The Secret to Filling a Food Tube

Two Coghlan's food tubes used for dog training. They are clear plastic with black caps and a white clamp at the bottom. The one on the left has a white filling (Neufchatel cheese, milk, and peanut butter) and the one on the right has a brown filling: canned cat food.
Yummy goodness for dogs. Recipes below.

A food tube (aka squeeze tube) is a vehicle for delivering soft, tasty food straight into your dog’s mouth. Food tubes are great for general dog training when high value treats are needed.  They are also invaluable for doing desensitization/counterconditioning for dogs with fear issues.

There is a trick for using food tubes successfully, and just as with the non-crumbly treat recipe, I’m going to tell you right up front. I wish someone had told me, because the first time I ever tried a food tube, it didn’t work for us and I didn’t try it again for more than a year.

The secret to good use of a food tube is to get the filling just the right consistency. If it is too solid or dry, like ground up roasted white meat chicken without much moisture, it won’t extrude correctly. Likewise if it’s lumpy. If it’s too liquid-y, like chicken baby food or plain yogurt, it drips out when you are not trying to feed your dog and makes a mess.

So what you do is either buy something that is already the right consistency, or mix and match different filling types to achieve that in a do-it-yourself way.

The rest of the post covers what you can buy and what you can make, and has a few other tips for successful use.

The Easiest Way

Here is the very easiest way to use a food tube for successful high value treat delivery:

  1. Buy a couple of Coghlan’s squeeze tubes from REI or Amazon. (Trainer Randi Rossman recommends these tubes, which are similar but have a larger opening. The discussion in this blog is geared towards the Coghlan tubes since they are what I have used and can make recommendations about.)
  2. Go to a pet food or grocery store and buy a can of pureed style dog or cat food. Or for raw feeders, get finely ground meat.
  3. Put the lid on the tube, turn the tube upside down, and spoon the food in. If there is separate juice in the canned food, save it for something else.
  4. Squeeze the air out, fold over the bottom, and close with the included clamp.
  5. Take off the lid and offer a squirt to your dog when he does something right. You will become a god in his eyes. (And he’ll soon learn how to get the goodness efficiently into his mouth!)

Mixing It Yourself

Zani food tube
Zani loves the white meat chicken & baby food mixture

Again, it’s all about the consistency. In the series of pictures above: the “too thick” one was 8 oz of baked white meat chicken, chopped fine in a food processor. The “too thin” one was 2.5 oz of Gerber chicken baby food straight out of the jar. The Goldilocks version was simply those two things combined in that proportion.

So that gives you the idea. In most cases, if you use 3 – 4 parts of something thick cut with 1 part of something thinner, you’ll probably hit the sweet spot. Here are some suggestions to choose from. Be mindful of the fat content whenever you give your dog rich stuff. Some of these adapt very well to low fat though.

Thick Things 

Thin Things

  • Low salt broth
  • Yogurt
  • Apple sauce
  • Milk
  • Baby food
  • Pureed veggies (baby food or homemade)

Can Go Either Way

  • Peanut butter
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Canned tripe (but every once in a while there is a piece of…something…that doesn’t want to go through the hole). That stuff is crack for dogs, though.
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Small curd cottage cheese

Thickeners

(These are things you can add to something that is too drippy. See Micha’s filling method below.)

  • Oat or rice flour
  • Guar gum
  • Tapioca flour

Tips

  • Test the mixture at the temperature at which you will be using it. Most will be softer at room temperature, more solid when refrigerated.
  • Test the consistency by taking off the lid and pointing the end down. If filling drips out without squeezing, it’s too thin.
  • Avoid canned foods that say “chunky,” “stew,” “homestyle,” or “flakes.”
  • If canned food is too moist, let it drain in a strainer–Randi Rossman.

Fillings

(Thank you to members of the Facebook Fearful Dogs Group for fillings suggestions and others throughout this post!)

  • Canned dog or cat food: pureed or mousse style. Examples: Wellness 95% canned food; Newman’s Own Organic Dog Food (Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com says this one cuts nicely with canned pumpkin); Friskies pâté style canned cat food.
  • Honest Kitchen dehydrated dog food (rehydrated of course!).
  • Food tube heather edgar
    Heather’s dogs are crazy about this liverwurst!

    Heather Edgar of Caninesteins says: “The hands-down favourite of all of my dogs is liverwurst. If you wanted to dilute it down because it’s both high calorie and a bit thick, it could be pureed with a baby food veg or cooked pureed vegetables–the easiest is probably using jarred baby food sweet potato.” 

  • Alex Bliss starts with pureed baby food and adds chicken breast, a tin of sardines, or tuna. She says that low fat soft cheese is also very popular with her dogs as a base for other flavors.
  • You can use pure peanut butter at room temperature, but oh, the calories! You’d better have a big dog or a very special occasion!
  • Ground raw meat for the raw feeders!
  • Deb Manheim CPDT-KA, CDBC of Happy Tails Family Dog Training purees the special diet of one of her dogs: baked North Atlantic cod and rice congee with vegetables. If you home cook for your dog already, this could be a very straightforward solution.
  • Micha Michlewicz starts with a protein or fruit, perhaps some veggies, and then oat or rice flour as a binder. She too mentions that you can blend up your dog’s meals and make a paste for the tube.
  • Dr. Jenny LeMoine suggests boiled chicken breasts, thinned down with the broth, and some yogurt mixed in as an optional treat.
  • The tube on the left in the large photo at the top of the post has: 4 oz Neufchatel cheese, 1/2 oz peanut butter, and 1 oz skim milk. The one on the right has commercial cat food!
Crack for dogs.
Tripe: crack for dogs.

Other Tubes: Commercial or Do It Yourself

I really like the tubes like Coghlan’s with a screw top and clamp because they are so resistant to leaks and mess. I have used the same two tubes in agility for years and used them hard. I throw them ahead of my dogs and have never once had a leak or explosion. That being said, here are some alternatives. Readers, if you know of other tubes, let me know and I’ll add them.

  • GoToob+
  • Evriholder Dressing to Go
  • Used mustard or other condiment squeeze container. Denise Donnelly Zomisky has experimented with this: she says you need to play around with the texture of the filling.
  • A sandwich bag, sealed, with a lower corner cut off –suggested by a Fearful Dogs member
  • Re-used toothpaste tube–Anna Jane Grossman explains how in a Huffington Post article
  • Organic baby food in a pouch–a couple of people suggested this!
  • Here’s another food that’s already in a tube: Carly Loveless points out that in Norway you can buy flavored cream cheese in a tube. How cool is that? And bacon sounds like a nice flavor for a homemade version as well.

What do you put in your food tube?

Link to the silly movie for email subscribers.

Related Posts

The Secret to Quick, Non-Crumbly Homemade Dog Treats

How to Give Your Dog a Pill: Several Methods (including with a food tube)

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