At my animal house, space is at a premium, so when the aroma of holiday baking wafts through the rooms, I’m met with four sweet snouts sniffing the air appraisingly and expectantly. I know I’d feel pretty tortured if the dog bootie were on the other foot and it was me doing the sniffing and no one offered me so much as a bite! So I like to offer my canine crew crumbs and crusts, sparingly of course, and permit them to lick the baking pans clean.
This means taking special precautions to ensure that what I’m baking is safe for dogs to share, and won’t cause me a panicked call to animal poison control or a trip to the emergency vet hospital. Here’s how I bake safely — and I’m eager to hear your kitchen confidential tips, so please share them in the comments!
Indulging in baked goods can be fattening for people as well as dogs, so whether you’re baking the old-fashioned way (with butter and sugar) or health-nut style (with coconut oil and stevia) please exercise restraint when tossing crumbs and crusts to your canine, or he will start packing on the pounds. One of my favorite things to make is quiche, but the killer combo of butter, heavy cream, and cheese can put Spot at risk for pancreatitis. So, on quiche occasions, the dogs just get a bite of savory crust.
Because I avoid highly processed food for myself and my dogs (cancer thrives on sugar), I steer clear of refined white sugar, opting instead for brown or light-brown sugar, or maple sugar — but even then, I still make a point of reducing the amount of sweet stuff called for in a recipe by half or one-third. (In the case of banana bread, I compensate by adding in one more ripe banana.)
My dogs enjoy a dash of cinnamon with their food on a daily or almost-daily basis — besides being yummy, it’s good for their health. And that’s great news for bakers with dogs, because I’d be hard-pressed to find the baking recipe (apart from my beloved banana bread) that doesn’t call for cinnamon as a key ingredient.
There are, however, certain spices that aren’t safe for dogs to eat, and one of them happens to be ubiquitous at holiday-baking time: nutmeg, which is used in savory quiche as well as sweet baked goods. Don’t buy pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, as the blend contains nutmeg; create your own by blending cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and allspice. And the Indian spice-rack staple, cardamom pods, have a laxative effect on dogs, so definitely don’t include them in any cake you plan to share with Spot (I adore cardamom pods, so I spike my chai tea with them instead of baking with them).
Although the debate continues over whether aluminum contributes to dementia and Alzheimer’s, I won’t risk it by using any cooking implement made of the stuff. In my kitchen, it’s stainless steel, ceramic, or glass (Pyrex) all the way! And that goes double for baking powder that contains aluminum. In all my baking, I use aluminum-free baking powder by Rumford or Bob’s Red Mill.
Many of the baked goods I love also happen to be OK for dogs to have a bite of, especially the fruity ones: banana bread, cranberry bread, blueberry pie (or blueberry cake). If there’s a crust left over (say, by a crust-hating kid), it’s perfectly safe to offer it to the dog as a treat.
I adore apples, and so do my dogs, whether in the form of a baked golden delicious or a maple-sugar-dusted apple pie with from-scratch, butter-coconut-blend crust. But when you’re baking with apples, use an apple corer to extract the entire seedy center of the fruit, and be extremely careful to throw out all apple-seed-laced core matter where Spot can’t get at it — the seeds contain toxic cyanide.
What more pleasant way is there to get your recommended dose of vegetables than by eating zucchini bread, pumpkin bread (or pumpkin pie), or carrot cake or muffins? I can’t think of one! Again, these are all safe for dogs to snatch a bite of — but be sure to delete raisins from your carrot cake recipe (see below).
Raisins (and, for that matter, grapes) are toxic to dogs and can cause kidney failure if ingested. I once had a foster pup devour a half-pound bag of raisins; happily, she and I survived the emergency-DIY ordeal of emptying her stomach with shots of hydrogen peroxide mixed with seltzer water. But I’d really rather not go through that ever again, so raisins won’t be found anywhere on my pantry shelf or in my baked goods, and that’s final.
Or cookies or brownies or fudge or … you get the idea. As we all know, chocolate is toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a chocoholic myself, but I keep my stash of deep, dark cocoa safely in the fridge so my dogs can’t access it. With four canine culinary connoisseurs watching my every baking move, cooking with cocoa would be just too risky. So I don’t do it. Yep, I’m hardcore — for safety’s sake, I don’t even add chocolate chips to anything I bake.
Gingerbread in all its forms — bread, cake, cookies — is high on my list of favorite food items, and it’s dog-safe. (Just omit nutmeg from the recipe, per above. And if any recipe calls for coffee, omit that as well; like chocolate, coffee contains toxic theobromine.) I especially love moist, spicy gingerbread baked with fresh ginger, organic powdered ginger, organic molasses, plus a heaping helping of Guinness Stout (as per Nigella Lawson’s recipe). The dogs love gingerbread, too, and I can be sure they’re safe and happy while they lick the pan clean!
Few things are more inviting to a dog than peanut butter, and it’s safe for them to eat (unless they have a thyroid condition, in which case it’s not). So when the spirit moves me to add chips to, say, a loaf of banana bread, I opt for peanut butter chips, which actually create a much more dynamic, salty-sweet taste sensation than chocolate chips ever did, in my opinion.
But not to your dog! Nuts are not good for dogs; they’re tough to digest and cause gastric distress and potential obstruction. And macadamias are toxic to dogs, so I don’t use any of them in my baking — and since I don’t bake brownies at home (see above), this doesn’t cramp my culinary style in the slightest.
Do you let your dogs nibble on your baked goods? Do you take precautions like these? Let us know in the comments!