Can Cats Eat Beef Jerky? The Answer May Surprise You

Can Cats Eat Beef Jerky

Beef jerky is a snack made from thin strips of dried and salted beef. It is a popular high-protein, low-fat treat that many pet owners like to share with their cats. 

However, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not beef jerky is safe and healthy for cats to eat.

Many cat owners report giving small amounts of jerky as an occasional treat, claiming their cats love the strong meaty flavor. Meanwhile, some vets advise against feeding jerky at all due to potential risks.

So can cats eat beef jerky safely? While the answer may not be black and white, there are some important considerations for cat owners to weigh when making a decision.

This article will examine the potential benefits and risks of giving cats beef jerky, and provide tips on how to choose jerky and feed it responsibly if you decide to offer it occasionally.

Nutritional Value of Beef Jerky for Cats

Beef jerky can be a good source of protein for cats, but lacks many other essential nutrients. 

– Beef jerky is very high in protein, which is an important nutrient for cats. Protein helps maintain lean muscle mass and provides amino acids that are essential for good health.

– However, beef jerky lacks other key nutrients cats need like vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. It does not provide a balanced diet on its own.

– Beef jerky is often very high in sodium, which can be harmful to cats in excess. Many store-bought jerkies contain lots of salt and other sodium-based preservatives. Too much sodium can cause hypertension, kidney problems, and dehydration in cats.

– So, beef jerky should only be an occasional treat for cats and not a dietary staple. While it provides protein, it does not have adequate amounts of other essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients cats need. It’s best to look at the full nutritional profile before feeding beef jerky.

Potential Benefits of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky can offer some potential benefits for cats in moderation. Here are a few of the main perks:

Appealing taste

Many cats love the smoky, salty flavor of beef jerky. This processed meat snack often contains flavorings that make it irresistible for felines. The appealing taste and aroma can make beef jerky an exciting treat.

Provides protein

Beef jerky is high in protein, which is an essential nutrient for cats. Animal-based proteins help cats maintain lean muscle mass and support an active lifestyle. The protein in beef jerky may supplement your cat’s regular diet.

Low calories

Compared to many cat treats and people’s foods, beef jerky is relatively low in calories. The dehydration process removes moisture, concentrating the protein and reducing the fat content. This makes beef jerky a lower-calorie option for a tasty snack.

Potential Risks of Beef Jerky

Beef jerky may pose some risks to cats that pet owners should be aware of:

Choking Hazard from Texture

The dried, chewy texture of beef jerky can present a choking hazard for cats. Cats are obligate nasal breathers, meaning they breathe through their noses and not their mouths like humans.

This makes it more challenging for them to breathe while chewing on something tough or fibrous.

The hard texture of beef jerky requires effort to chew and could get stuck in a cat’s throat, blocking their airway.

Pet owners should monitor their cats closely if feeding beef jerky and avoid giving large chunks that could pose a choking risk.

High Sodium

Most beef jerky contains very high amounts of sodium as part of the curing and flavoring process.

While a small piece may not cause problems, too much sodium can be dangerous for cats and lead to hypertension, kidney strain, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

Owners should be mindful of sodium content and avoid feeding beef jerky as a regular treat.


Preservatives like nitrites and nitrates are commonly used in processed and cured meats like beef jerky.

In large amounts, these preservatives can be toxic to cats. Look for preservative-free or naturally cured beef jerky if choosing to feed it.

Fat Content

Some beef jerky can be high in fat, especially if they are not the lean grass-fed variety. Excessive fat intake can lead to obesity and pancreatitis in cats. Check the nutrition label and select a lower-fat option if feeding beef jerky.

Ingredients to Avoid

Some ingredients commonly found in store-bought beef jerky should be avoided when feeding it to cats. These include:

– Onions contain compounds called disulfides and thiosulphates which can be toxic to cats if ingested. Even small amounts can cause oxidative damage to red blood cells leading to hemolytic anemia.

– Garlic: Like onions, garlic contains compounds that are toxic to cats. The thiosulphate levels are higher in garlic compared to onions.

– Artificial flavors: Artificial flavorings provide no nutritional value and may contain ingredients a cat shouldn’t ingest. Avoid jerky with artificial flavors.

– MSG: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is used as a flavor enhancer in some beef jerky. While it adds taste, it provides no nutritional value for cats. Some cats may also be sensitive to MSG.

– Nitrates: Beef jerky cured with nitrates helps preserve the meat and retain color. However, nitrates can be harmful to cats if consumed in large amounts. It’s best to avoid nitrite-cured jerky.

When reviewing ingredient labels look for jerky free of these ingredients. Homemade jerky gives you full control over what goes in it.

With store-bought brands, check the label closely and avoid jerky containing onion, garlic, artificial flavors, MSG, or nitrates.

How Much to Feed

Beef jerky should only be an occasional treat for cats due to its high sodium content. It’s important to feed cats beef jerky in very small pieces to reduce the risk of choking.

Break the jerky into pea-sized bits or shred it before feeding it to your cat. 

Since jerky can be tough to chew and swallow, never leave your cat unattended when feeding beef jerky.

Monitor your cat closely and watch for signs of choking like coughing, gagging, or pawing at the mouth. If your cat seems to be having trouble swallowing the jerky, take it away immediately.

