute favorites. When I’m baking them, Pal stands in the kitchen and waits, sniffing the aroma. And I confess that I like to eat them too, which is one reason I make a big batch — enough for Pal and for me! (It’s fun to take them to work for a snack and say “I’m eating dog treats. Care for one?”)

One 15-ounce can (about 1½ cups) plain pumpkin

1 small bunch parsley (about 1 packed cup with only the largest lower stems removed)

½ cup plain unsalted unsweetened peanut butter

3 cups quick rolled oats

Follow basic instructions. This recipe makes 2 dozen 3-inch round treats.

Shawna Weaver’s dog Durga with her V-Dog kibble. (Photo courtesy of Shawna Weaver)
Shawna Weaver’s dog Durga with her V-Dog kibble. (Photo courtesy of Shawna Weaver)

Did you know?

According to Dr. Lorelei Wakefield, VMD, “Dogs in India have largely been vegetarian for thousands of years and we have not seen any systemic illness as a result.”

Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club, which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. Contact Ambrosi at bonnieambrosi@gmail.com.