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Can Humans Eat Dog Food to Survive in an Emergency?

At the time of the publication of the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owner’s Survey, dog ownership sits around 60.2% of all households in the United States. Since dogs are the most common pet owned in most family households, we will focus on their foods.

Dog foods that have been properly stored can be consumed by humans due to the way they are handled and processed. Since dog food is formulated to be a complete source of nutrition, they are packed with proteins, carbohydrates, and fats alongside other added minerals and vitamins.

Let’s take a closer look at things to consider if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where the consumption of dog food is on the table.

Man eating dog food in a tin can

Is Dog Food Nutritious Enough for Human Consumption?

There is a natural dietary overlap between domesticated dogs and humans due to sharing food sources for thousands of years. Dogs often subsisted on the table scraps and animal byproducts provided to them by their human companions, which tailored their nutritional needs to more closely mirror human nutritional needs.

The resulting overlap results in a situation where the majority of the nutritional needs of a human will be met in a serving of dog kibble or canned dog food. Dog food has clearly listed ingredients that are suitable for human consumption in their original forms.

Since both dog kibble and canned dog food are formulated to be a standalone complete source of nutrition, it is packed with all the vitamins and minerals a dog would need alongside the appropriate fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that would be needed on a macronutrient level.

The truth is, due to the nutritional completeness of dog food, it would be an upgrade over many commonly consumed foods that people eat such as the overly processed sugary cereals and snacks that are widely available at a grocery store that are full of empty calories.

In terms of short-term survival, grabbing a can of dog food to meet your nutritional requirements is reasonable, although unorthodox choice that is appropriate in a survival situation.

Dog Head Man With Spoon and Fork

Is It Safe for Humans to Eat Dog Food?

Dog food is heavily regulated as an industry and needs to adhere to strict product safety standards. In fact, there is a substantial overlap between human food processing safety standards and pet food safety standards. As a result of these strict product safety standards, dog food, when handled properly, is fit for human consumption.

Dog food product labels need to follow strict legislation
regarding ingredients and must be fully traceable. It is essential that all products are manufactured in sterile conditions and must not be detrimental to animal or human health.

Are There Any Immediate Health Risks Involved in Consuming Dog Food?

Baby and a Dog Sitting at a Table Waiting for Food

The biggest immediate health risk you will face consuming dog food is the risk of foodborne illness. While pet food companies do follow strict rules and regulations when processing dog food, there are storage and handling practices that need to be observed to maintain food safety.

In the case of dry dog kibble, if the packaging remains unopened and not exposed to air, then most likely, the kibble will be safe to eat. Major concerns with consuming kibble are the rancidity from the fats going bad due to oxidation as well as bacterial contamination like salmonella and E. coli from exposure.

Canned dog foods do not face the same level of contamination risks since the process of canning heats the food up long enough to eliminate most foodborne pathogens, and the airtight barrier of the can prevents fat oxidation and rancidity issues from occurring up to a few months after the expiration date.

Can Dog Food Be Consumed Long-Term by Humans?

Since dogs and humans are different animals, it is natural that dog food formulas are unbalanced for human consumption. There is a large difference in protein requirements and vitamin balances that would play a significant role in maintaining good health long term.

Dogs require different macronutrient totals than humans. Generally, dogs require far more protein than an average modern human body would be comfortable consuming. In order to efficiently digest proteins and also bones which are both tough to break down, dogs have stomach acid that is 10 to 100 times more acidic than a human’s stomach acid.

Vitamin Imbalances

  • Vitamin C – Dogs can produce their own vitamin C in their own bodies and do not need to consume it in their food. As such, vitamin C is omitted from most dog food formulas which would quickly become a problem for any human looking to subsist on dog food for an extended period of time without another nutrition source unless that want to get scurvy, which could happen in as little as 3-4 weeks. Additionally, the immune system will not operate efficiently without vitamin C.
  • Vitamin A is present in large amounts in many forms of dog food due to the high organ meat content, especially when the food contains liver organ meat. Both dogs and humans require vitamin A, but the recommended amount of liver for a human to eat is no more than one serving a week, or you could find yourself with Hypervitaminosis A and suffering from bone pain, changes to vision, and skin changes. This could overtax your organs and lead to coma and death in extreme circumstances.

