Human-grade jerky products have been scoffed at by our ancestors for millennia. But, as many people move towards increasingly natural foods and treats for their dogs, more jerky products are being marketed and sold for pets.
Most chicken jerky for dogs is 100% chicken and packed with nutrients, making them an attractive and tasty option. This article discusses the benefits and pitfalls of feeding chicken jerky to your dog and whether jerky is a good choice for your four-legged pal.
Chicken jerky is a low-fat, high-protein nutritious and tasty treat. Perfect for training dogs and a quick pick-me-up after lots of exercise.
The soft but chewy texture is great for dental health in dogs that find harder chews too tough.
The Food and Drugs Administration linked chicken jerky produced in China to kidney disease in dogs. They recommend that dogs are not given jerky products from China.
What Are Chicken Jerky Treats?
Jerky products are made from meat and air-dried either in an oven or dehydrator at temperatures of 50oc or lower. This process slowly removes most of the moisture content whilst preserving many micronutrients. As a result, the dehydrated meat is a less attractive habitat for bacteria, and it remains stable in room air for much longer than fresh meat.
Many chicken jerky products are made from natural chicken breast strips, but some comprise ground and shaped chicken meat. This moulded jerky may contain other additives and be less lean than chicken breast jerky, so it may be less ideal.
Jerky is a nutritious, high-protein snack popular with human endurance athletes and explorers for centuries. Incredibly, though, jerky varieties were even found in the pyramid tombs of ancient Egyptians. So, jerky meat has been consumed by early civilizations, and yet the manufacturing process remains essentially unchanged.
But be sure to avoid giving human jerky products to your pet. They contain salt, additional flavours and spices. These are unnecessary for your pet’s enjoyment of the jerky and might harm your dog.
There are a massive variety of chicken jerky products for dogs. Most jerky contains 100% chicken meat. However, some jerky products incorporate a long list of ingredients, such as salt, soy or pea protein, glycerine, and starch. If you are erring towards natural dog treats, check the ingredients list closely.
Usually, chicken jerky comprises chicken breast meat, making it an excellent low-fat treat. But occasionally, jerky products have high-fat levels (>35%), which may indicate they contain other parts of the bird or added oil in the recipe.
Smoked varieties of chicken jerky are also available but should be given a miss because eating large quantities of smoked foods are linked to an increased risk of cancer in humans.
Controversies Surrounding Chicken Jerky for Dogs
There are several controversies surrounding chicken jerky. The main concern involves the development of Fanconi syndrome, a life-threatening condition of the kidneys. The Food and Drug Administration in the US has been investigating this for many years, and the products concerned were mainly imported from China.
Investigations remain inconclusive, but it is generally recommended that dog owners avoid jerky treats from China. Instead, source your chicken jerky from UK brands that do not import their jerky products.
In addition, one study tested chicken jerky dog treats imported to the United States for antibiotic residue in the meat. The researchers discovered six antibiotics, all of which the Food and Drug Administration banned from use in chickens. While this was not linked to Fanconi syndrome, it poses a worrying risk of developing antibiotic resistance.
Previously, vets have warned against offering any chicken jerky to dogs. However, feeding small amounts of UK-produced jerky should mitigate any risks. Some people prefer offering their dogs home-prepared jerky treats – another good option. But ensure you produce and store any homemade jerky carefully.
Did you know?
The raw feeding movement is rapidly gaining momentum. Many people consider it a more natural form of feeding. While jerky treats are not strictly raw, dehydrating occurs at cooler temperatures than oven-baking. And, given that some chicken jerky products are 100% chicken breast, these could be a good choice as a meaty treat with decreased risks of high bacterial content.
If you are home-preparing the treats, buy the raw meat from your butcher or another reliable source. Buying meat from a local retailer ensures it meets human food safety standards while reducing storage and transportation times.
Don’t include chicken jerky as a core component of your dog’s feeding plan; it is just a treat. And remember, if you are calculating your dog’s nutrition yourself, chicken jerky treats make up part of the meat ration.
Nutritional Information for Chicken Jerky Treats
Chicken jerky is a highly palatable, high-protein, low-fat treat stuffed with micronutrients. But watch out for some treats that have several additives and high-fat content.
Jerky treats are great for mental enrichment, and their chewy nature can have dental benefits too.
The chart provides an average guaranteed nutritional analysis of chicken jerky:
Note: The percentages don’t add up to 100% as they are averages from several data sources. Ranges are given when there is a wide variation between products. Very high-fat variations are in the minority and have not been included in this analysis table.
Chicken jerky pieces weigh around 40g (although this can vary greatly), so an average piece will provide around 140 calories. The calorie content may be much lower in some varieties, so it is worth checking the packaging.
Ensure that you deduct these calories from your dog’s daily ration. And it would be best to avoid these treats if your dog is on a calorie-controlled diet.
Feed chicken jerky as an occasional treat. The research mentioned above showed no clear link between the amount of jerky ingested daily and the development of Fanconi syndrome (with some dogs eating up to 40g/day). Researchers consider the country of origin of the jerky to be the most crucial factor. But giving small amounts of a UK-based product, a maximum of 2-3 times a week would be sensible.
Be aware that jerky is a dried, concentrated food source, full of flavour but not very filling. As a result, your dog may be a little thirstier than usual, so offer plenty of fresh water to drink.
Given all the controversy surrounding chicken jerky, some people feel safer making their own treats. Jerky is more stable in room air than regular meat but does not last forever. Keep homemade jerky in the fridge if you store it for a few days or in the freezer for longer periods. Remember, spoiled or mouldy food poses a serious toxic risk to dogs.
Health Benefits of Feeding Chicken Jerky to Your Dog
High in Protein / Low in Fat
Perfect for muscle development in athletic and growing dogs.
Good for Teeth
The chewy but soft jerky texture makes it great for your dog’s teeth at all life stages.
Chicken jerky treats are high in protein, low in fat and have a punchy flavour making them a highly desirable snack for your dog. They are the perfect training treat for young dogs. Many working dog owners also highly rate them as they provide good quality calories and a great incentive and reward for work.
Supporting Dental Health
The dehydrated chicken strips in jerky are very chewy. This persistent chewing action is great for removing plaque from your dog’s teeth. If the plaque sits and festers, it calcifies and turns to tartar. In turn, tartar causes periodontal disease, which in time, can make your dog pretty unwell and can be very painful.
Larger dogs might gobble up these just-larger-than-bite-size treats whole. In that case, there are, unfortunately, no teeth-cleaning benefits at all. Regardless, snacks and treats should never replace actual teeth brushing, even in dogs!
Low in Fat
Chicken jerky treats are generally low in fat. This is great news if your pet is on a restricted fat diet. If this is due to a medical condition, such as pancreatitis, check with your vet whether your dog can be fed jerky. Home-cooked varieties with no additives and stored correctly might be safer still.
Remember, jerky treats are low in fat but still calorie dense, so feed them in small amounts.
High in Protein & Micronutrients
Chicken jerky is high in good quality, lean protein, which is great for active and growing dogs. The high omega-6 fatty acid content is also great for skin and hair quality. The drying process preserves many micronutrients: B vitamins, selenium and zinc boost the immune system, phosphorus is great for bone strength, and iron supports the red blood cells.
Downsides and Risks of Feeding Your Dog Chicken Jerky
Avoid Unregulated Manufacturers
If you buy chicken jerky manufactured in North America, Europe or Australasia, this will vastly reduce any jerky-associated risk of kidney disease. Feeding small amounts occasionally is also recommended. For all jerky products (homemade or otherwise), there is still some risk of bacterial infections and mould when stored incorrectly. Choking might also be a risk in smaller dogs.
Here’s a list of the main dangers to watch out for:
As with any new treat, jerky products can cause diarrhoea and digestive issues the first time you offer them. If your dog is not used to eating chicken jerky, introduce just a tiny amount at first and check there are no adverse symptoms. Avoid chicken jerky altogether if your dog has a known chicken intolerance.
