Beef jerky for dogs. What dog wouldn’t do just about anything for something so deliciously meaty and chewy? Our dog doesn’t get nasty processed dog food – if we don’t eat processed food that’s had fillers, chemicals, and who-knows-what-else added to it, why should he? My regular readers know I’m a huge proponent of real food – for the whole family, and that includes the animals. Processed, commercial dog food is hideous, so we avoid it. And the “treats” and “chews” are even worse. So we make our own! It actually works out cheaper and it’s obviously far better for him. Although, if you’re just getting started, learning how to ensure the diet is balanced can be a bit tricky. Anyway, one of the things people often struggle with when they first make the change to real food is making treats – particularly chews which are good for their dog’s teeth. Not all dogs can tolerate raw bones, and cooked bones are obviously highly dangerous and should never be given to dogs, so bones aren’t an option for everyone. But jerky is. Making beef jerky for dogs is so easy, there’s really no reason not to.
Sourcing Your Beef for Jerky
There are companies who sell meat for dogs, and there are some very good ones, but some aren’t that great – they pack their meat packs full of fat and inferior parts, for example. Or they only sell minced. Or the meat just isn’t good quality. My general rule is, if I wouldn’t eat it because of the quality (not because of the cut), then my dog shouldn’t either. If you’ve got your own livestock or you hunt–great! You’ll have a ready supply of meat, even if it’s not beef. Wait for the local store to have a good deal on–that’s often how we do it–then purchase big portions or sides of beef in bulk. See if you can get a good deal from the local butcher or a nearby farm who raise cattle. Basically, shop around to find the best deal. Although even if you pay full price, per pound, you’ll still likely pay a lot less than you would buying pre-packed pet store jerky.
Preparing Beef for Jerky
I cut my beef into long 1/2-inch strips or ribbons about a 1/8-inch thick. The length, width, and depth of your beef strips depend largely on the size of your dog and how big you want the finished chews to be. Be aware, if you’ve got a big side of beef, this is going to take quite a bit of time. Once you’ve ribboned all the beef, take three strips and braid them tightly. Lay each one aside. Eventually, you’ll have a big pile.
Making the Jerky
Yes, it probably took you a while to cut up all that beef and turn it into braids, but you’re basically done. If you’ve got a dehydrator, simply lay the braids on the dehydrator trays, leaving space between each to accommodate adequate airflow. Set your dehydrator to roughly 120F (50C) and run it for at least 36 hours. Obviously, every dehydrator is different, and they all cook at different speeds. As a rule of thumb, you want to remove as much moisture as possible, so the jerky goes very stiff and dry, and you get do softness when you squeeze them. If you leave moisture in, the chews won’t keep–and they won’t be effective as dental chews. If you don’t have a dehydrator, get one! Haha. Seriously – it’s okay! You can still make jerky for your dog. Just put the braids in the oven, turn it to 120F and leave the door ajar. You might just have to forego using the oven for 24 hours while the jerky is drying!
Storing Your Homemade Beef Jerky
As long as it’s properly dry, you can keep your dog’s beef jerky in an airtight container for at least a month – probably much longer, but it really depends how well you dehydrate it. Another option, if you’ve made too much for your dog to eat within a few weeks is just to dehydrate the amount your dog can get through in that timeframe and freeze the rest. The raw braids freeze fine, and you can get them out to defrost overnight, and whack them in the dehydrator the next morning.
Variations and Additions to Jerky for Dogs
If you want to get all fancy, you can add other things to your dog’s jerky to help balance their diet and make things a little more interesting for them. Salmon oil is hugely beneficial to dogs – for arthritis, skin complaints, digestive issues, and general health. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo salmon oil or any other fish oil without the appropriate amount of vitamin E, but you can simply mix the appropriate amount of vitamin E oil into the salmon oil, then lightly brush the braids with a thin coating of the mixture. Be warned – it’ll have a pretty intense odor while it’s dehydrating, so I’d do this one in an outbuilding, not my kitchen! You can boost vitamin and mineral content as well as the dental hygiene power of jerky by sprinkling a little canine-friendly seaweed powder over the raw braids. The seaweed is great for the teeth and gums, helping to remove plaque and tartar. Think outside the box if you don’t just want to go for straight-up dehydrated beef jerky and experiment a little with what you add. Just make sure whatever it is, it is healthy for your dog and will add to their dietary balance and overall wellbeing. And don’t be afraid to try other meats! Got venison? Awesome! Venison jerky is rich and super lean, so is a great choice. Lamb, boar, mutton, elk, ostrich, and so on. Goat is another fine option for dog jerky, although I’d only give small amounts to begin with, as goat isn’t always well-tolerated. Be careful with poultry, though, because you have to remove all moisture for it to be bacteria-free and safe for consumption.
If you want to try your hand at other healthy, natural dog treats, check out our pumpkin peanut butter ball recipe. And, if you want to boost your dog’s nutritional intake and aid digestion, joints, skin, and the immune system, try our bone broth for dogs recipe.
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