What’s in the stuff?

A significant portion of dog food is created using animal byproducts that are not a part of a standard western diet, such as tripe, organs, ground bones, and all manner of offal. These are all edible parts of the animal that could theoretically be integrated into a healthy human diet. However, it would be somewhat of a shock to human digestion and could cause some discomfort.

Ultimately dog food is formulated for dogs, and humans will not thrive on it for a long period of time. It can take care of short-term macronutrient needs and meet a decent number of vitamin and mineral requirements, but it will not be able to sustain somebody at optimum health for more than a month.

What Does Dog Food Taste Like?

Dogs are a very different type of consumer with a highly different sense of taste than humans. They only have approximately 16% of the taste buds of a human and a far stronger sense of smell and therefore derive much of their sense of food flavor from the aroma of the dog food. These differences result in a formula that has strong odors and far less flavoring than a human might prefer.

Since dog food contains tripe, organs, ground bones, and offal many types of dog food will contain flavors and textures that are foreign to most people. The organ flavor will leave a metallic taste in your mouth that definitely won’t have you enthusiastically reaching for more if you aren’t used to that taste.

Remember that if you’re reaching for a bag of kibble or a can of dog food that you’re doing it to survive. So breathe through your mouth and bottoms up!

Best Tasting Dog Food for Humans

Pet food has a tendency to be gritty and gristly because it includes bones and other ingredients that are tough for humans to break down, that animals love to eat.

In order to pick something that would appeal to humans, you will probably want to select something that is boneless and minimally processed. Dog biscuits are a safe albeit very bland-tasting choice. Another more exciting choice would be Beggin’ Strips and other foods designed to taste similar to bacon and other foods a person might ordinarily enjoy.

How Should Dog Food Be Prepared For Humans?

One of the beautiful things about dog food is the sheer convenience of feeding your pet. These same conveniences translate over to human consumption. Unless you are specifically picking up freeze-dried raw dog foods, the food will be cooked and packaged in a safe ready-to-eat format that is unlikely to cause food poisoning if it has been stored properly.

If you’re aiming to increase the palatability of canned dog food, you could try heating it up. Any dog owner who owns a fussy or older pet knows the trick of heating up food instead of serving the canned food cold to help their fussy or senior dogs find their food more exciting.

The same principle would apply to a person eating heated-up canned dog food. They are often formulated with “stew” flavorings. I don’t know anybody who prefers cold stew over hot stew!

What Kind of Dog Food Would Be Best?

Dog Food

There are many brands and types of dog food available, but for simplicity, let’s break it down into three major categories: wet canned food, dry kibble, and freeze-dried food.

  1. Wet canned food goes through the process of canning which heats the food up to high heat and is added to a sterile can which destroys bacteria and viruses that could be lingering in the food. Canning avoids the need for preservatives and has a very long shelf life of several years.
  2. Dry kibble is cooked and packaged with preservatives that help it to maintain its shelf life. Some of the downsides to kibble are the high preservative content and the low-quality ingredients included in the majority of kibbles. There is also an increased risk of contamination and rancidity of the fats due to improper packaging or handling.
  3. Freeze-dried dog food is typically cooked before freeze-drying, and the freeze-drying process removes almost all the moisture content in the food. This inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold contamination and makes it a pretty safe option for consumption.

Given these options, it would be best to consume canned dog food because of the canning process, which virtually eliminates bacterial or fungal contamination as a concern, provided the cans are intact.

Final Thoughts

While dog food may be quite unappetizing for humans, for the most part, it is a safe food to consume for survival.

It is not formulated perfectly for humans but it is a sound source of calories. Try to replace or supplement with meat, vegetables, and other sources of nutrition as soon as possible.

Related Questions

How much meat production goes into producing pet food? Pet food is a big business, and with over 60% of households having dogs or cats, it takes a large share of meat production worldwide. Approximately a fourth of meat production goes into producing pet food.

Is cat food edible for humans? Cat food is similar to dog food in that it is subjected to the same regulations that make it typically safe for human consumption. Cats are obligate carnivores, so vegetables and fruits are not used in high quantities in cat food.

For more, check out The 5 Best Cheapest Places To Buy MREs.