Many toddlers are ferociously finicky eaters, while others will eat almost anything — including pet food. From the toddler’s point of view, eating pet food makes sense. After all, the family pet seems to relish what’s in his food bowl, and toddlers are curious by nature.

But is eating pet food dangerous? It can be but for reasons many parents do not consider.

Larger pellets of pet food can be a choking hazard to small children, especially the dry food sold for large dog breeds. In addition, some dogs can become aggressive if they feel their resources are threatened. Resources definitely include food and water but also include chew bones and even toys — anything the dog values. The risk is especially high when the child and dog are new to each other.

Nutritionally, the risk is relatively low as long as a child is not habitually eating pet food. Most pet food is processed from leftover meat purchased from slaughterhouses — organs, trim from hides, blood, and the like, with rice and wheat added in. Cat food also contains ash and synthetic taurine, an amino acid important to feline health.

While this is definitely not appetizing, it’s not necessarily dangerous in small quantities. It is NOT a replacement for human food, though. And pet food does not undergo the stringent safety inspections mandated for food produced for human consumption.

For example, in 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration ordered the recall of canned pet food produced in China that sickened and killed hundreds or even thousands of pets.

Investigators found that a substance called melamine (used in plastics) was being added as an ingredient. The melamine and other additives were causing rapid kidney failure.

So while a small nibble may not be cause for alarm, it’s much better for children to leave Fido’s food alone.


  • If your child eats pet food and you are concerned, call the Poison Control Center at 1-888-222-1222.
  • While pet food isn’t nutritionally harmful to children, larger pellets can be a choking hazard.
  • In small doses, pet food isn’t harmful to children, but it should never be a replacement for human food.

Last reviewed by Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP. Review Date: September 2020


  1. Popular Science. Can People Safely Eat Cat Food?
  2. Live Science. Will Eating Pet Food Kill Me?


  1. When we go to my in-laws they have a dog. Everytime we forget to put the dog food up my 1 year old gets a piece. This has happened maybe, twice. So far no barking or illness followed. Lol!!

  2. My almost 1 year old has an obsession with eating dog food. I literally turn my back for a second and she heads straight for the dog bowl. After I pry the food out of her mouth she has a melt down. I guess I should only worry if she starts barking. LOL! 🙂

    1. If she is a picky eater maybe you should buy a dog bowl or a bowl resembling one and start feeding her out of it! 🙂

  3. We have two dogs and have had them since my girls were born so they have grown up with them. Thankfully, they have never tried to eat their food. We have always kept the dog bowls and food in the laundry room so that it is out of site.


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