Can Dogs Eat Beef in Their Diet? Here's What a Veterinarian Recommends
Many dog foods and snacks tout that they're made with beef, so you would think the meat is always healthy for your pooch. However, there are many forms of beef you may cook for yourself at home and wonder if it's safe to share with your pup. Can dogs eat beef in all forms or are some better than others? We asked a few experts to weigh in and tell us what's best and what to avoid.
Is Beef Good or Bad For Dogs?
Beef is an excellent protein source and has been used in commercially available pet foods for decades. It also has a wide variety of nutrients including vitamin B12 and B6, zinc, selenium, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, iron, and choline.
"Most pet food companies employ veterinary nutritionists on their team to ensure the products they produce are nutritionally balanced and complete for your dog's dietary need," explains Julia Herman, DVM, education and outreach veterinarian with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
In the United States, beef products are common ingredients in pet foods as dogs rarely have a medical reason for removing beef from their diet, such as a food allergy. Herman reminds us, "It is important to consult with your veterinarian about any nutritional questions concerning your dog's diet to include your dog's history and any necessary diagnostic testing."
Can Dogs Eat All Types of Beef?
While beef products are included in commercial dog food, there are certain types of beef you may want to think twice about before feeding to your dog.
Feeding your dog raw meat and meat products of any kind should be avoided. "While dogs can technically be fed raw beef, there are some risks to keep in mind," Herman says.
First, Herman explains that on its own, raw beef does not provide a balanced diet for your dog. While some pet parents have heard about the popularity of a homemade raw food diet, consult with your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to ensure that your dog is getting complete nutrients before changing their diet in any way.
In addition, dogs fed raw beef have an increased risk of shedding bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli that could make your pet or your family sick, especially if family members are immunocompromised. "Many organizations including the FDA, CDC, and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have raised valid food safety concerns for humans feeding raw diets to their pets," Herman explains.
Finally, owners should use caution before feeding steak cuts with bone or bones to their dogs. "Dogs can chew and break off pieces of the bone, which may result in an intestinal obstruction or significant gastrointestinal trauma that may be life-threatening and/or require surgery to correct."
While bones may seem like a natural treat for dogs, feeding your dog bones is not safe. Cooked bones should be avoided as they can splinter easier than raw bones, putting your pup at an even greater risk for injury. And raw bones can also put your dog at risk of a bacterial infection from Salmonella, Listeria, or E. coli.
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Cooked, unseasoned ground beef can safely be fed to dogs in small amounts. To ensure that the beef is safe to eat, cook the meat to a safe temperature—at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit—to kill harmful bacteria that could make your dog or family sick. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the beef reaches a safe minimum internal cooking temperature.
Herman advises not adding salt or spices to the ground beef as it can make dogs sick. Garlic and onions in particular are toxic to dogs and excessive salt can be dehydrating. Herman also adds that foods with higher fat content can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or more severe diseases like pancreatitis. As such, in order to remove as much of the fat as possible and minimize stomach upset, Herman recommends boiling the beef.
Corned beef is a no-no for dogs and should be avoided. "Corned beef contains a high salt content compared to most specifically formulated foods for dogs. Some dogs may react with increased thirst and urination, others may have more severe signs like vomiting or diarrhea or even salt poisoning," Herman explains.
Beef jerky made for humans is not the best treat for dogs, either, as this snack may include ingredients and seasonings that are harmful for pups.
However, there are dog-safe alternatives if you really want to give your pup a similar treat. "There are available jerky products that are made specifically for dogs," Herman says. "These products are developed with lower sodium content than jerky products made for humans."
Bone broth is made from roasted bones and vegetables by cooking them for more than 24 hours, then straining out the solids. This flavorful liquid contains collagen and a variety of minerals that seeps out of the bone into the broth.
Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, a consulting veterinarian at FiveBarks says that beef broth "is also a good choice for dogs who are dehydrated or refusing food." Your dog may benefit, for example, after a dental cleaning when he or she may have tender gums.
If you and your veterinarian decide it's beneficial to serve your dog bone broth, you can buy it already made or make your own, just ensure there are no added seasonings that could potentially harm your pup.
How to Safely Feed Your Dog Beef
Beef is already a reliable protein source in many kinds of dog food, from kibble to canned food to treats. "The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label on the food will help owners know if the diet has been reviewed and is balanced and safe," Herman says.
A few do's and don'ts for feeding your dog beef safely include:
- Don't feed your dog table scraps, which could cause gastrointestinal problems and obesity.
- If you are going to feed home-cooked beef products to your dog, check with your vet first, and then do so in small amounts and make sure that the fat is removed.
- Do wash your hands before and after feeding your dogs, providing treats, or cleaning pet dishes.
- Do talk to your veterinarian about your pet's diet and health before making any changes to what they're eating.