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Can Cats Eat Beef Jerky? The Ultimate Guide

Can Cats Eat Beef Jerky? The Ultimate Guide

✔ This article was reviewed for accuracy by a licensed veterinarian.

Regardless of what I’m eating – my cats are usually within an arm’s-length of me, waiting for my fatal mistake. 

That mistake is a loss of focus. 

Either I drop some food, or I turn my attention elsewhere. That’s when they move in and get the tastiest treat of all – my dinner! 

Chances are, your cat likes to try your food as well. And if you let them do it often enough, you get a feel for what they love and what they can do without. But one question we have, that doesn’t have an obvious answer, is: “Can cats eat beef jerky?”

Like many other questions, the answer is: it depends. Yes, cats can eat beef jerky. But, how much can they have? And how often? Most importantly: should I feed my cat beef jerky?

We will explore all of your questions in this article. We’ll start with some basic facts about cats, and then provide answers to all the kitty jerky questions you can think of!

Cats Are Carnivores
Is Beef Jerky Safe For Cats To Eat?
What Happens If My Cat Eats Beef Jerky?
Are Cats Allergic to Beef?
Are There Specific Ingredients In Beef Jerky Are Bad For Cats?
Can My Cat Choke On Beef Jerky?
Can Eating Beef Jerky Kill Cats?
Can Cats Eat Any Dried Beef?
Safe Alternatives to Beef Jerky for Cats
Should I Feed My Cat Beef Jerky?

Cats Are Carnivores

A cat licking uncooked beef. Can cats eat beef jerky?
It’s a bit large, Susan. Can you cut it into smaller pieces for me? If not, I will have to scratch the couch again. We don’t want that.

Cats eat meat. There are no vegan cats. There aren’t even any vegetarian cats. (There is one cat that is addicted to lasagna, but I don’t have the time or patience to sit down and get inside the mind of Garfield.)

The reason cats are “obligate carnivores” is that they make the glucose (sugar) that powers every cell in their bodies from the amino acids they break down from protein. For a cat, carbohydrates are essentially roughage. They can aid bowel movement, but they don’t provide feline cell fuel. Some key facts to understand:

  • Cats are dependent on protein for both building tissues and creating the glucose that energizes them.
  • A cat’s body can’t turn off the enzymes that transform protein into glucose.
  • These enzymes are so active that if a cat goes just 24 hours without the amino acid arginine, death can result.

Cats also get their vitamins from meat, not plant foods. Unlike humans, their bodies can’t make vitamin A from beta-carotene. They can’t make the B vitamin niacin from the amino acid tryptophan, the way humans can. They can’t make an amino acid called taurine (it’s an ingredient in Red Bull, which may tell you how a cat’s body uses it) from other amino acids in their food the way you and I can. Cats need meat.

The dietary value of corn, wheat, and other grains in kitty kibble is the protein they provide. Cats require several diverse kinds of nutrients to survive. These include:

  • Amino acids from protein.
  • Fatty acids and carbohydrates.
  • Vitamins, minerals, and water. 

Although protein is at the top of the list, the other nutrients shouldn’t be ignored.

Beef jerky is pure meat. It’s the sort of thing a cat could use in her diet. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to give your cat beef jerky very often.

Is Beef Jerky Safe For Cats To Eat?

The honest answer to whether beef jerky is safe for cats to eat is “yes, well maybe.”

It’s all about how much beef jerky your cat eats. There are two things you need to know to understand how much beef jerky is healthy for your cat.

Fact #1. Beef Jerky is High in Sodium 

Beef jerky on a table, next to some salt. Can cats eat beef jerky?
I’ll have “just one more piece” until I finish the entire bag.

An ounce of beef jerky contains 590 mg of sodium.

A 150-pound human should eat no more than about 2,300 mg of sodium per day. A 15-pound healthy cat should consume no more than 40 to 140 mg of sodium in 200 calories of food per day. (The actual ratios are expressed in kilocalories and megajoules, but this is about how the math works out.) 

This means that an ounce of beef jerky provides more sodium than all but maybe an adult Maine Coon cat should get in a day.

Cats with kidney problems shouldn’t have any. Dr. Iulia Mihai, our resident DVM, notes: As a vet, I wouldn’t recommend giving salty treats or food to pets that have heart or kidney conditions.

Fact #2: Cats Eat Very Often

Cats like to eat small amounts of food about 20 times a day. 

Cats are natural predators, not scavengers, but they prey on small animals that barely make a meal. Feline ancestors of today’s house cats might catch a bug, then share a mouse, then catch another bug, and then maybe feast on a small bird. 

The Feline Behavior Guidelines From The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) state that cats typically eat 10 to 20 small meals throughout the day and night. 

If one of those nibbles is a fraction of an ounce of beef jerky, no harm is done. If the only thing you fed your cat were beef jerky, your cat would quickly decline in health due to this malnutrition. 

What Happens If My Cat Eats Beef Jerky?

If you feed your cat a quarter of an ounce of beef jerky (that’s about 7 grams), what happens is nothing much. Once your cat starts eating a piece of beef jerky, he has to finish it. 

A cat’s tongue has barbs that only let food go one way, into the throat and down to the stomach. In the wild, this keeps prey from getting away.

