Can Cats Eat Jerky? - Cat Kingpin
Can Cats Eat Jerky

Can Cats Eat Jerky?

If you eat meat, you’ve probably had jerky at some point in your life. You may be wondering if your cat might also like jerky.

More importantly, is it healthy for cats to eat jerky?

In this article we’ll cover the following:

  • Cats and Jerky, What You Need to Know
  • Can Cats Eat Jerky?
  • Should Kittens Eat Jerky?
  • Benefits and Drawbacks to Cats Eating Jerky
  • Healthy Alternatives to Jerky

Cats and Jerky, What You Need to Know

Although the exact origins are lost to history, it appears jerky was invented by early Native Americans as a method to preserve meat after a hunt. The English word “jerky” is derived from Quechua, the language of the Incas, and the word ch’arki which means “dried, salted meat.”

Jerky was originally made from the meat of wild-caught game, such as deer, though beef jerky has become even more popular today. Jerky is now made from many animals, including alpaca, duck, ostrich, salmon, alligator, crocodile, tuna, emu, horse, camel, and even earthworm.

Traditionally, jerky is thin strips of dried, lean meat which has been trimmed of fat and then salted to prevent bacterial growth during the drying process. Most commonly, jerky is smoked as it preserves, flavors, and dries the meat all at the same time.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means meat is only the food cats really need. They derive little to no nutrition from plants and vegetables. But, is jerky a good type of meat for cats to eat, and would they like it?

In the video below, we’ll see a cat that gets very excited when given the opportunity to nosh on a piece of jerky:

Can Cats Eat Jerky?

As we saw in the video, cats can, and will, eat jerky. The main drawback to your cat eating jerky, as we’ll discuss in more detail below, is that spicy jerky can give them an upset tummy.

Most importantly, since most jerky isn’t actually cooked, it can be contaminated with bacteria such as Listeria or  Salmonella.

The most common problem with jerky is the spices that can go into making it. Though the amount of spices probably won’t cause any significant health issues, they could cause your kitty to have indigestion and an upset stomach.

If they show any signs of an upset stomach after eating jerky, don’t give it to them again.

Signs of an upset stomach in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Refusing food

If any of these symptoms continue for more than 24 hours, take your kitty to the vet to make sure it’s not something serious.

Should Kittens Eat Jerky?

Kittens tend to be more susceptible to disease than adult cats because of their size and immature immune systems. Toxins and bacteria that might be found in jerky are even more likely to make a kitten sick than an adult cat.

The safest choice is to never feed a kitten jerky. Not only is it more likely to make them sick, but it also doesn’t allow them to get all the nutrition they need from their regular food. A high-quality, grain-free kitten food has all the nutrients a growing kitten needs.

Wellness kitten food or else Taste of the Wild kitten food are both great examples of nutritious food that kittens can – and should – eat.

Benefits and Drawbacks to Cats Eating Jerky

One piece of beef jerky, by itself, has about 416 mg of sodium. The daily recommended allowance of sodium for a nine-pound cat is about 42 mg. When you include the sodium they’re already getting in their food, even a small piece of jerky puts them way over that number.

In humans, there is quite a bit of evidence linking increased dietary sodium levels to hypertension as well as heart and kidney diseases. However, in cats, a 2-year study failed to show that increases in dietary salt intake were harmful to a cat’s kidney function or raised their blood pressure.

This doesn’t mean that high salt foods are good for cats. It just indicates that their bodies are more tolerant of sodium than ours.

The verdict is also still out on whether high-salt diets are detrimental to cats who already have kidney or renal disease. If your cat does have renal disease, follow your vet’s advice which will probably include a recommendation that your cat not eat a high-sodium diet.

Though rare, jerky has been a source of both Listeria and Salmonella poisoning. In fact, humans have even been sickened with Salmonella from handling jerky treats made for their pets.

While Salmonella does not seem to affect cats as severely as humans, they can still suffer from a variety of symptoms when affected by the bacteria, including:

  • High fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration

In severe cases, life-threatening septicaemia and endotoxemia may develop.

Listeria can cause similar gastrointestinal symptoms. Additionally, in rare cases, the infection can spread to different organs, causing pneumonia, meningitis, and miscarriage in pregnant cats.

While small amounts of jerky are okay to give cats as a treat, you should be aware that eating jerky poses a slight risk for your cat. If you decide to give your cat jerky, be sure to stay alert in case they start to show any of the above symptoms.

Healthy Alternatives to Jerky

Adult cats are fine to have a little bit of jerky from time to time. But, even better than your jerky, get your cat their own, as there are several options to choose from.

This chicken jerky is made from pure chicken breast, so there’s no risk of added salts, flavorings, or preservatives making your cat sick. Although it’s labeled for dogs, there’s no reason for it not to work well for cats, too!

For cats that like a little more variety, there’s also these Sheba cat sticks that come in chicken, tuna, beef, and salmon flavors that will keep things interesting for your feline friend.

In general, it’s best to stick with a high-quality cat food like Blue Wilderness which is grain-free and is primarily made with meat.

So, can cats eat jerky?

Well, now we know that cats can eat jerky. However, it’s best to give it as a special treat and in limited quantities.

Furthermore, we learned you should stay alert after feeding jerky to your cat or kitten because, rarely, bacteria could be present that can make your kitty sick. If you’re going to give your cat jerky, make sure you start with small amounts first.

Most importantly, we saw that there are many safe and healthy jerky cat treats that are great alternatives for your kitty.

Another idea is to make your own jerky at home with a food dehydrator. This way, you can make sure the jerky is dried a safe temperature with no additional food additives that might not be good for your cat.

If you have any questions or would like to share a story about your cat and jerky, please tell us in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Phil R.

Phil’s lifelong love of animals began as a young boy growing up with three pet dogs. As a teenager and young adult, Phil spent six years working as a veterinary technician, later earning a B.S. in Animal Science. After college, Phil continued working as a vet tech part-time while caring for a private collection of mountain lions used in wildlife educational programs. During this time, Phil volunteered at the Dallas Zoo and was eventually offered a position as a zookeeper in the zoo’s naturalistic Wilds of Africa area. Phil became the primary keeper for a black leopard named “Grady” and a caracal named “Tut” in the predator/prey exhibit.

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