When you tear open your bag of beef jerky, and your dog makes that adorable, pleading face at you, it can feel impossible to say no. The emotional part of your brain just finds those big eyes and hopeful whimpers irresistible.
And the rational part of your brain sees no reason not to let your dog have a piece of jerky.
It’s just dried meat, after all, and he eats dried meat all the time in the form of kibble and treats. So why not let him partake along with you?
But beef jerky can contain some surprising hidden dangers for your dog. And some of them could even prove fatal.
Here are 4 reasons not to feed beef jerky to your dog — but don’t worry! We’ve also got an easy dog-safe beef jerky alternative, so neither of you feels left out at snack time.
4 Reasons Why Dogs Shouldn’t Eat Beef Jerky
1. Beef Jerky Contains Too Much Sodium for Dogs
Salt is a critical component of beef jerky. It’s not just there for flavor — it also acts as a preservative, allowing the jerky to be stored safely at room temperature for long periods of time.
But all that sodium can be bad news for your dog.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends that an average 33-pound dog consume no more than 200 mg of sodium daily.
But a single 20 g piece of beef jerky contains 356 mg of sodium — that’s nearly double the daily recommended intake for a dog of that size!
Exceeding the recommended sodium amount once in a while isn’t a problem for most dogs. But it’s not good for them, either, so it’s best to avoid letting your dog develop a taste for jerky lest it becomes a bad habit.
And if your dog is elderly or suffers from kidney problems, liver problems, diabetes, or other health conditions, the excess sodium in beef jerky could make him very sick.
Symptoms of sodium toxicity in dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, seizures, and even loss of consciousness. Regardless of age or health status, if your dog eats beef jerky and develops any of these symptoms, seek immediate veterinary attention.
2. Beef Jerky Seasonings Could Poison Your Dog
Beef jerky makes an excellent canvas for all sorts of different flavor combinations.
Unfortunately, these tasty seasonings are often highly toxic to dogs.
The two biggest offenders are onion and garlic. Whether they’re freshly diced into a marinade or sprinkled on as a powder, they’re nearly inescapable in most beef jerky varieties — and they’re extremely poisonous to dogs.
Onion and garlic contain compounds that damage your dog’s red blood cells, leading to anemia. This, in turn, prevents the body’s organs from getting enough oxygen, causing them to shut down and potentially kill your dog.
Early symptoms of onion or garlic poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, low appetite, pale gums, weakness, difficulty breathing, and increased heart rate. If the toxicity develops into anemia, you may notice red or brown urine, loss of balance, seizures, or loss of consciousness.
It takes very little garlic or onion to make your dog extremely sick — as little as ⅓ of a teaspoon of onion powder or 1/10th of a cup of diced onion. Depending on the recipe, just a few pieces of beef jerky could contain that amount.
Keep anything containing garlic or onion, including beef jerky, away from your dog. The risk just isn’t worth it!
3. Spicy Beef Jerky and Dogs Don’t Mix
A little heat can take ordinary beef jerky to extraordinary new heights.
But chile flakes, hot sauce, diced peppers, and even ground black pepper can make even the toughest dogs miserable.
Dogs are more sensitive than we are to capsaicin, the compound that gives spicy foods their “heat”. It only takes a little bit to make their mouths burn, irritate their stomachs, and even inflame their entire GI tracts.
And though it’s easy to avoid beef jerky that’s explicitly hot and spicy, capsaicin often finds its way into other jerky flavors as well in the vaguely-labeled form of “spices”.
If you’ve ever eaten something too spicy and been in pain for ages afterward, you know how unpleasant it is. Don’t subject your dog to the same misery — keep him away from even the most lightly-spiced beef jerky!
4. Sugar-Free Beef Jerky Could Kill Your Dog
Sugar-free beef jerky can be great for those of us who are trying to eat healthier. But if your dog eats it, the consequences could be disastrous.
Instead of sugar, some beef jerky is sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol doesn’t cause insulin to release in humans, but in dogs, even the tiniest bit of xylitol releases a flood of insulin into the body.
This rapid surge of insulin causes the dog’s blood sugar to plummet within minutes of ingesting the xylitol. He may vomit, stumble or collapse in seizures — and in severe cases, he could become comatose.
If your dog consumes any amount of xylitol, whether in beef jerky or any other form, go to the emergency vet immediately.
A Dog-Safe Beef Jerky Alternative: Homemade and Wholesome
Now for the good news! There is a way for your dog to enjoy some beef jerky without putting his health at risk: making it yourself.
The beauty of any homemade beef jerky is that you can make it just the way you want it. And when you control the salt, seasonings, and preparation, you can ensure that what you’re making is completely safe for your dog.
Dogs aren’t picky about their cuts of meat, so you can use more economical beef to make their jerky — even ground beef works! A pound of raw meat will make 4 to 6 ounces of finished jerky.
You can add a pinch of some healthy spices like ginger, turmeric, or cinnamon, or marinate the beef in apple cider vinegar for added digestive benefits. But if you don’t feel like getting fancy, you can also leave it plain — your dog will love it either way.
No added salt or sugar is necessary, though a small splash of soy sauce or liquid amino can add some safe yet savory flavor.
Once the meat is seasoned and marinated, just dehydrate it as you would any other jerky — typically 4 to 8 hours in a food dehydrator at 160° F or 3 to 4 hours in an oven at 180° F. Then get ready to make your dog’s day with these delicious meaty treats!
Due to its lower sodium content, this jerky should be stored in the fridge if it’s not fully eaten within a day or two.
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"You might be a redneck if you think that beef jerky and moon pies are two of the major food groups."
-- Jeff Foxworthy