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Beef jerky is an excellent snack for humans and has been for years, and you may be wondering if your cat would enjoy snacking on this tasty treat too. Can cats eat beef jerky? Is it as tasty for them as it is for humans? And most importantly, is it safe?
Cats are carnivores and most of their diet consists of meat. It follows that many cat owners assume any meat products are a great treat for cats, and they may well love the taste of this savory treat. However, you shouldn’t be giving your cat beef jerky regularly, as it could be potentially hazardous and, in worst-case scenarios, poison them!
Beef jerky is meat, but this cured and highly-preserved meat is totally different from the fresh wild meat cats naturally eat. In this article, I’ll explain exactly why this matters and why eating beef jerky can cause major health issues.
Why Shouldn’t Cats Eat Beef Jerky?
Although beef jerky is okay to feed your cat in moderation, there are much healthier and safer ways to treat your feline. In fact, ask any veterinarian and they will tell you that you shouldn’t be giving your cat beef jerky at all.
This may come as a surprise seeing as jerky is made from meat – the most fundamental part of a cat’s natural diet. However, the meat cats eat in the wild such as mice and birds are in their most basic forms, and are very different from jerky meat which is highly processed and more artificial.
Here are all the differences between wild meat and beef jerky and what this means for our cats.
1. High Salt Content
Have you noticed how when you eat a lot of beef jerky you become thirsty and reach for a glass of water? This is because jerky has high salt content, and when your cat eats jerky they too will need a refreshing drink to help combat thirst.
Salt is made from sodium which is one of the body’s major electrolytes, helping to control the level of fluid inside our cells. When you eat food high in sodium, it causes water to leave the cells in your body via osmosis to help restore the concentration of sodium across the cell membrane. This loss of water causes us to become dehydrated, hence an increase in thirst.
Although this increase in thirst happens in humans, a lot of the food in our diet contains sodium, and so our bodies are designed to process it and restore balance naturally. On the other hand, none of a cat’s natural food sources contain salt, and so they cannot process sodium at all.
Not only will the high salt content make your cat thirsty, but large amounts of high-sodium beef jerky can lead to sodium ion poisoning. If your cat has salt poisoning, you may notice clinical signs and symptoms, including:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Tremors, seizures, or coma
- Abnormal fluid accumulation
Sodium poisoning is life-threatening to cats and if your think your cat could have been poisoned by salt you need to take them to the veterinarian urgently. Your vet will administer fluids intravenously and monitor the levels of electrolytes in their bodily fluids to help restore the balance across their cell membranes.
Because of this major health concern, it is best to avoid giving your cat beef jerky. You may think you’re giving them a treat, but you could be killing them!
2. Full of Preservatives
As well as being full of salt, beef jerky is also usually packed full of preservatives which is what increases the meat’s shelf-life.
Salt itself is a more natural preservative, and so this is added not only to provide additional flavors but also to help the meat last a long time before going off. As we have already covered the dangers of cats eating salt, it is clear why this preservative is an issue.
Aside from salt, sodium nitrite is commonly used as part of the beef jerky production and preparation process. This compound kills bacteria found on meat and prevents the risk of bacterial attacks. However, it is also known to cause health complications, with some studies suggesting it is a carcinogenic compound and causes cancer.
Nowadays, there is the option to purchase “all-natural” beef jerky which is preservative-free. However, what this actually means is that there are no nitrates or chemical preservatives used in the process. Instead, these types of jerky will rely more heavily on salt for food preservation, which is just as – if not more – dangerous for cats.
3. Rubbery Texture
Commonly, beef jerky has a recognizable leathery or rubbery texture, making it tough to chew. This does depend on the preparation, but hard and dry jerky is the most popular type as it can be slowly moistened as you chew until it eventually starts to break down, which many people find satisfying.
