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.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- 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.