A Guide to Beef Jerky for Dogs (by Ruth the Vet)

Beef Jerky for Dogs

High in protein and low-fat, beef jerky for dogs has become popular as a training treat and natural chew due to its irresistible flavour. But despite its potential health benefits, is it safe to feed to dogs? This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know about beef jerky treats to help you decide if they’re a suitable snack for your pup. 

Key facts

Beef Jerky Treats encourage mental stimulation through chewing and may also help to improve dental health.

High in protein and low in fat, Beef Jerky Treats can be great for training but are medium-high calorie density and still need to be fed in moderation.

Beef Jerky Treats are usually made from dehydrated beef by-products such as heart, gullet (oesophagus), and lung, making them a more sustainable option. 

There are several important risks to be aware of when choosing to feed Beef Jerky Treats. Most significantly, there has been an FDA investigation into cases of illness associated with feeding jerky-style treats in the US, EU, UK and Australia since 2007. 

Alternatives to Beef Jerky Treats are Fish Skin Treats, Beef Tendons and VOHC accepted dental chews.

What is Beef Jerky for Dogs?

Jerky refers to lean meat (in this case, beef) which has had the fat trimmed away before being slowly dehydrated to increase its shelf-life. Jerky snacks have become extremely popular, with an estimated 160 million people consuming these products every year in the US. But this doesn’t mean we can share our jerky snacks with our dogs.

never feed human grade beef jerky to dogs

Additives can be dangerous

Human-grade jerky products are typically cured in salt or brine and may include toxic flavourings such as garlic or onion powder, making them unsuitable for your pup.

When referring to beef jerky in this article, we are referring to beef jerky for dogs; treats specially formulated for dogs with no additional salt, additives, or flavourings. 

Provenance

Beef jerky treats are usually made from by-products from the beef industry that aren’t typically intended for human consumption, including the heart, lungs, and oesophagus (gullet). By-products can be an excellent source of nutrition for pets and are more sustainable as they make sure all parts of the animal are used. 

Certain brands also clearly declare their country of origin (for example, 100% British Beef) making it easy to trace ingredients, but others are less transparent. This is particularly important as jerky-style treats have been linked to an ongoing FDA investigation for causing illness in pets, with the majority of reported products sourced from China (but not all). 

Preparation

Beef jerky treats are available as thin strips or sticks of dehydrated beef in individually-sized treat pieces or longer strips for chewing. They are usually slowly air-dried and should contain no additional salt, spices, or flavourings. Beef jerky treats are a suitable size for small, medium, and large breed dogs, as they can be broken into smaller pieces if necessary. 

As with many natural or raw meat products, beef jerky treats have a moderate odour. Some companies also advise feeding them on a stain-resistant surface. They can be purchased from pet stores, supermarkets, and online retailers. 

Benefits of Beef Jerky Treats for Dogs

Key benefits

Mental Stimulation
Highly palatable reward for training and encourages chewing, an important stress-relieving behaviour in dogs.

Dental Health
Encourages chewing and may have some benefit in reducing plaque and tartar.

Mental Stimulation

Many pet owners reward their pup with small pieces of beef jerky as a ‘high-value’ treat when training using positive reinforcement. Positive fear-free training is extremely important for your pup’s behaviour long-term, as well as providing mental stimulation and reinforcing your special bond.

Larger beef jerky chews are also a great way to provide mental enrichment, and when your pup has something appropriate to chew on, they’re more likely to leave your shoes or furniture alone! Chewing is even believed to help relieve stress in dogs and is an important natural behaviour. 

Dental Health

In theory, a hard treat that encourages chewing and provides a gentle scraping action may help to improve dental health (a bit like a toothbrush). However, there is currently no scientific evidence available that demonstrates beef jerky treats to be effective at reducing the amount of plaque and tartar.

This doesn’t mean they’re not helpful, just that they shouldn’t replace regular veterinary checks and other proven dental hygiene methods, such as regular toothbrushing with a pet-safe toothpaste.  

Joint Health

One of the benefits often associated with beef jerky treats is improved joint health due to the presence of glucosamine and chondroitin, the building blocks of healthy cartilage. Unfortunately, the levels of these ingredients are not reported on any of these products and are unlikely to be at the therapeutic levels required to improve or support joint health in dogs.

If you are concerned that your dog may be suffering from osteoarthritis (arthritis), it’s important to visit your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan. This may include joint supplements that have been clinically proven to benefit dogs with arthritis.  