Bacterial contamination is possible in all meaty treats. The drying process will, however, reduce this risk to some extent. Ensure you store jerky treats in a cool, dry place and do not exceed use-by dates. Homemade treats may need refrigeration or freezing.
High bacterial loads in foods can lead to gut infections with nasty bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea, much like human food poisoning. Chicken products are notorious for causing salmonella and campylobacter infections. These infections can pass from animals to people, so watch out!
Storing products for too long (even in the fridge) causes mould spores to grow. Moist environments exacerbate this. Mould ingestion can lead to mycotoxicity in dogs – a condition characterised by severe neurological symptoms such as tremors and seizures. Seek urgent veterinary treatment if your dog is showing signs of mould toxicity or if they eat mouldy food.
If your pet gulps their treats without chewing, this can be a choking hazard. This is particularly true of small-breed dogs. Supervise your dog with any treat and remove the treat if they are swallowing big chunks whole.
Feeding lots of high-calorie treats inevitably leads to weight gain. Avoid these treats if your dog is prone to piling on the pounds. For other dogs, feeding in moderation is the key to all treats.
- Your dog has a chicken allergy or sensitivity
- Your dog has a very sensitive stomach
- Your dog is small and tends to gulp down treats
- Your dog is on a calorie-controlled diet
- The chicken jerky has been stored incorrectly or is past its use-by date
- Your dog has kidney disease or is prone to dehydration or constipation
Is Chicken Jerk Good for Puppies?
Although manufacturer’s guidelines vary, chicken jerky treats are ok for most pups from 16 weeks of age. Only feed small amounts initially and supervise your puppy at all times. The biggest risk is choking, but tummy upsets are also possible. Chicken jerky might cause sore gums if your pup chews too hard, but generally, this is not an issue.
Chicken jerky might make your pup thirsty, so make sure there is plenty of water on hand.
Alternatives to Chicken Jerky
If you’re looking for alternative treats to chicken jerky, consider these options:
- Fish jerky is a good substitute for dogs with a chicken intolerance and is a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, fish jerky was not implicated as a source of kidney disease. Fish jerky is a little smelly, though, which does put some people off!
- Ostrich tendons are a fantastic treat with a much higher chewability. They are also a novel protein source, which is excellent for dogs with intolerances to more common protein sources.
- Dental chews are designed specifically for teeth cleaning. There are many products on the market promoted for their natural (often plant-based) ingredients. As dogs are omnivores, this is perfectly ok. Start with small amounts to check that they don’t disagree with your dog’s digestive system.
Yes – but stick to western-made products. There have been cases of lethal kidney disease associated with jerky products imported from China in the past. Store jerky correctly and ensure your dog does not swallow large chunks without chewing. But on the whole, chicken jerky is a safe choice of treat.
Most chicken jerky products are just dehydrated chicken packed full of lean protein and other nutrients, making them a super-nutritious dog treat. They are high in calories and low in water content, though, so only give a little at a time.
If you find a recipe on a reputable pet site and follow the instructions closely, then yes, homemade chicken jerky is fine. Raw chicken is a source of bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter, so ensure the meat you buy is as fresh as possible and that you follow good hygiene standards. Store the dehydrated meat correctly, which generally means refrigeration. Freeze any home-recipe jerky that is not eaten after a few days.
Storage times vary significantly between products, often related to the degree of dehydration. Some products are stable at room temperature for many weeks, while others recommend refrigeration for a maximum of 4 weeks. If storing in a fridge, pack in an air-tight container with some paper towel to absorb additional moisture.
Refrigerate chicken jerky for the first few days; beyond that, you should consider freezing it. Discard any spoiled meat should immediately.
Many chicken jerky products for dogs are 100% chicken, which is fantastic if you are trying to feed your dog naturally. Some types of jerky comprise ground and moulded meat that may contain chicken meat other than chicken breast and may have a higher fat content.
Some of these treats contain additional ingredients such as soy protein and starch and may not suit all dogs. Smokyked chicken jer is also available. Smoked jerky may contain added salt and is generally best avoided.