Dog food has some nutritional benefits for humans and is a viable survival food, but consuming it long-term could adversely affect your health.
Is Dog Food Safe for Humans to Eat?
Dog food is a viable option if you’ve nothing else to eat and, provided it’s stored in an airtight container, should be safe.
Read: How to store dog food long term
Dogs and humans have similar nutritional needs, which is why dogs can survive on scraps and byproducts of human food. That means a serving of canned dog food or kibble will have nutritional benefits for humans.
As both these types of dog food are designed as complete sources of nutrition, they contain all the nutrients and micronutrients a dog needs. It may provide a more nutritional and balanced diet than many survival foods!
The pet food industry must comply with a rigid set of rules and safety processing standards, but they’re not quite as rigorous as the ones governing human food processing.
Nevertheless, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act require that all animal foods
“be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.”
Canned dog foods are the safest because of how they’re processed. Before canning, the food is heated, killing off any food-borne pathogens. The airtight can protects the food against future contamination, fat oxidation, and rancidity up until its expiration date.
Kibble isn’t canned and is therefore susceptible to contamination. Over the past six months, the FDA has recalled four products, three due to possible salmonella contamination.
If the fats in the kibble are exposed to air, it can cause oxidation, leading to rancidity. Eating contained or rancid kibble is potentially dangerous, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.
How Long Could You Survive on Dog Food?
You could survive for weeks, if not months, eating only dog food, but you may experience some health issues.
Dogs’ stomachs are far more acidic than humans, allowing them to digest bones and protein efficiently. As dog food contains more protein than human food, you stand a good chance of gaining weight on a dog food diet.
Dogs also produce their own vitamin C, so it’s rarely included in any commercial dog food. Humans get their required vitamin C from food, and without it may suffer irritability, anorexia, skin problems, and even scurvy.
Not only would dog food leave you vitamin C deficient, but it would also overload your body with vitamin A.
If a can of dog food contains “5000 IU of Vitamin A per kilogram,” and the average human needs around 1.3 to 1.8 kgs of food per day, their daily consumption of vitamin A would be between 6,500 and 9,000 IU per day.
That’s three times the recommended dietary allowance for men! Consuming this much vitamin A can cause aching muscles, headaches, nausea, and poor coordination, none of which are very useful in a survival situation.
Dana Hunnes, an assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California in Los Angeles, recommends limiting your dog food consumption to “a short duration — ideally no more than a couple of days.” Any longer than this, and you risk nutritional deficiency.
Does Dog Food Taste Good?
Just because you know something’s safe to eat doesn’t mean you want to eat it. Dog food may offer nutritional benefits but contains things you wouldn’t usually find on your plate.
Pet food is made of byproducts and leftovers, so you could find intestines and other organs in a can of dog food. It may also contain bone meal and other grain byproducts that you’ve never tasted before.
That means you may experience tastes and textures that are completely new to you and may not be very pleasant.
The Best Type of Dog Food to Eat in an Emergency
Pet food products are widely varied but usually come in three forms – wet canned, dry kibble, or freeze-dried. While I haven’t tried any of these myself, someone called Anne Kadet once did and wrote about it.
According to her, high-end kibble “has a nutty, slightly sour taste” but is dry and gritty and takes a lot of chewing. Canned food is better, especially certain brands that contain whole vegetables but has a “metallic and disturbingly bland” flavor.
At the end of her six-day experiment, Kadet concluded that if she was in a tight spot, she’d “choose to live on kibble over Kraft dinner or ramen noodles.” I wonder how it compares to MREs?
If you’ve got nothing else, dog food is a viable survival food, at least for a few days. It has nutritional benefits for humans, containing many of the same foods we usually eat. However, eating it for longer could cause nutrient deficiencies and even weight gain.