It’s best to limit treats like beef jerky to no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories. For an average 10-pound cat, that’s about 20-40 calories per day.

Feed tiny portions of 1-2 small pieces of jerky at a time, no more than 1-2 times per week. Too much salty, high-fat jerky can lead to stomach upset, diarrhea, or vomiting. Moderation is key when feeding jerky to cats.

Homemade vs Store-Bought 

There are some key differences between homemade and store-bought beef jerky when considering feeding it to cats. 

Homemade Beef Jerky

The main advantage of homemade beef jerky is that you have full control over the ingredients. This allows you to select lean cuts of meat and avoid potentially harmful fillers, preservatives, seasonings, and sugars that may be present in store-bought options.

When making homemade jerky, you can also adjust the level of spiciness and sodium to appropriate levels for cats.

However, homemade jerky does carry some risks. Controlling moisture levels can be challenging when dehydrating meat at home, which introduces a safety concern regarding bacterial growth if the jerky is not properly dried.

Home preparation also makes it difficult to determine exact nutritional values. Proper food handling and storage are essential.

Store-Bought Beef Jerky

Commercially prepared beef jerky has the advantage of oversight and regulation. Brands sold in stores must adhere to standards for safe ingredients, processing, and labeling.

This helps reduce risks associated with improper drying, handling, or storage. Store-bought jerky also tends to be more consistent in texture and moisture content.

The downside is that manufacturers may use flavorings, preservatives, or other additives that are unhealthy for cats.

Label reading is important to verify the ingredients are feline-appropriate. The meat quality, fat content, and exact nutrition may also be unknown.

In general, store-bought jerky with all-natural, cat-safe ingredients is safer than attempting homemade when unsure about proper preparation techniques.

But for those experienced with dehydrating meat, homemade allows for the most control over the final product.

Alternatives to Beef Jerky

While beef jerky can make an occasional treat for cats, there are healthier everyday options you can offer instead. Here are some alternatives to consider:

Other Lean Meats

Lean meat is a great source of protein for cats. Options like chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef, or fish can give your cat the protein boost they’d get from jerky without as much salt and preservatives.

Lightly cook or bake the meat to make it easier to digest. Chop it into bite-size pieces to prevent choking. 

Cat Treats

Look for treats made with high-quality ingredients like real meat, fish, or poultry as the first ingredient. Avoid treats with lots of fillers like wheat, corn, and soy.

Some healthy treat options are freeze-dried meat or single-ingredient treats like chicken chips or fish skins. Only give treats in moderation, as too many can lead to obesity.

Fruits and Vegetables

While cats are obligate carnivores that need meat in their diet, they can benefit from small amounts of produce.

Options like pumpkin, carrots, blueberries, and watermelon provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Always serve produce raw or lightly steamed – never seasoned or cooked. Introduce new foods slowly and discontinue if your cat has signs of an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Signs of Trouble

Even if beef jerky is an occasional treat, there are some signs to watch out for that indicate it may be causing problems for your cat:


As with any human food, there is a risk of choking if a cat inhales a piece of jerky that is too large or chews it improperly.

Cats have small throats and are not used to chewing thoroughly like humans. Watch to make sure your cat chews properly and does not try to swallow large pieces.

If your cat starts choking, gagging, retching, or has difficulty breathing after eating jerky, seek emergency veterinary care.


Beef jerky can sometimes cause an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting, especially if a cat eats too much at once. High-fat and salty human foods are hard for cats to digest.

Monitor your cat after feeding jerky and limit the portion size if vomiting occurs. Make sure plenty of water is available as well to aid digestion. If vomiting persists, stop feeding jerky.


The spices, fat, and ingredients in some types of beef jerky may cause diarrhea in cats. This is more likely with beef jerky made for humans versus jerky made specifically for pets.

Diarrhea usually clears up by itself once the irritant is removed from the diet, but if it persists for more than 24 hours or is accompanied by lethargy or other signs of illness, consult your vet.


Some cats may experience lethargy or low energy after eating beef jerky if it upsets their digestion or causes dehydration.

Make sure your cat is drinking adequate water and watch for decreased activity levels or loss of appetite after feeding jerky. Lethargy is a sign to stop giving jerky and consult a veterinarian if it does not resolve quickly.

Any significant vomiting, diarrhea, choking, or lethargy after eating beef jerky means it should be removed from your cat’s diet.

While occasional treats are usually fine, pay attention to these signs of potential trouble. Consult your veterinarian if your cat experiences a negative reaction.


In closing, beef jerky can be fed to cats in moderation, but there are some risks to keep in mind. The salt and spices used to flavor most commercial jerkies make them inappropriate options. Opt for low-sodium meat that hasn’t been dried at high heat. 

Homemade beef jerky allows you to control the ingredients to create a cat-safe snack in small amounts. Focus on meat, and avoid onions, garlic, sugar, spices, and liquid smoke. Dehydrate at low temperatures. Consider freeze-dried options too.

While beef can offer protein, you’ll need to monitor your cat closely. Look for signs of digestive upset or dehydration.

As with any treat, beef jerky should only make up a small portion of your cat’s diet. It’s best to stick to high-quality cat foods and use jerky sparingly.

With some precautions and care around preparation and portion size, beef jerky can be an occasional snack for cats.

But the risks likely outweigh any benefits. There are safer meat-based options to provide protein. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns about incorporating jerky.

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