Dog Food As Survival Food?

For the majority of individuals, the mere notion of willingly consuming dog food elicits a strong sense of revulsion. Despite our pets’ endearing qualities such as cuteness, charm, playfulness, and their status as cherished members of our families (sometimes even surpassing certain humans), dogs can possess rather repulsive habits.

Their enthusiasm for devouring meats that would repulse us is well-known, and the canned food we pour into their bowls emanates a potent odor of pungent offal meats, which holds a particular appeal for our canine companions.

However, in dire circumstances, can humans resort to consuming dog food as a means of survival? Or does it pose a risk of exacerbating our condition, akin to drinking water from a dubious source?

Why consume dog food?

The remnants of your sustenance have vanished. You managed to consume whatever you could salvage before it succumbed to decay, leaving behind only cans of soup and packets of pasta as the final remnants of human food within your abode.

Amidst the recesses of the pantry lie a few cans of dog food, and desperation, an astonishing motivator, takes hold. Starvation presents an excruciatingly uncomfortable path to demise, leading to a logical query: if your faithful canine companion can partake in it, why couldn’t a person?

Undeniably, dog food is commonly regarded as repugnant. Dogs possess an abundance of olfactory receptors compared to their limited taste buds, making smell paramount to them, while taste takes a backseat. Hence, dog food is concocted to emit an odor akin to putrefying meat and deceased creatures—attributes that canines have craved throughout the ages.

Opting to consume a can of dog food voluntarily suggests an exceptionally dire circumstance, an unfortunate reality not unfamiliar in recent times. Furthermore, dry dog food presents additional considerations, which we shall delve into shortly.

During periods of crises, economic instability, and severe scarcity of nourishment, pet food has proven to be a viable option for countless individuals worldwide. If it is within reach, contemplating its consumption becomes a pragmatic choice. It might very well be the lifeline that saves you.

However, when faced with the dilemma of standing amidst the store aisles, clutching a can of dog food in one hand and a can of beef stew in the other, the decision becomes evident — opt for the stew. Designed for human consumption, it offers a far more appealing taste and aroma compared to the fare dogs find palatable.

The majority of canned dog food available for purchase is safe

While dog food is not intended for human consumption, and its production standards may not match those of canned soups, resorting to dog food to address short-term nutritional deficiencies is unlikely to cause significant harm.

As long as the dog food is appropriately cooked and stored, the risk of foodborne illnesses like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli is minimal. The cans undergo pasteurization, the contents are cooked, and the ingredients are subject to strict control by government agencies (such as the FDA and USDA), consumer watchdogs, and animal advocacy groups. Interestingly, in many cases, people prioritize the well-being of their pets over that of their fellow humans.

In the event that concerns about illness persist after opening the can, a simple solution is to cook the dog food again. For instance, salmonella can be eliminated by heating it to a temperature of 167 degrees Fahrenheit.

Consequently, it is not recommended for humans to consume dry kibble unless it has been sourced and stored in a manner similar to canned food. Dry dog food is more susceptible to spoilage as it is exposed to air and contaminants as soon as the bag is opened, with proteins breaking down easily in moist air. Additionally, it would take several days to consume even a small bag of kibble.

While dog food may not be particularly enticing to humans and is not formulated to meet all their nutritional requirements, it is generally considered safe for temporary consumption during survival situations.

Dog food typically consists of animal protein and grains, although the ingredients are generally of lower quality compared to what humans would typically consume. While fortified with essential vitamins and minerals for dogs, it is unlikely to fulfill all the nutritional needs of humans.

However, the perception of dog food as a repugnant amalgamation of random animal parts haphazardly crammed into a can loses its ground here. In reality, smaller dog food manufacturers are utilizing better cuts of meat, minimizing the use of chemicals, and incorporating more natural ingredients into their products. Combined with cleaner and safer production methods, this results in a healthier meal for dogs—and even for humans in times of necessity.

What are you eating?

what are you eating

Traditionally, dog food has been crafted from a mixture of animal byproducts—scraps of meat, ground bones, assorted organs, skin, and damaged meats that would not meet the standards for human consumption, sometimes even sourced from deceased or unhealthy animals.

Such has been the tradition. However, a closer examination of the ingredients found in modern-day dog food cans would leave you struggling to discern any dissimilarity between brands like Purina and Campbell’s.

Consider this: The first five ingredients of Campbell’s Chunky Hearty Bean and Ham soup include water, pea beans, carrots, cooked ham, and celery. On the other hand, the first five ingredients of Merrick’s Cowboy Cookout in Gravy consist of deboned beef, beef broth, chicken broth, beef liver, and carrots.

Campbell’s then proceeds to list a range of random ingredients employed for flavoring, devoid of significant nutritional value. In contrast, Merrick incorporates apples, eggs, green beans, potatoes, and an array of vitamin supplements.

This shift reflects the evolution in dog food production, marking a departure from the traditional perception. While the past may have been characterized by less desirable ingredients, the present landscape demonstrates an increasing resemblance between the ingredients found in high-quality dog food and those in human-grade products. The inclusion of nutritious elements such as fruits, vegetables, and vitamin supplements showcases a commitment to providing a balanced and wholesome diet for our four-legged companions.


