In times of emergency or economic uncertainty, people often seek innovative methods for survival.

In the wake of food shortages or insufficient funds to buy groceries, you may find yourself wondering if your dog’s food is a viable option to help get you out of a bind.

After all, if your dog enjoys scraps of human food from time to time, maybe it can work the other way around, too.

This article reviews whether it’s safe for humans to eat dog food, including risks to consider if you’re contemplating chowing down on some puppy chow.

Short-term consumption is unlikely to harm you

Dog food isn’t intended for human consumption and isn’t held to the same production standards as human food, but a small amount is unlikely to cause any major harm.

Dog food is typically made from a combination of animal byproducts, grains, soybeans, vitamins, and minerals, creating a nutritionally balanced diet for your pet.

Animal byproducts frequently found in commercially prepared dog food include scraps of meat, ground bones, skin, organs, and damaged animal parts deemed unfit for human consumption.

Although these ingredients are unappetizing to most people, they’re not technically dangerous to consume — as long as they’ve been cooked, processed, and stored properly.

That said, the types of vitamins added to your dog’s food are a health concern.

Certain varieties of dog food contain a synthetic form of vitamin K known as menadione, or vitamin K3. Although it appears perfectly safe for your dog, research suggests that it’s toxic to humans in high doses (1).

The amount of menadione in commercial dog food tends to be low, but it’s still not advisable for humans to consume it on any regular or long-term basis. So, if you’re unsure whether your dog food contains vitamin K3, contact the manufacturer for information.

Dogs and humans have different nutritional needs

Although dog food is edible, it’s not a good idea to make it a regular part of your diet on a long-term basis.

Humans have different nutritional needs than dogs, and dog food doesn’t contain all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Take vitamin C, for example.

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient, critical for good skin health and immune function in humans. Humans cannot produce the vitamin and must get it from food.

On the other hand, dogs can make it in their liver, so it isn’t necessary to include it in their food (2, 3).

Thus, if you’re reliant on dog food as your primary source of nutrition, you may be putting yourself at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies over time.

Summary

Certain nutrients in dog food are toxic to humans at high doses, and the total nutrition composition isn’t adequate for humans. Thus, it shouldn’t be routinely consumed on a long-term basis.

May increase your risk of developing foodborne illness

Just because you can eat dog food, doesn’t mean you should. Dog food comes with its fair share of risks, especially when it comes to food safety.

Much like human food, dog food can be contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick.

Proper storage and handling of dog food is essential to ensure that it’s as safe to eat as possible. Always follow storage and handling guidelines noted on the package to ensure safety for you and your dog.

Certain types of dog food are completely raw. It’s not a good idea for humans to eat raw or undercooked meat, regardless of whether it’s intended for dogs or humans.

Eating raw or undercooked meat has been linked to infections from harmful organisms, such as Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, and E. coli. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include nausea, vomiting, intestinal cramping, and diarrhea (4).

Though fully cooked dog food like kibble or canned wet food may be safer to eat than raw food, it could still make you sick. That’s because it can be inadvertently contaminated with harmful bacteria during processing, thus increasing your risk of developing foodborne illness.

When contamination is detected, dog food products may be recalled from the market. It’s important to stay informed of any pet food recalls so you avoid accidentally exposing yourself — or your pet — to unsafe food.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains an online record of recalled commercial pet food products. You can use this data to make sure the dog food you buy is safe to consume (5).

Risks are greater for small children

Children are more susceptible to foodborne illness than adults because their immune systems aren’t fully developed. Thus, it’s not recommended that you feed your children dog food (6).

Another — often overlooked — risk of dog food is that it may be a choking hazard for small children.

This is especially true for dry kibble, which can be difficult for small children to chew and swallow safely.

If you have a young child at home, make sure you keep the bag of kibble out of reach and keep a close watch on them when it’s time for your dog to eat.

If your child accidentally consumes dog food, contact your pediatrician or local poison control authority for more information about which steps to take to ensure your child’s safety.

Summary

Dog food has the potential to cause illness from bacterial contamination of the food, which could make you sick. Children are at higher risk of developing foodborne illness and shouldn’t consume dog food.

The bottom line

Dog food isn’t designed for the unique nutrition needs of humans, though it is made from ingredients that are technically safe for humans to eat. Thus, it’s not inherently toxic for humans and may be safe in an emergency situation.

However, eating dog food may increase your risk of developing foodborne illness. Children are at greater risk of developing complications related to foodborne illness and shouldn’t consume dog food.

Additionally, dog food may contain vitamin K3, or menadione, which may be toxic to humans in higher doses.

All of the same food safety practices used in human food handling and preparation still apply to dog food. It may be wise to keep track of any pet food recalls to ensure the highest level of safety if you plan on eating it.