Can I Give My Cat Beef Jerky?
Beef jerky is a bit of a peculiarity among portable snack foods. While most of our favorite portable foods are loaded with sugar and carbohydrates, beef jerky is the ultimate low-carbohydrate snack. After all, it is harder to find something lower in carbohydrates than dried strips of cow flesh. Beef jerky has become a favorite among low-carbohydrate eaters and Paleo fans, with many jerky enthusiasts referring to themselves as ‘carnivores’.
So, since your jerky-eating personal trainer is a carnivore and seems to do just fine, it only seems appropriate that your carnivorous cat would thrive on a diet of jerky snacks, too, right? After all, the biggest problem with most of our favorite snack foods is the carbohydrate content. Our cats can’t eat chips and cookies because of all the carbs. Jerky doesn’t have the carbs!
Can cats have beef jerky?
There is some debate as to whether or not beef jerky is a safe treat to give your cat, but the general consensus is that this food should not be given to pets regularly. Though beef jerky doesn’t have the high sugar and carbohydrate content of many other snack foods, it often contains very high amounts of salt, preservatives, and other flavors that may be harmful to cats. If you absolutely must give your cat a small piece of beef jerky, they will probably be okay. To keep them healthy, however, you should avoid letting it become a habit.
Are there any benefits to giving your cat beef jerky? It is true that beef jerky is probably more suitable for your cat than cookies or crackers. Beef jerky is mostly dried beef, which is meat. Your cat is an obligate carnivore, so their body is set up to process this type of food rather well. Beef contains many of the amino acids that your cat needs to stay healthy. Because it is meat, it also has that savory umami flavor that many cats crave, so they are likely to enjoy any jerky you are willing to share with them.
That said, beef jerky is far from a health food, and it should never be used to help your cat meet their daily dietary needs. One of the biggest problems is the high amounts of salt. We may not realize it, but beef jerky is absolutely loaded with sodium—and cats do not have nearly the tolerance for salt that we do. For us, the salt is what makes beef jerky so delicious. For cats, the salt can be harmful.
If your cat eats a small amount of jerky, they are likely to experience mild symptoms of dehydration, like extreme thirst. Many people have difficulty getting their cats to drink anything, so giving them salty snacks can be a problem. If you give your cat beef jerky, make sure they have plenty of water available. If they start to show symptoms of dehydration, do not give them any more salt and monitor them carefully.
Things to Consider
Excessive salt can lead to a condition called salt poisoning, or hypernatremia, which can be fatal. Symptoms of salt poisoning in cats usually include diarrhea, vomiting, extreme thirst, fluid buildup in the legs, loss of appetite, stumbling and clumsiness, low energy, tremors, or seizures. Salt poisoning usually requires intravenous fluids and other supportive care administered by a veterinarian. Do not wait to seek treatment—even if salt poisoning does not kill your cat immediately, it can cause permanent organ damage.
As with all foods, it is important to be aware of what flavors are used in the beef jerky you intend to feed your cat. Cats are rather small, so it does not take much of a toxic substance to overwhelm their little bodies. Two of the common toxic flavors are garlic and onion powder. Even consumed in small amounts, these foods can cause damage to red blood cells that results in a life-threatening condition called Heinz Body Anemia. Symptoms include sudden muscle weakness, high fever, loss of appetite, discolored skin, lips, and gums, and dark urine. This condition requires immediate veterinary care.
It is also important to note that beef is one of the most common allergens in cats. If your cat has an allergy to beef, they should not eat any amount of beef jerky. Symptoms of food allergies often include itching, skin problems, and hair loss.
In conclusion, your cat is probably better off if you refrain from giving them beef jerky with any regularity. Though they are carnivores, this dried, heavily salted snack product will not benefit their health in any way. On the contrary—the combination of salt and potentially poisonous flavorings used in beef jerky can cause serious damage to their health if you’re not careful. While a bite of minimally flavored beef jerky every now and then is unlikely to hurt your cat, it should not become a regular treat.