The primary objective of consuming dog food in a potential starvation scenario is to maintain an adequate calorie intake while supplying the body with essential nutrients for survival. Dog food meticulously measures its calorie content, as each company strives to offer a well-balanced meal for the well-being of dogs.

Determining a human’s daily caloric requirement is relatively straightforward (most adult men need around 2,500 calories to sustain an active and healthy lifestyle). However, calculating a dog’s caloric needs depends on various factors, including weight, neutered status, breed, and age.

On average, a single can of dog food contains approximately 350 to 450 calories, as it has been established that this meets the base requirements for most small dogs. A 10-pound dog would necessitate one can per day, while a 100-pound dog would require about five cans.

Considering your caloric needs, if you consume conservatively, you would go through several cans per day. Unless you have access to a substantial supply of dog food, you would be surviving on an insufficient intake akin to that of a prisoner.

While you may feel as satiated as you would after consuming a full can of soup (for instance, the aforementioned Campbell’s example contains 340 calories per can), the caloric content would still fall short of your requirements.

Thus, while dog food can provide a sense of fullness, it may not fulfill your calorie needs in the long run. It is crucial to recognize this disparity, especially when relying on dog food as a potential food source during challenging circumstances.

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Protein Needs:

Humans and dogs alike are part of the animal kingdom, and protein is a vital component for the survival of both species. Without an adequate protein intake, various detrimental effects can manifest.

Muscle loss, the development of anemia (resulting from insufficient oxygen supply to cells), skin problems, an increased susceptibility to bone fractures, and heightened vulnerability to infections are among the potential consequences.

Dogs experience similar repercussions, underscoring the importance of protein content in their diet. Dog food places significant emphasis on fulfilling their protein requirements.

For an adult human with low activity levels, the recommended protein intake stands at around 0.4 grams per pound of body weight per day. In comparison, a dog typically requires approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This disparity in protein needs reflects the unique physiological characteristics and metabolic processes of each species.

Protein serves as a building block for tissues, supports essential bodily functions, and aids in repair and maintenance processes. Meeting the protein requirements of both humans and dogs is crucial for sustaining optimal health and well-being. Therefore, the emphasis on protein content within dog food aligns with the fundamental nutritional needs shared by humans and their canine companions.

Vitamin Content:

Vitamins play a crucial role in a dog’s body, much like they do in the human body, serving a multitude of functions. These include DNA synthesis, bone development, blood clotting, maintenance of normal eye function, and optimal neurological function.

Consequently, modern cans of dog food, particularly those labeled as more organic varieties, are enriched with a variety of vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E are commonly included, alongside the B-vitamin family, which encompasses thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, and biotin. Interestingly, these vitamins should sound familiar, as they are also present in the foods consumed by humans and are beneficial for their health.

Vitamins are essential for the proper functioning and well-being of both dogs and humans. They contribute to vital processes within the body, supporting various physiological functions and promoting overall health. By incorporating vitamins into dog food, manufacturers recognize the significance of these micronutrients in supporting optimal canine health.

The inclusion of vitamins such as A, D, E, and the B-vitamin family in dog food reflects the shared nutritional needs of humans and dogs. These vitamins are recognized for their positive impact on overall health and their vital roles in facilitating essential bodily functions.

Hence, the incorporation of these vitamins in dog food serves to provide a well-rounded diet that supports the overall well-being of our canine companions, paralleling the benefits that humans derive from consuming foods rich in these vitamins.

Avoiding Risks: A Cautionary Perspective

Given the significant differences in digestive systems and nutritional requirements between humans and dogs, it is important to recognize that dog food is specifically formulated for their needs, not ours. This poses certain challenges when considering the consumption of dog food as a meal option.

For instance, humans rely on Vitamin C to maintain healthy skin and a functional immune system. Unlike dogs, who can synthesize Vitamin C in their livers, humans must obtain it from dietary sources. Consequently, Vitamin C is rarely intentionally added to dog food. However, common ingredients found in many dog foods, such as carrots, green beans, and potatoes, are naturally rich in Vitamin C.

Another concern relates to Vitamin K3, known by various names such as dimethylprimidinol, menadione, and/or bisulfate. In its synthetic form, menadione can be toxic to humans, although the risk is primarily associated with high levels of consumption, which are unlikely to be present in canned dog food.

Dogs can naturally produce Vitamin K with the help of bacteria in their intestines, rendering it unnecessary to add synthetic forms of Vitamin K3 to their diet. In fact, none of the acquired brands of dog food mentioned the presence of Vitamin K or its synthetic form.

It is important to note that not all dog food products are created equal. The cans of food obtained for this discussion were selected randomly from a pet store, priced at around $3 per can. These options differ from the inexpensive, low-quality puppy chow often found in discount stores, which may contain more beaks and bones than actual protein and vegetables.

While concerns about foodborne illnesses are valid, it is worth emphasizing that such risks can exist with any food product, including those intended for human consumption. If you have apprehensions regarding potential contamination of the dog food you are considering consuming, the FDA maintains a list of pet food recall notices, which can offer valuable information and guidance.

