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When I was a child, I never ate an ice cream cone without giving the final bite to my dog. He loved sharing my cold treats, but at the time, I didn’t realize it wasn’t the best choice for his health. Ice cream can be hard for dogs to digest because milk and cream are the base of most ice cream recipes. And for some dogs, the lactose in dairy can cause stomach upset and other digestive issues like gas or diarrhea. Not to mention that too many sweet treats can lead to weight gain.
Instead of leaving your dog out of the frozen fun at the dinner table, family picnic, or trip to the beach, here are some recipes for ice cream alternatives that your dog is sure to lap up with joy. Feed these treats in moderation, adjust your dog’s everyday food calories accordingly, and feel free to modify the recipes with other dog-safe foods.
Hide-and-Seek Ice Cubes
Any dog-safe tasty liquid can be turned into a frozen treat. Simply pour into an ice cube tray and freeze so your dog can have a cube or two whenever you like. Consider your dog’s taste buds and try something meat-flavored, like no-salt-added beef or chicken broth.
For an extra-special indulgence, create hide-and-seek treats. First, only fill the trays halfway before freezing the liquid. Once frozen, place a small treat like a blueberry or piece of freeze-dried liver in the middle of the cube, then fill the rest of the tray with the remaining liquid. Once the entire cube is frozen, there will be a tasty surprise waiting inside when your dog licks or chomps the ice.
For a longer-lasting treat, consider filling your dog’s hollow rubber toy. (Just be sure to block all the openings but one before pouring in the liquid. You can use a hard treat like a dog cookie as a cork or plug holes with dog-safe peanut butter.) After filling, stand the toy upright in the freezer until the liquid has frozen. Not only will the chilly toy cool down your dog on a hot day, but the work it takes to get every last drop of broth will keep your dog occupied for longer than other types of treats and provide mental stimulation.
For an ice cream alternative with the same texture and consistency as the real thing, try blending frozen fruit with plain, unsweetened yogurt. Watermelon is safe for dogs and most pets love it, so it makes a perfect choice for this recipe. Cantaloupe chunks are another excellent option. Be sure to remove the rind from either melon, and always feed sweet fruit treats in moderation, taking the calories they provide into account with your dog’s regular diet.
First, cut the fruit into bite-size chunks, removing any seeds as you go. Then place the fruit in the freezer for at least four hours until frozen. If you spread out the chunks on a cookie sheet or in a freezer bag, it will prevent them from freezing into a single clump. Once the fruit is frozen, place it in a food processor or blender with about ¼ cup of plain, unsweetened yogurt for every 2 cups of fruit. Blend until smooth, tweaking the amount of fruit and yogurt until you have the thickness you would like. Place in a separate dog bowl, or on top of your dog’s dinner, or stuff in a hollow rubber toy and serve right away. (For more of a challenge, stuff this mixture inside a hollow rubber toy, then pop it back in the freezer to solidify.)
Feeding frozen yogurt may seem no different than feeding your dog ice cream. However, unless they suffer from lactose intolerance, plain yogurt is safe to eat for most dogs. It’s usually better tolerated than ice cream, and the bacterial cultures in yogurt are great for intestinal health. Just be sure to choose plain yogurt without any added flavors, fruit, added sugars, natural sweeteners, or artificial sweeteners. Read the label carefully to be sure the product does not contain toxic xylitol.
If your dog doesn’t handle yogurt well, consider other options like lactose-free, dairy-based yogurt, or dairy-free yogurt made from plant products. Coconut milk can also be used if liquid is needed to thin out a recipe. Always read the label to avoid any unsafe additives or ingredients.
For a frozen fruit smoothie on a stick, make bananas the foundation of your dog’s treat. Slice a few bananas, then freeze the pieces for several hours. Next, mix the fruit with a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt in a food processor until you have a smooth base with the thickness of a milkshake.
Now you can blend in whatever mix-ins your dog would love. Consider bacon bits for a meaty treat, frozen strawberries and blueberries for a red, white, and blue celebration, or pumpkin puree. When all the ingredients are blended together, pour into ice pop molds or paper cups, then freeze.
To release the “popsicles” from the molds, let them sit at room temperature for a few minutes or run warm water over the mold for a few seconds. If you use paper cups, simply peel the paper off before serving. If you have a toy breed, try mini-water cups instead of full-size drinking cups.
Don’t use real, wooden popsicle sticks, which might be a choking hazard for your dog. Instead, try dog-safe alternatives. You can use bone-shaped dog biscuits, salmon skin treats, bully sticks, or any other stick-shaped, edible chew. For a safe yet non-edible stick, consider nylon chew bones. The stick will give your dog something to hold on to while licking and chewing the “popsicle.” Plus, chewing the stick will provide even more fun for your dog when the smoothie is gone.
Cold and Sticky
Peanut butter is safe for dogs and unsalted, no-sugar-added varieties are a great addition to frozen dog treats, so long as you read the label to confirm there’s no xylitol listed. The stickiness of the peanut butter gives recipes a thick, ice-cream-like texture. Mix a small amount with plain yogurt and fruit, or blend it with mashed bananas to add extra flavor and density to the final treat. If the peanut butter is too thick for the blender, warm it first or add some liquid such as meat broth to the mix.
You can also make peanut butter the star ingredient. Simply layer peanut butter in the bottom half of ice cube trays, ice pop molds, or paper cups. Then top off with a layer of yogurt or meat broth and freeze. Pop the layered frozen treat out of the tray or mold or peel off the paper cup before serving.
For fun icy treats, consider using silicone baking molds in exciting shapes like dog bones or dinosaurs. The peanut butter should slide right out of the mold once it’s frozen, and your dog will love cooling down with a cold and sticky treat.