However, this rubbery texture is extremely dangerous when it comes to cats. Compared to what cats traditionally eat – be that wet cat food or dry kibble – hard jerky is a completely different texture. Therefore, cats commonly don’t chew beef jerky enough and swallow pre-emptively. This can lead to choking and fatalities, especially if you’re not there to keep an eye on your cat.
That being said, there are more soft and tender types of jerky available on the market. However, although this type of jerky is less likely to act as a choking hazard, they still have all the other issues that come along with it and are best avoided.
4. Additional Seasonings
To make beef jerky even more delicious for people, many manufacturers use additional flavorings during the production process. Some of my favorites are teriyaki, sweet and smoky, or even spicy sriracha. So, can cats eat teriyaki beef jerky and other flavored varieties?
Unfortunately, they cannot; flavored jerky is actually more dangerous! The problem with seasoned beef jerky is that it commonly contains onion, garlic, and spices, and all three of these things are extremely toxic to cats.
Garlic is the most dangerous even in tiny doses. It is part of the allium family along with onions, leeks, and shallots. These types of vegetables contain disulfides and thiosulphate compounds which damage cats’ red blood cells, causing them to become extremely delicate which, in turn, causes the body to destroy them. If the destruction of their red blood cells happens at a faster rate than their body can replace them, cats can acquire hemolytic anemia.
All animals rely on red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body to where it is needed, so with a low amount of these cell types, your cat could become overly tired or have an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as the body tries to compensate. If gone untreated, this can cause serious heart conditions.
Even if your cat does not acquire anemia, eating onions and garlic can cause gastrointestinal issues, as can spices such as chili and hot paprika. Besides, spicy beef jerky can cause oral issues as cats’ mouths are not designed to handle the heat. This can cause a burning sensation and you may notice an increase in salivation, excessive thirst, or watering eyes.
5. Silica Gel
Finally, packets of beef jerky commonly contain tiny packets of silica gel. Silica gel absorbs moisture from the surrounding environment and is crucial in ensuring that beef jerky retains its hard and dry texture we know and love.
As humans, we know that this little packet of silica gel is not food and needs to be thrown away. However, cats might try to eat this as it will smell of the jerky having been in the packet with it. Yes, the packet may say “do not eat”, but this isn’t much use to cats who cannot read!
If silica gel packs are accidentally ingested, your cat will experience some tummy troubles, likely either sickness or diarrhea. However, according to the ASPCA, it isn’t toxic for cats and shouldn’t do them any lasting harm. That being said, if your cat is a kitten or a particularly small feline, or if your cat manages to get its paws on several of these little bags, take them to the vet.
Aside from sickness, one of the main concerns of silica gel packets is that they are extremely easy to choke on. Because of this, you must keep these packets away from your cat. If you do decide to feed your cat beef jerky, keep this packet far from reach!
Do Cats Like Beef Jerky?
When talking about taste, there is no doubt that cats will love eating beef jerky.
Cats are what are known as obligate carnivores, which means they solely eat animal protein and rely on meat for gaining essential nutrients and amino acids that they cannot produce themselves or get through their diet in any other way. Without eating these meat sources, cats won’t have all the necessary nutrients that they need to survive.
Because of this, cats are have evolved to be naturally drawn to meat. It smells delicious to them and tastes it too! By making meat smell and taste good, it encourages cats to eat meat and get all of the nutrients they need from their diet.
Unfortunately, the evolution of cats has been going on for thousands of years, and the act of curing and preserving meat in a dried form to give it a longer shelf-life is a relatively new idea in comparison. Therefore, cats are still drawn towards cured meat even though it is bad for them!
This shouldn’t surprise you, as cats often beg for food that’s bad for them. Take whipped cream for example. Can cats eat whipped cream? No! But that doesn’t mean they don’t love the taste and won’t meow for it given the chance. So, whereas your cat may be begging you for a piece of jerky, you should try to put your foot down and say no, treating them more healthily instead.
What Alternatives to Beef Jerky Are There?
