You may think of elk as the larger, more rarely seen relative of the deer, but did you know that the meat from these wild animals are being widely appreciated, too? Just like bison, elk has been praised not only as a novel protein source, but also because this type of meat is sustainable — unlike animals in CAFOs, raising elk causes less ecological damage.1 But is it safe to feed to your pets as well?
Also known as "wapiti," which means "light-colored deer," elks (Cervus elaphus Canadensis) are the biggest and most advanced subspecies of red deer.2 They are indigenous to North America, and used to roam all over the country, but after being hunted and killed off, they were driven to more remote locations to survive.3 Today, elks are raised on pasture, just like other game animals such as bison, deer and rabbit. It's one of the game animals that are used in dog and cat foods.4
Should You Be Worried About CWD From Elk Meat?
Some pet owners are wary of feeding game meats like elk and venison to their pets because of the issue of Chronic Wasting Disease. Also called prion disease, this neurodegenerative condition affects many mammals, including moose, deer and elk.5 The good news is that there's little risk of this if you buy elk meat from a sustainable farmer and never feed certain body parts (including the head, spine, and spleen of the animal).6
Elk Is a Healthy and Delicious Meat Your Pets Will Enjoy
Feeding whole ground elk meat can be a nutritious component of a homemade diet, in conjunction with other ingredients that comprise a nutritionally complete meal. A 2018 article in PetFoodIndustry.com noted elk and other game meats' potential to help minimize the environmental impact of pet food. The article notes that using bison and elk for their organ meats and byproducts helps the pet food industry to "increase the market for the whole animal, further increasing efficiency and sustainability."7
Elk meat also gives your pets a tasty, healthy treat. According to Brenda Hartkopf of the Elk Breeders Association, aside from the meat's delicious taste, it's also "high in protein and low in both fat and cholesterol."8 For example, a 100-gram serving of conventional beef has 19.07 grams of total fat, while elk only has 8.82 grams. Elk's cholesterol content is only 66 milligrams, but beef is slightly higher at 71 milligrams.9,10
It may even be slightly better than grass fed beef, as elk is slightly lower in calories, with 172 calories per 100-gram serving (grass fed beef has 198 calories). Elk is also slightly higher in minerals like potassium, zinc and selenium.11,12
Just remember that if you opt to feed this protein as a food source, make sure you follow a recipe that has been formulated to meet your pet's minimum nutrient requirements.
Elk Meat Is a Great Source of Protein
A 100-gram serving of ground elk meat (equivalent to half a cup) has 21.76 grams of protein,13 which is crucial for supplying amino acids for your pet. Dogs require about 22 different types of amino acids, and while they can make about half of this number, they still need to get the rest from the foods they eat, including elk and other meats.14
This is why protein is crucial for their body — so they can build skin, hair and muscles, as well as help promote proper immune function.15 Excellent quality protein serves a number of important functions for your pet's biochemical and physiologic processes, such as:16
- Cell signaling
- Transporting of nutrient and oxygen in the blood
- Muscle contraction
- Cellular transport, enzyme production and energy production
B Vitamins for Hormones, Energy and More
Elk meat also contains B vitamins, such as vitamin B12, B6, B3 and folate (B9),17 all of which play vital roles in your pet's health. For example, according to the American Kennel Club, vitamin B6 is essential for "glucose generation, red blood cell and nervous system function, hormone regulation, immune response, niacin synthesis and gene activation," while folate (folic acid) is needed to metabolize amino acids and nucleotides, as well as for mitochondrial protein synthesis.18
As for vitamin B12, it acts as a co-enzyme that is also responsible for the synthesis of proteins, as well as for red blood cell production.19 Meanwhile, vitamin B3 is essential for the production of sex hormones, proper blood circulation, secretion of bile and stomach acids, energy production and more.20
These Minerals Are Valuable for Immune Function and Thyroid Health
Selenium and zinc are two trace minerals found in elk meat, and are both critical for immune system function. In pets, selenium is also important in the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.21 On the other hand, potassium is an electrolyte that's needed to maintain the normal function of muscles and nerves.22
Here's How to Feed Elk Meat Safely to Your Pets
Up to 10% of a pet's daily calorie intake can be healthy "extras" including fresh foods like elk meat. Pets can be fed meat treats that are raw, dehydrated, freeze dried or cooked. If you want to cook elk before giving it to your pet, take care not to overcook it, which will make it tough and dry (unless intentional, like if you're going to make treats like jerky). When cooked correctly, however, it is tender. The flavor is reminiscent of beef, but it's said to be leaner and more flavorful.
When buying elk meat, make sure that you purchase it from a sustainable farmer who raises the animals on pasture and adheres to strict industry health and safety standards. Make sure the farm where the meat comes from complies with any FDA requirements and state or local laws, to ensure that you're truly getting a safe, high-quality product.23
Frequently Asked Questions About Elk for Pets
Q: Is it safe to give elk dog chews to pets?
A: When given in a safe manner to pets, elk antlers can be a wonderful alternative to synthetic and rawhide dog chews out there. Elk antlers have actually risen in popularity in the dog chew market, and, according Hartkopf, it has "taken the elk industry by storm."24 You can read more about elk dog chews in my article.
Q: What does elk meat taste like?
A: The flavor of elk is reminiscent of beef, but it's said to be leaner and more flavorful. When cooked correctly, it is tender.25 Another standout difference between elk and beef is their appearance, with elk meat having a dark red color.26