If there’s one thing that all cats seem to have in common, it’s an interest in human foods. Some cats like wet food, some prefer dry, some like chicken best, while others prefer fish, but all cats agree the that most enticing food is whatever their humans happen to be eating. These applies to foods they shouldn’t really have, like salty snacks. I generally discourage people from giving cats “people food”, as this often contains ingredients that are bad for cats. This is especially true for prepared foods and convenience products, like beef jerky.
Can cats eat beef jerky? Only if you’re certain it’s unflavoured and only in small quantities. Beef jerky made for humans often contains ingredients that are toxic to cats, including garlic or onion extracts. It’s better to give cats jerky that’s made specifically for them.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about cats and their diet. Maybe your cat keeps pestering you for a bite of jerky, and you want to know if it’s okay for her to try. Perhaps you’re looking for a treat you can use to reward your cat. Maybe you’re just curious about which foods might be acceptable for cats. Keep reading, because we have all the answers you’re looking for. You’ll find out why cats should avoid some human foods, and how you can offer treats that are safe and healthy for your cat.
Can Cats Eat Beef Jerky?
It depends on the jerky in question. Plain beef jerky without flavourings is acceptable, but it should only be fed to your cat in very small quantities. Jerky tends to be high in salt and is very dry. This can leave your cat thirsty, and too much will contribute to dehydration (a bigger risk to cats than most people realise).
You should never give your cat any kind of seasoned or flavoured jerky. The seasonings used for these snacks tend to be salty and unhealthy. Garlic and onion are almost ubiquitous, either as powders or in extract form. Along with other members of the allium family, these vegetables are toxic to cats and should never be given to them even in small quantities.
They can cause a form of anaemia in cats, destroying red blood cells and potentially sickening your pet. In very extreme cases, cats can even die from eating vegetables from the allium group.
Some jerky also contains sweeteners, like sugar or artificial compounds. These are not very good for cats. Although they’re less dangerous to cats than they are to dogs, they’re still not something that cats should be consuming.
If your cat loves jerky, it’s much better to give her jerky that’s prepared specifically as a cat treat. This type of jerky will not be salted and won’t contain the dangerous allium ingredients that can make your cat so sick. I quite like cat jerky as a treat, as it has several advantages over other kitty treats. Jerky for cars is usually light on additives and contains a lot of protein. Jerky is also relatively low in calories, making it a good treat for cats who need weight control.
Because it’s chewy, I’ve seen jerky touted as useful for dental health. It’s true that chewing can be good for a cat’s teeth and jaws. Even so, you shouldn’t rely on jerky or other foods for tooth care. Your cat will still need her teeth brushed every week or so, or at least wiped with a clean damp cloth.
The only major drawback with cat jerky is that it doesn’t contain much in the way of moisture. It’s essentially pure dried meat, which will soak up liquid instead of contributing it to the cat’s system. Cats in general are prone to dehydration — they often don’t drink as much water as they should, and this can cause problems over time.
A cat that isn’t getting enough fluid is prone to all sorts of issues, from urinary tract infections to kidney stones. If you’re offering jerky as a treat, make sure your cat has plenty of fresh, clean water available as well.
Other Types of Jerky That cats Can Eat
Besides beef jerky, I like to give my cats jerky made from other foods. I’m not the biggest fan of beef as a cat food. It’s not terrible, of course, and won’t do them any harm — especially not in the small quantities used for treats. With that said, I prefer rabbit or poultry-based foods for my cats. In the wild, feral cats are unlikely to be bringing down cows or sheep. A cat’s natural diet will consist more of small animals and birds. While you can’t yet acquire mouse, rat or frog-flavoured cat food, you can certainly get foods that are based on chicken, duck and rabbit.
Rabbit or hare jerky is available for cats, although it tends to be a bit expensive. Chicken jerky, on the other hand, is very widely available and reasonably priced. My British Shorthair goes absolutely wild for it — I get the softer kind, and it’s one of the few treats that actually motivates him to get on his feet and run around. I do give him beef jerky too, but he’s less of a fan.
As for fish jerky, it’s fine but I give it very sparingly. Fish tend to take up heavy metals in the environment, so I limit my cats’ fish intake to small amounts. With jerky, of course, you’re only ever giving them a bite now and then.
You can make your own jerky, of course. While I’m a little cautious when it comes to home-made cat food, a cooked treat of this kind is generally quite safe. If you have a food dryer, you can simply dry slips of prepared meat to give to your cat. It’s also possible to make jerky in the oven, although this is time consuming and does use rather a lot of energy. Still, if you’re only making a batch now and then, it may be worth it to have a ready supply of healthy treats. Remember to keep your home-made jerky in the fridge, as it won’t contain any of the added salt and preservatives found in store-bough jerky.
Healthy Food and Kitty Treats
In general, I prefer to avoid giving my cats “people food”. It’s heavy on salt and the aforementioned onion and garlic, as well as other toxic ingredients. In addition, if you let your cat get used to being fed from your plate, it will be harder to control their snacking if weight becomes an issue.
In general, no more than 10% of your cat’s daily calories should come from snacks and treats. I’m not a fan of free-feeding cats (partly because I’m a cat guardian to a mature British Shorthair, who needs to watch his weight).
I like to give my cats wet food for most meals. Wet food tends to be healthier, and contains valuable fluid that can help prevent dehydration. I like to avoid grains and carbohydrates in food, too, which means avoiding cheap dry foods. It’s not a disaster if your cat insists on eating dry food or your budget won’t stretch to feeding wet food at every meal; however, carb-heavy foods contribute calories without nutrition. Concentrate on high-protein foods with named meat ingredients. Look for “rabbit” or “chicken” rather than “rabbit flavour” or “chicken flavour”.
Don’t feed your cat dog food. It’s tempting to assume that they’re more or less the same, but cats and dogs have different nutritional needs. Dog foods tend to have a higher concentration of vegetable ingredients, which isn’t useful for cats. They also lack key nutrients that your cats need to stay healthy.
For treats and snacks, stick to items made specifically for cats. You can give cooked, unseasoned meat or fish, with the bones removed. My cats go wild for fish-skins. A little unseasoned baby food (meat, poultry or fish) makes a good low-calorie treat too.
Some cats really enjoy chunks of cantaloupe melon or cucumber. They don’t provide nutrients, but they’re great for hydration. While you shouldn’t give your cat milk, a little yogurt now and then won’t hurt.