Hopefully, you agree that you’re best not to give your cat beef jerky as a treat. However, if you must, ensure that you:
- Choose a soft and unflavored type of jerky
- Keep the silica gel packet far from reach
- Watch your cat while they eat to prevent choking
- Keep a big bowl of water nearby in case they become dehydrated
- Only feed a tiny amount at a time to prevent sodium poisoning
That being said, you shouldn’t really be giving your cat beef jerky at all. In fact, there are some other great alternatives that they’ll love just as much but that won’t be unsafe.
Jerky Cat Treats
Most pet stores will sell cat jerky treats. But, hold up – if beef jerky is so bad for cats, can cats eat jerky treats? Thankfully, yes! Cats can still enjoy the delicious taste and texture of beef jerky, but they need their own kind.
Jerky treats, unlike traditional beef jerky, are designed specifically for cats and so will not contain any sodium, additives, or preservatives that are harmful to cats. They are also free from dangerous and toxic flavorings.
The texture of jerky treats is also suited for cats. They have a unique texture that is natural and soft, making it easier to chew and reducing the risk of choking substantially when compared to traditional beef jerky for humans.
Unprocessed & Low Fat Meats
You can also feed your cat human food if you’re desperate to share your dinner with them, but you can’t just feed them any food; it needs to have a similar nutritional value to the meat they naturally eat, which is typically lean, low-fat meat.
For example, something like lean cooked beef, chicken, or turkey is a great option for a safe and healthy snack. But can cats eat hot dogs? No! This highly fatty and processed meat is no good for your feline. It is so important you know that not all meat is on par and choose meat products that are healthy for them.
Additionally, the meat you give your cats should ideally be cooked. Although cats can digest raw meat, it is often home to bad bacteria and germs which can make your cat ill. Therefore, always ensure the meat is cooked to prevent sickness. Plus, meat on the bone should be avoided as cats could easily choke.
Cooked or Canned Fish
Fish is also a healthy treat for your cat, so long as it is cooked. Fish contains lots of healthy and naturally-occurring oils that can contribute to a beautiful glossy coat while also tasting delicious. However, be sure to treat your cat with fish in moderation as it does lack certain essential vitamins.
Canned fish is also a great option, but the fish needs to be canned in water, not brine nor oil. Brine is a highly salty solution, and so feeding your cat tinned tuna in brine carries just as much risk as jerky for causing sodium poisoning. Oil, on the other hand, is highly fatty and can be difficult for your cat to digest. Plus, over time, eating a lot of fatty food can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
You could also look at making your own homemade jerky which is safer and healthier for felines. Tuna jerky is super easy to make and your cat will love it.
To make, simply drain the water from a can of tuna and spread it on a plate, separating the flakes a little but still leaving them in bite-sized chunks. You then simply place a paper towel over the top and microwave it for 3-5 minutes. When the time is up, the tuna will be slightly dehydrated and stiffer but still flexible, giving it a great jerky-like texture.
If you have a dehydrator and a food processor, you can get even more creative with your homemade jerky treats. Combine lean meats of your choice in a food processor then pipe this meat mixture onto the dehydrator tray in a spiral shape. Leave the dehydrator on until the meat feels like jerky, wait for it to cool down, and hand these treats to your cat for them to gobble up!
When trying to treat your cat, you shouldn’t feed them beef jerky. Although this is made from meat and is low fat, it contains a lot of salt that can cause dehydration or, in worst-case scenarios, sodium poisoning. The preservatives in jerky are also dangerous for cats, not to mention the additional seasoning and flavorings, and that its tough texture can make it a choking hazard.
If you do feed your cat beef jerky, stick to soft and tender types made with no flavorings or preservatives, and only ever feed them a tiny bit at a time. However, a better alternative is to treat your cat with jerky treats. Designed with cats in mind, these treats are a tasty and delicious option but without the risks. Homemade jerky treats, lean meat, or cooked fish are also great tasty options.