Hypoallergenic 

Many beef jerky products carry the claim of being grain-free or hypoallergenic. Allergies in pets, just like humans, can be complicated. A small percentage of dogs are allergic to specific food ingredients, but more often than not they are allergic to something in their environment like fleas, pollens, and grass.

Though most beef jerky products contain 100% beef and are grain-free, the most common food allergies in dogs are to beef, chicken, dairy, and wheat, with some dogs allergic to more than one ingredient.

So whilst beef jerky treats may be appropriate for some dogs with allergies, they aren’t suitable for all and you should always speak to your veterinarian first or a specialist in veterinary dermatology. 

Nutritional Information for Beef Jerky Dog Treats

Nutrition*

Nutrition
Protein
75%
Fat
10%
Fibre
0.5%
Ash
2.5%
Moisture
12%
Vitamins & Minerals
Iron
Zinc
Magnesium
Vitamin B12

* Nutritional analysis will vary between products, batches and preserving methods used

High Protein

Beef jerky treats are essentially dried meat so are extremely high in protein. Protein is an important building block with many functions within the body including, the production of hormones and enzymes, muscle growth and maintaining healthy skin and coat.

Active working breed dogs, in particular, may benefit from a high-protein diet, but most healthy pups may also benefit from a little extra protein. Growing puppies also have an additional requirement for protein compared to adult dogs, but a high-quality puppy food will make sure these needs are met.

Protein-rich foods should be avoided in dogs with liver or kidney disease and if your dog has any underlying health issue, always speak to your vet first before changing their diet. 

Low Fat

Low fat treats can be beneficial for overweight dogs as well as those that have pancreatitis or other gastrointestinal issues. However, the amount of fat may vary between products and may still be inappropriate for a dog on an extremely fat-restricted diet so it’s important to check the nutritional information first and discuss feeding any treats with your vet first.  

Vitamins, Minerals & Compounds

Beef jerky treats naturally contain iron which is essential for red blood cells to carry oxygen successfully around the body. They also contain magnesium which plays a role in enzyme function as well as signalling between nerves and muscles.

12 also plays a role in the normal functioning of enzymes, as well as metabolic processes. Zinc is another important mineral found in beef jerky treats, that is essential for growth, a healthy immune system, and wound healing.

Fairly High

Beef jerky is calorie-dense, but the individual pieces tend to be smaller than many other natural treats putting them at 29-40 calories per treat. This can make it easier to control your pup’s intake, however, for a 10lb dog, one beef jerky treat is equal to or slightly over their recommended daily calorie limit from treats!*

* treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie requirement. Your vet will be able to assist you in calculating your dog’s daily requirements but the Pet Nutrition Alliance Calorie Calculator is an excellent guide for healthy adult dogs

Feeding Guide

Beef jerky treats should be used as an occasional treat or reward and should never replace a complete and balanced diet. Half a beef jerky treat per day would be the maximum for a toy or small breed dog under 10lbs. Medium or larger breed dogs may have 2 or 3 treats per day, depending on size.

Downsides & Risks of Beef Jerky Treats for Dogs

Pet owners should be aware of several risks, including reported cases of illness after feeding jerky-style treats, including beef jerky to dogs. In addition to the usual risks of bacterial contamination and the potential choking hazard of any natural chewable treat, there have also been cases of Fanconi-like Syndrome, Thyrotoxicosis and even deaths associated with feeding jerky-style treats to dogs. 

Choking

Any chewable treat can be a possible choking hazard, especially if an inappropriate size for the dog or it’s inhaled whilst they’re eating too quickly. Beef jerky treats are generally suitable for dogs of all sizes, though they may need to be broken into smaller pieces for toy or small breeds. Just like with any treat or toy, it’s recommended to supervise your dog closely at all times. 

Fanconi-Like Syndrome

and ongoing FDA investigation

Sadly the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has reported over 5,000 cases of illness in dogs (plus some in cats and people) and over 1,000 deaths associated with pet jerky treats since 2007. There have also been cases in the UK, Europe, and Australia. The majority of these were made from chicken, however, duck, beef, and sweet potato jerky treats have also been linked.

Many of these treats were sourced from China, but not all.

The most common type of illness seen was gastrointestinal (such as vomiting and diarrhoea), but Fanconi-like syndrome, tremors, and skin reactions such as hives were also reported. Fanconi-like syndrome (Fanconi syndrome, FLS) is a rare disease that affects the kidneys, causing nutrients like glucose, electrolytes, and amino acids to be lost into the urine at abnormal levels.

Signs in dogs include increased urination, increased thirst, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and decreased appetite. Fanconi-like syndrome is often treatable, especially if diagnosed early, but can cause permanent kidney damage. 