This is the reason you should only feed your cat beef jerky in small pieces.

It is extremely important to make sure your cat doesn’t get any strings of plastic or casings when feeding any kind of dried food. Strings and plastic can’t be chewed, but they can catch on the sphincters at the base of your cat’s throat, at the base of your cat’s stomach, and at the anus.

If you ever see a string or a piece of plastic dangling at either end of your cat’s digestive tract, do not pull. This can cause the digestive tract to fold together like an accordion, cutting off circulation, inducing gangrene. Let the vet take care of dangling strings.

You also need to make sure your cat doesn’t swallow the little white packet of desiccant that keeps beef jerky dry in the package.

But if you carefully offer only small pieces of beef jerky as an occasional treat, you and your cat won’t have to deal with these problems.

Are Cats Allergic to Beef?

A cat looking at a bowl of beef. Can cats eat beef jerky?
Can I have a side of cardboard, please?

The most common cause of allergies in cats is fleas. It’s possible for cats to be allergic to specific foods, including beef, as well as cow’s milk, mutton, chicken, horse meat, fish, eggs, oatmeal, soy, corn, potatoes, kidney beans, the sealants used in making canned foods, the stabilizers used to make dry cat food, cod liver oil, pet treats, and food additives.

Any of these ingredients can give a susceptible cat itchy skin. Cats scratch so much that their hair comes out, and they develop sores. Food allergies can also cause your cat to have digestive problems, especially diarrhea.

If your cat starts showing symptoms of food allergy, there is an easy way to find out whether beef jerky treats are the problem. Don’t feed your cat any beef jerky for a month and note whether the symptoms go away. Or if the symptoms showed up only after you gave your cat beef jerky for the first time, stop giving it to your cat.

An elimination diet can track down other food allergies. It’s a tedious experience for you and your cat, but identifying and eliminating food allergies can make your cat’s life a lot more comfortable.

If you’re interested in learning more about cat allergies, read this post on common allergies found in cats.

Are There Specific Ingredients In Beef Jerky Are Bad For Cats?

The only ingredient that appears in all kinds of beef jerky that is harmful to cats is salt. However, there are ingredients in some kinds of beef jerky that should be avoided:

  • Avoid Preservatives: Some kinds of beef jerky contain preservatives. These chemicals are never good for your cat, but they are only harmful if there is a preexisting allergy or your cat eats too much of them. Remember to feed your cat no more than 1/4 ounce (7 grams) of beef jerky per day.
  • Avoid Teriyaki Sauce: Teriyaki sauce adds sodium to beef jerky. Don’t give teriyaki beef jerky to your cat.
  • Avoid Garlic and Onions: Garlic and onions are toxic to cats. It just takes one gram (1/28 of an ounce) of garlic to produce symptoms in a young, 5-pound cat. Garlic contains a compound called n-propyl disulfide. The cat’s immune system treats it as a germ. The problem is that n-propyl disulfide can bind to red blood cells, which the cat’s immune system destroys as if they were bacteria or parasites.

Can My Cat Choke On Beef Jerky?

Cats aren’t used to the rubbery texture of beef jerky. They may not be able to chew it, and they can’t spit it out. They may just try to swallow it and then choke.

The way to prevent this problem is always to slice the beef jerky as thin as possible before you give it to your cat. Paper-thin slices are best. A thick piece of beef jerky can choke your cat.

Can Eating Beef Jerky Kill Cats?

It is extremely unlikely that a single, thin piece of beef jerky given to your cat as an occasional treat will cause any problems at all. However, feeding beef jerky or any other salty foods can be dangerous for cats that have kidney disease, and feeding large amounts of beef jerky to your cat can cause dehydration.

Anything that blocks your cat’s ability to eat can cause death very quickly because the cat’s liver cannot stop breaking down protein to make glucose. Starvation can occur in just a day when cats cannot eat.

Can Cats Eat Any Dried Beef?

Dried beef without salt is likely to spoil, causing a different set of hazards for cats. Dried beef with salt poses the same problems as beef jerky. Cats can eat dried beef, but only in tiny portions, and only once or twice a day.

Safe Alternatives to Beef Jerky for Cats

Dried fish is much safer for your cat to eat than beef jerky or dried beef. You can usually find fish that has been dried additive-free in Asian markets. There are also jerky treats designed specifically for cats. You can find them at your pet store.

Beef jerky and dried meat treats can have a place in your cat’s diet. Many cats, like mine, greatly enjoy them. Just keep consumption to a small amount, one-quarter ounce or less, once or twice a week.

Should I Feed My Cat Beef Jerky?

You shouldn’t. The risk vs. reward is so low here, and not worth it. Your cat enjoys so many other, safer treats. We recommend providing those, rather than beef jerky.

A quick tip for the risk-averse cat owner: Always take out cat treats when you take out beef jerky for yourself. It may be easy to even store them in the same cabinet in your home. If your little four-legged roommate shows up when you sit down for some jerky, you can feed them some of their own treats and avoid sharing the salty snack. You may even be inclined to turn on Netflix and watch Tiger King, but that is your own choice!

Here is a video that does a good job providing a quick overview: