Can I Give My Dog Beef Jerky?
While many of us turn to sugar-laden sweets and other carbohydrate-heavy foods when we want to give ourselves a treat, those with a soft spot for the savory may opt for meaty treats like beef jerky. This quick, easy snack is highly portable, has a long shelf life, and seems to satisfy most self-identified carnivores in a way that no sweet snack could.
Every pet parent is fully aware that their furry friends absolutely love to enjoy the occasional treat of ‘people food,’ but because their bodies are set up differently from our own, we have learned to be cautious with the foods that we share. Some types of food, however, seem to lend themselves to canine consumption, and beef jerky is one of them. Our intuition tells us that our dogs, who share a common ancestor with wild wolves, are meat-munching machines.
But still, we’re cautious. What are the facts? Can dogs have beef jerky?
The answer is no, dogs should never eat beef jerky—not even in moderation or as a treat. While small amounts of plain beef are not likely to hurt your dog, beef jerky is considered extremely dangerous for both dogs and cats.
Though we are not entirely sure why, hundreds of dogs die every year as a result of eating jerky snacks, and many more suffer from varying degrees of food-related illness. Jerky treats have become so much of a problem that the FDA has received upwards of 5,000 complaints pertaining to illness and death in pets who have consumed them. Most of these complaints seem to center on chicken or turkey jerky, but others involve beef jerky.
This is one snack you should not share with your dog at all. If you discover that your canine companion has broken into your pantry and eaten a bunch of jerky, monitor them carefully for the next 24 hours. If they suffer from digestive problems or other behavioral changes, take them to see the veterinarian.
In reality, this is not too big of a loss—from a nutritional perspective, anyway. We like to quip that beef jerky is healthier than other snack foods thanks to its high protein content, but there are much better sources of protein for us and for our dogs. A single serving of beef jerky does contain around 10 grams of protein, but it also comes with a high amount of calories, salt, and unhealthy saturated fat.
The high amount of salt can be especially dangerous to dogs even if it is given to them as a rare treat. While humans can handle the occasional salt bomb with few serious side effects, our dogs do not have the same degree of sodium tolerance, and they are much more likely to suffer from salt poisoning.
Salt poisoning, also known as hypernatremia, is a potentially fatal condition characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, stumbling or loss of coordination, swelling, extreme thirst, loss of appetite, seizures, tremors, and behavioral changes. It can also cause permanent damage to the kidneys. If the jerky your dog consumed contained large amounts of sodium, it may behoove you to take them to the vet’s office sooner rather than later—by the time symptoms set in, some of the damage may be irreversible.
Some of the spices used to flavor beef jerky products may cause problems. If the jerky in question is flavored with garlic, onions, or large amounts of any strong spices, it is best kept away from your dog entirely. Garlic and onions are extremely poisonous to dogs, and most other spices are likely to result in severe gastrointestinal distress.
The large amount of fat found in beef jerky can cause short and long-term problems, too. In the short term, a diet high in fat can contribute to a condition called pancreatitis, which occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed. Symptoms include poor appetite, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever, breathing problems, lethargy, and diarrhea. Dogs recover well from mild pancreatitis, but severe cases often require medical intervention.
Things to Consider
Beef jerky is also extremely calorically dense, which means that it is a recipe for weight gain. If you make a habit of tossing your dog beef jerky and they somehow avoid becoming immediately ill, they will likely start to pack on the pounds. This can lead your dog to become overweight or even obese, which sets them up for a wide variety of other health problems. Dogs with too much body fat are likely to develop diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, or even cancer.
Overall, experts agree that it is generally a terrible idea to give your dog any amount of jerky. Beef jerky is high in calories, fat, salt, and other potentially deadly ingredients. Because hundreds of dogs become sick or die as a result of eating this food, it is better to avoid it altogether. Beef jerky has no place in your dog’s diet—as a staple or even as a treat.