Unfortunately, the reason why these particular treats have caused illness is still unknown despite extensive testing for harmful bacteria, toxic metals, pesticides, mycotoxins and toxic dyes just to name a few.

This makes it difficult to say which brands of jerky-style treats are safe and which are not, which is why many pet owners are avoiding feeding these treats altogether. If choosing to feed jerky-style treats it may be best to consider avoiding chicken-based products and making sure the country of origin is traceable. 

Thyrotoxicosis

There have also been rare cases of thyrotoxicosis (increased thyroid hormone levels) reported in dogs after eating beef jerky products. Affected dogs may show signs of weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, panting and other behaviour changes. After stopping the treats, thyroid hormone levels returned to normal.

Bacterial Contamination

Just like all raw meat products, dehydrated treats are also susceptible to contamination with bacteria including Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli. Most dogs enjoy these products without any concerns, however, there is the possibility of developing illness especially in very young or older dogs, or those with weakened immune systems.

The risk of bacterial contamination is also important from a food safety perspective as the owners handling these products need to follow careful food hygiene practices to help keep themselves and their families safe. This includes regular handwashing after handling raw meat products, close contact with pets, and disinfection of surfaces.

Avoid If…

  • Your dog is overweight as beef jerky is medium to high in calories. If you are concerned about your pup’s weight, it’s best to speak to a veterinarian who will be able to formulate a weight loss plan if required.
  • Your dog has an underlying illness, such as liver or kidney disease, or has a compromised immune system (e.g. immune-mediated disease or currently receiving chemotherapy) unless otherwise advised by your vet.
  • Your dog is allergic to beef. 

Beef Jerky Treats for Puppies

Though labels vary, most manufacturers have labelled their products as safe for puppies over 16 weeks of age. Like any treat, they should be given in moderation and your pup closely supervised when chewing. Larger jerky chews should be halved and given no 1-2 times per week, otherwise smaller pieces can be broken off and used as training treats. 

Though beef jerky treats are high in protein, your pup needs to get the majority of their nutrition from a high quality complete and balanced puppy food, with treats making up no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. 

Alternatives to Beef Jerky Treats

  • Fish Skin Dog Treats – These have similar benefits to beef jerky, plus added healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. They are also suitable for pups of all sizes. 
  • Dental chews – For a less smelly treat that helps keep those teeth clean, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VHOC) has a list of accepted chews that have been clinically proven to reduce plaque and tartar. 
  • Beef tendons – these are larger, longer-lasting chews with a similar nutritional benefits to help keep larger dogs or fast chewers entertained. 

FAQs

Are beef jerky good for dogs?

Beef jerky treats are high in protein and low in fat, but like any treat, it is important to feed them in moderation to prevent obesity. 

Are beef jerky treats safe for dogs?

There is still ongoing controversy over jerky-style treats for dogs as the FDA has reported over 5,000 cases of illness including gastrointestinal problems and Fanconi-like Syndrome since 2007. The majority of these treats were chicken-based products and many were sourced from China, however, the underlying cause is yet to be identified making it difficult to say which of these products are safe. 

can i feed my dog beef jerky treats

Do not feed your dog beef jerky treats prepared as human snacks. They can contain ingredients that could be harmful to your dog. You can certainly feed beef jerky to dogs if it has been manufactured specifically for dogs.

Does beef jerky make dogs sick?

Like any treat, beef jerky treats can give some dogs an upset tummy (mild vomiting or diarrhoea), especially if eating too many or when first introducing them. There have also been reports of illness in dogs including vomiting, diarrhoea, and Fanconi-like syndrome associated with jerky-style treats in the U.S, Europe, the UK, and Australia. 

Do dogs like beef jerky treats?

Most dogs enjoy the flavour of beef jerky treats which is why many owners use them as a high-value training treat or reward. 

What is dog beef jerky made of?

Beef jerky treats for dogs are usually made from slowly air-dried meat by-products such as beef gullet (oesophagus), heart, and lung. 

How long do beef jerky treats last?

Beef jerky treats aren’t the longest-lasting chewable treat. Many dogs finish beef jerky treats in a matter of minutes, but smaller breed dogs or slower chewers may spend 15 minutes or more on larger chews. 

Can beef jerky treats cause blockage?

It is unlikely that beef jerky treats will cause a blockage as they are easily digested by stomach acid and do not contain any bones. 

Are beef jerky treats unpleasant to have in the house?

Pet owners report that beef jerky treats have a moderate odour, like many natural meat products and may also stain floors or countertops. As with any raw meat product food hygiene such as regular handwashing is of utmost importance.