Can Dogs Eat Jerky? Benefits and What to be Aware of
You love jerky and wonder if your dog can have it too? It depends. Jerky made for human consumption is typically spiced and should not be given to a dog. Jerky for canine consumption, if made from quality meats, can be a highly recommendable, nutritious dog treat.
What is Jerky?
Jerky is meat, poultry or fish cut into strips and then dried to prevent spoilage. The removal of water makes jerky extremely lightweight. A pound of meat weighs only three to four ounces after being made into jerky. Because most of the moisture is removed, jerky is shelf stable and can be stored without refrigeration. The scientific principal at play when preserving food by drying is that by removing moisture, enzymes cannot efficiently contact or react with the food. This prevents the food from turning bad.
The History of Jerky
Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation known to humankind. What was most likely an accidental discovery, allowed our ancestors to both store food for long periods of time, and to have an easy-to-carry, highly nutritional food source to take with them on long journeys. There is evidence that already 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals made jerky from the mammoth they hunted.¹ This suggests that they must have understood that dried meat lasted much longer than fresh meat, and was not subject to the decay and insect infestation that plagued the storage of uncured raw meats.
The name “jerky” dates back to a South American Quechua Inca tribe in the 1500s, which called their dried and salted llama and alpaca meats “ch’arki”.² In North America, the Cree Indians made “Pemmican,” a jerky variation consisting of dried meat, berries and fat.³ Jerky reached the height of its popularity during the expansion into North America, where traders and explorers prized it as an essential source of nutrition as they traveled West with limited access to fresh food and supplies along the way.
Jerky for Humans
With invention of refrigeration and numerous other ways of food preservation, dried meat lost its importance as a food source. Nonetheless, jerky remained to be a popular meaty snack in many countries around the world. Today, jerky is available in an almost limitless choice of flavors. The spectrum of producers spans from artisans who hand-craft jerky from exotic meats in small batches, to the mass-produced jerky we typically see near the check-out counters in supermarkets. Common to all jerky made for human consumption is that it typically contains salt and is heavily spiced. Jerky made for human consumption is therefore not recommended as a dog treat.
Jerky for Dogs
Jerky treats for dogs became increasingly popular during recent years. If made from quality meats, jerky can be a very healthy and highly recommendable snack for dogs.
Benefits of Jerky as a Dog Treat
- Dehydration is a gentle, low-temperature process, which preserves vitamins and other temperature sensitive nutrients better than baking, cooking or frying. Premium jerky is therefore rich in vitamins and nutrients.
- Dehydrated meat is a very dense source of protein. Depending on the type of meat used, jerky may consist of over 85 percent high-quality protein.
- Single-ingredient jerky for example, made from chicken or turkey breast is extremely lean. This makes this kind of jerky a great treat for dogs on a diet.
- Due to the low water content, jerky is relatively tough and chewy. When dogs are gnawing on dehydrated meat, this process supports the removal of plaque and tartar build-up. As a result, this contributes to the overall dental hygiene of canines.
- As premium jerky consists entirely of meat, it is a perfectly suitable snack for dogs on a raw diet.
How do I Know if Jerky is of Good Quality?
Unfortunately, not every dog treat labeled as jerky, contains real jerky. Often, so-called “jerky for dogs” contains additives, fillers and preservatives. In almost all cases these substances have been added to enable the profit-margin optimized mass-production of dog treats made from low-quality, feed-grade ingredients.
Premium jerky for dogs is characterized by two main attributes
- Single-ingredient (only meat, poultry or fish without additives, fillers or preservatives)
- Pure muscle meat (not pressed meat by-products)
Furthermore, it is recommended to avoid jerky treats made in China. Between August 2007, through December 2015, more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats and three people became severely ill in what is now known as the “melamine scandal”. More than 1,140 of those dogs died. Even though the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never been able to fully identify the exact root-cause of the illnesses, it was highly associated with the consumption of pet jerky treats imported from China.⁴
The below label of chicken jerky for dogs is a great example of what to look out for when selecting a premium treat for your dog. The label clearly indicates that the jerky is made of just one single ingredient (chicken breast). Furthermore, it indicates that the chicken used to make this treat has originated from U.S. farms, and that the product itself is also made in the USA. The label also states that the jerky is free from antibiotics, hormones or steroids.
How Much Jerky can I Give to my Dog?
Jerky treats are not intended to substitute the diet of your canine companion in part or whole. The rule of thumb is that treats should not account for more than 10 percent of the overall daily calorie intake of a dog. This is also a good guide when giving jerky to your dog.
What Else do I Have to be Aware of When Giving Jerky my Dog?
Like with all other treats and chews, it is also recommended to supervise your dog when giving any jerky treats.
As jerky contains little to no water, your dog may get thirsty when eating jerky treats. Especially when you’re giving your dog larger amounts of jerky, always ensure that your canine has access to plenty of fresh water.
Jerky made for human consumption is often heavily spiced. It should not be given to a dog. Jerky treats specifically made for canine consumption are available in a wide variety. Quality dog jerky is made of just one single ingredient (poultry, meat or fish), and is entirely free of additives, fillers and preservatives. If made of premium ingredients, this kind of jerky is nutritious, high in protein and low in fat. It makes a healthy snack for dogs of all sizes and live-stages.
Have you given jerky to your dog? What are your experiences? We’d love to hear from you!
¹ Viegas J: Neanderthals made mammoth jerky. Science on NBCNEWS.com; 2009.
² Ralat JR: A brief history and round-up of jerky. Cowboys & Indians; 2013.
³ Foster JE, Baird D: Pemmican. Encyclopedia Britannica.
⁴ FDA Investigates Animal Illnesses Linked to Jerky Pet Treats