Cats are carnivores and love to eat meat. In the wild, they would survive on a high protein diet, which may lead cat owners to believe beef jerky is the perfect treat for their cat.
Your cat may be begging at your feet every time you open a bag of beef jerky, but should you feed it to them, even as a treat?
Let’s find out.
CAN CATS EAT BEEF JERKY
Cats can eat beef jerky, however, there are several ingredients added to beef to turn it into jerky, that aren’t ideal for a cat to consume on a regular basis. Some of the ingredients can even be toxic to your cat.
Jerky is made from lean trimmed meat, making it a high protein, low fat snack, which, in theory, is ideal for a cat’s diet. However, there are several other ingredients and steps that go into making jerky and end up making it a less than ideal snack for your cat, which I’ll cover in this article.
WHY YOUR CAT SHOULDN’T EAT BEEF JERKY
Although a small piece of beef jerky may be okay for your cat to eat, the following are reasons you should consider not feeding it to your cat, as well as ingredients that can be toxic to your cat.
1 – TOUGH TEXTURE
Drying the meat is what helps preserve it, but it also makes it tough. It can be hard for humans to sink their teeth into jerky, and your cat has much smaller teeth designed to tear apart fresh meat from small birds and rodents.
Your cat is also used to eating cat food with a softer consistency, so the tough meat may be hard for them to chew, especially if it’s a large piece. A big piece of tough jerky could pose a choking hazard to your cat.
If your cat has any tooth decay or dental issues, the tough meat may also be painful for them to chew on.
2 – SALT
Salt is also used in the jerky making process to help prevent bacteria growth and may also be used for flavoring in jerky marinades. Store-bought jerky is often quite high in sodium.
Your cat is likely getting the recommended amount of daily sodium from their cat food. Adding more salt to their diet can cause dehydration, and if they eat enough jerky, they could consume toxic levels of sodium.
3 – PRESERVATIVES
In addition to salt, sodium nitrate is sometimes used to preserve the meat. Although it’s unlikely your cat will consume enough beef jerky for the sodium nitrate to be toxic, the chemical compound has been found to lead to the death of cats (source).
4 – SUGAR
Some jerkies, such as teriyaki jerky, also use sugar in their marinades to add a bit of sweetness. While humans love sweet flavors, cats lack the taste buds to taste them.
The sugar isn’t toxic to your cat, but it can contribute to weight gain. Sugar will also raise blood sugar levels; something to be considerate of if you have a diabetic cat.
5 – FLAVORINGS
Unless you’re making the jerky yourself, most jerkies you buy will be flavored with more than just salt. There are a few ingredients to be aware of:
ONION & GARLIC POWDER
Two common ingredients used to flavor jerky are onion powder and garlic powder. Onion and garlic are in the allium family, and alliums are toxic to cats. They’re also more potent in powder form.
If your cat consumes enough beef jerky flavored with onion and garlic powder, it can make them very sick and may even cause death. Alliums are very dangerous to a cat’s health.
Peppers such as cayenne pepper, chili peppers, and jalapenos contain capsaicin, which will likely give your cat an upset stomach. If the jerky’s flavoring is spicy enough, or they consume enough of it, they may even experience vomiting and/or diarrhea.
6 – BEEF ALLERGIES
Although it’s rare, your cat can have an allergy to beef (source). The symptoms will be similar to mild allergic reactions in humans; itchy and inflamed skin. However, your cat may also experience stomach upset, vomiting, and/or diarrhea if they eat beef and are allergic to it.
7 – BAD HABITS
Last, but not least, you may want to refrain from giving your cat beef jerky because it could lead to bad eating habits. If you constantly let your cat eat off your plate or have a nibble of the foods you eat, they may constantly want what you’re having.
Behaviourally, this can become frustrating when your cat is trying to get to what’s on your plate, or even your guest’s plate. Or, if every time you go into the kitchen, they jump up, run to your feet and start meowing.
Nutritionally, they may fill up on human foods and forgo their cat food, meaning they don’t fulfill their nutritional needs. If they’re fed human foods often enough, it may also lead to health issues, such as weight gain, indigestion, etc.
IS BEEF JERKY TOXIC TO CATS?
Beef is not toxic to cats but ingredients added to beef jerky (e.g. salt, onion powder, garlic powder) can be toxic in higher doses. If you’ve given your cat a small bite of beef jerky, they should be fine, but it’s not a great habit to get into. You also don’t want to leave a bag of beef jerky out that your cat can get into and eat larger amounts.
WHAT IF I GIVE MY CAT BEEF JERKY, JUST AS A TREAT ONCE AND A WHILE?
A small nibble of beef jerky once and a while isn’t likely to be harmful to your cat, but it also depends on how “small” and “once and a while” are defined.
Given the risks associated with the ingredients found in most beef jerky, it’s best not to feed it to your cat, even as a treat. There are several cat treats on the market (there’s even cat jerky) that will be more appropriate for your cat to have as a treat, with fewer health risks involved.
CAN CATS EAT TERIYAKI BEEF JERKY?
Cats should not eat teriyaki beef jerky because teriyaki marinades typically include soy sauce, sugar and garlic; ingredients your cat should not consume. The soy sauce adds even more salt to already salty jerky, sugar adds calories with no nutritional value and can raise blood sugar levels (which can cause health problems for diabetic cats), and garlic is toxic to cats.
CAN CATS EAT ORGANIC BEEF JERKY?
You should not feed your cat organic beef jerky because the ingredients are typically the same as regular beef jerky, they’re just organic. Although it may be a healthier version of beef jerky, it’s still not ideal to feed to your cat.
CAN CATS EAT CHICKEN JERKY?
Cats should not eat chicken jerky as it will have the exact same risks associated with beef jerky because it’s typically made using the same process and ingredients. Chicken can also be an allergen to cat, so you’re not even reducing that risk by switching from beef to chicken (unless you know your cat isn’t allergic to chicken).
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY CAT EATS JERKY?
If your cat ate a small piece of jerky, keep an eye on them, but there’s likely nothing to worry about.
A large piece of jerky should be taken away from a cat to ensure they don’t choke on the tough piece of meat, or try to swallow before fully chewing it and cause damage to their digestive system.
If your cat got into a bag of beef jerky flavored with lots of salt and other ingredients, contact your veterinarian. They’ll be able to determine if your cat is at risk and inform you of symptoms to watch for, and when/if you should bring them into the clinic.
I hope this article has helped answer the question: can cats eat beef jerky?
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