In conclusion, it is important to exercise caution and make informed choices when considering dog food as a potential food source for humans. Recognizing the divergent nutritional needs and potential risks associated with dog food consumption can help mitigate any adverse effects and ensure the overall well-being of individuals.

Always check the label

always check the label

Pet food manufacturers often employ strategic marketing techniques to create an illusion of greater value and deceive consumers. These tactics involve the use of specific words on labels, which are regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

By incorporating ingredient names into product names, manufacturers aim to emphasize the presence of those ingredients and sway consumer perception. Let’s explore some of these labeling practices, such as the 95%, 25%, and 3% rules, as well as the “Flavor” rule.

The 95% Rule: This rule applies to products that contain 95 percent or more of the named ingredient. You may find labels that prominently display phrases like “Beef for Dogs” or “Chicken Cat Food.” However, determining the exact percentage of meats included can be challenging. An example closer to transparency is Acana’s Pork Recipe in Bone Broth, which claims to contain 85 percent “Premium Animal Ingredients.” Nevertheless, the term “animal ingredients” is vague and can encompass various parts of any animal.

The 25% Rule: Also known as the “dinner” rule, this rule applies to many of the cans discussed. Phrases like “Beef Dinner for Dogs,” “Chicken Entrée,” or “Salmon Recipe” indicate that at least 25 percent of the named meats must be present in the food. An illustration of this rule is evident on the Purina Pro Plan label, which features a “Chicken & Vegetable Entrée.

The 3% Rule: Referred to as the “with” rule, this guideline states that any food label containing the word “with” must contain no less than 3 percent of the listed meat. Examples include “Made with Chicken” and “Dog Food with Beef.” The labels of Merrick’s Cowboy Cookout (“With Beef…”) and Hill’s Science Diet’s “Savory Stew With Chicken” adhere to this rule.

Flavor Rule: If the label includes the word “flavor” in the same font size and color as the ingredient name, the manufacturer is not obligated to include a specific amount of that ingredient in the food. In fact, the ingredient can take various forms, including the actual meat, any meat byproduct, or even the broth. Fortunately, none of the cans in this discussion fall under this guideline.

It is important to be aware of these labeling strategies and to read labels carefully to make informed decisions about the nutritional content of pet food. While these rules provide some regulatory framework, understanding them enables consumers to navigate through the marketing tactics employed by pet food manufacturers.

Taste test

the bestforever foodsthat never spoil v2Throughout history, various circumstances have led people to consume dog food, whether driven by dares, desperate poverty, limited food availability, or even as a publicity stunt. The concept of “dogfooding” in business refers to using one’s own products, potentially stemming from an anecdote about the president of Kal Kan Pet Food consuming the company’s dog food at shareholders’ meetings.

When faced with starvation and an empty pantry, individuals are likely to become less discerning and turn to whatever sustenance they can find, even if it means opening a can of puppy chow to prolong survival for another day.

Interestingly, dogs have been thriving on human food for thousands of years. In a relatively short span of around 150 years, dogs transitioned from consuming table scraps and leftovers to being fed harmful kibble, eventually reaching a point where they are offered high-quality wet canned food containing human-grade meat (sometimes nearly identical to human meat), manufactured through USDA-approved methods, and adhering to the strictest safety standards set by the AAFCO.

The evolution of dog food has been significant, and with increasing quality and advancements in food technology, it is conceivable that a can of dog food could eventually be indistinguishable from a can of human stew. In situations where grocery stores have been depleted of supplies, one might consider heading to the dog food aisle or a pet store that is likely overlooked by panic-stricken shoppers.

Expensive cans of dog food produced by niche companies that emphasize real meat and high-quality vegetables can provide a viable and satisfying meal, possibly surpassing the expectations of survival enthusiasts who may have overlooked such options and, as a result, met a less fortunate fate.

It is important to note that while dog food can serve as a temporary survival solution, it is not designed to meet all of the nutritional requirements of humans. When circumstances allow, it is advisable to prioritize a balanced human diet to maintain optimal health and well-being.

Suggested resources for preppers:

Harvesting and canning wild greens

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

Survival Foods of the Native Americans

If you see this plant when foraging, don’t touch it!

2 thoughts on “Dog Food As Survival Food?”

  1. Eating dog food in an emergency ? Makes sense to me. Canned food is canned food. Miss a meal for 48 hours does wonder for stimulating your ‘Lets Try It Out’. I’d pick out the more protein based cans w/ vegetables. Even comes in its own cooking container, opening top to vent to avoid can explosions.

    Dinty More is about 50% higher in cost per volume.

  2. I wonder about kibble? As the one who mostly prepares the food here, I would LOVE to measure out a portion of kibble and dump it onto a plate instead of the labor of cooking!
    I once, by mistake, passed off wild bird seed as a bowl of nuts and berries type food. I was on the way to the bird feeder and got distracted. My spouse pronounced it crunchy, but lacking taste. I nearly fell over laughing.
    Some kibble looks pretty good. How is it different from Coco Puffs? More nutrition?


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