Can You Feed Chickens Dog Or Cat Food?


Chickens are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, insects, and even small animals.

According to the Chicken Guide To What Is Safe, many chicken owners wonder if feeding their chickens dog or cat food is okay. While pet foods like dog and cat kibble are not toxic to chickens, they do not provide balanced nutrition for long-term chicken health.

Pros of Feeding Chickens Pet Food

One potential benefit of feeding chickens pet food is the cost savings compared to traditional chicken feed. Commercial chicken feed can be expensive, especially when feeding a large flock. According to The Prairie Homestead, pet food like dog or cat kibble may seem like a more budget-friendly option.

Dog and cat foods are produced in high volumes, so they can be purchased for a lower cost per pound than specially formulated chicken feed. This allows chicken owners to reduce their feed costs, which may be one of the largest recurring expenses for a backyard flock. However, it’s important to carefully check the nutritional makeup of any pet food before feeding it to chickens.

Cons of Feeding Chickens Pet Food

The main downside of feeding chickens pet food is that it can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies. Dog and cat foods contain very high levels of protein, much more than chickens require (, 2023). Chickens only need about 16-18% protein in their diet, while dog food contains 25-30% protein on average (, 2023).

This protein imbalance can stress the liver and kidneys of chickens over time. Chickens fed pet food are also prone to developing digestive issues and loose droppings since their systems aren’t designed to handle such rich diets. Furthermore, pet foods lack calcium and other nutrients essential for egg production in laying hens (, 2023).

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are very likely if chickens are fed pet food over an extended period. Common problems include brittle bones, feather loss, skin problems, and suppressed immune systems. Chickens may appear healthy at first but then start declining as nutrient deficiencies take hold (, 2023). Providing a balanced feed designed specifically for chickens is critical to avoid malnutrition.

Nutritional Differences

Chickens, dogs, and cats all have different nutritional requirements. According to the University of Georgia Extension, chickens require feed that contains about 16-18% protein for adult chickens and up to 23% protein for young, growing chickens [1]. Laying hens also require additional calcium for egg production.

In comparison, the Association of American Feed Control Officials recommends that adult dog foods contain at least 18% protein on a dry matter basis, with puppy foods containing 22% protein. Cat foods should contain at least 26% protein for kittens and 30% protein for adult cats on a dry matter basis [2].

Cats in particular have very specific nutritional needs, requiring higher levels of protein, fat, and certain amino acids like taurine. Feeding cat food to chickens could lead to excessive protein intake. Dogs have lower protein needs than cats, but dog food is still not properly balanced for a chicken’s nutritional requirements.

Dangers of Dog and Cat Food

One of the main dangers of feeding dog or cat food to chickens is that many brands contain additives that can be toxic to chickens. For example, chicken feed does not contain ethoxyquin, a preservative commonly added to pet foods. However, ethoxyquin has been shown to cause problems with egg production, result in poor feather quality, and suppress the immune system in chickens (1). Other potentially toxic additives in dog and cat foods include propylene glycol, BHA, BHT, and xantham gum. These substances can accumulate in a chicken’s body over time, leading to long-term health issues.

In addition, red dye is sometimes used to color dog food kibble. This dye contains chemicals that can negatively affect a chicken’s health. Artificial coloring provides no nutritional benefit and should be avoided (2).

Overall, many additives in commercial pet foods simply are not safe for chickens. While feeding small amounts likely will not cause immediate issues, the buildup of these toxic substances over an extended period can put chickens’ health at risk.


Safe Alternative Pet Foods

While it’s best to feed chickens a balanced diet formulated specifically for them, there are some alternative pet foods that can be fed safely and provide nutritional value.

Unseasoned meats like chicken, beef, turkey or fish can make good treats for chickens in moderation. Lean meats provide protein. However, too much protein can be hard on chickens’ kidneys, so meat treats should be limited.

Eggshells are a great calcium source for chickens. After boiling eggs, rinse the shells, let them dry out, then crush them into small pieces. Sprinkle a bit over their feed daily to supplement calcium, which is needed for strong eggshells.

When looking for commercial pet foods to feed chickens, look for ones without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Avoid onion or garlic seasonings as well, as those ingredients can cause anemia in chickens. Check the ingredients list to ensure the food meets your chickens’ nutritional needs.

While pet foods don’t provide everything chickens need long-term, unseasoned varieties can make an occasional treat. For their main diet, a balanced feed formulated specifically for chickens is best.

Recommended Feeding Amounts

Chickens should only be fed small amounts of dog or cat food, according to sources like Dog and cat food does not provide the full nutritional profile that chickens need, so it should comprise no more than 10% of their total diet. The bulk of a chicken’s food should come from a complete poultry feed or ration.

When supplementing with dog or cat food, the general recommendation is to limit it to 1-2 tablespoons per chicken per day. This small amount can provide some extra protein and fat without causing problems. However, too much can lead to obesity, kidney problems, gout, and other health issues in chickens.

Some experts say not to feed dog or cat food at all, while others say a tablespoon a day is fine. It’s best to stay on the conservative side when feeding chickens any non-traditional foods. Monitor them closely for signs of illness and adjust their feed accordingly if they have adverse reactions.

Signs of Illness

Feeding chickens dog or cat food can cause toxicity and illness. Some common symptoms of toxicity include:

If chickens show these signs after being fed dog or cat food, stop feeding it immediately and contact a veterinarian. Prompt treatment can help prevent serious illness or death.

Preventing Nutritional Deficiencies

While dog or cat food can be fed to chickens in moderation, these foods do not provide the complete nutrition chickens need. To prevent deficiencies, supplementation is important.

Some healthy treat options to provide missing nutrients include:

  • Fruits and vegetables like berries, pumpkin, and leafy greens
  • Mealworms for protein
  • Oyster shell for calcium
  • Scratch grains for vitamins

Chickens can also be given supplements specifically formulated for poultry. These provide a balanced source of vitamins and minerals. Brands like Manna Pro or Durvet are good options.

By selectively supplementing with treats and supplements while feeding dog or cat food, nutritional gaps can be filled. This allows chickens to reap some benefits of pet food without developing deficiencies.


In closing, it is clear that feeding dog or cat food to chickens routinely can be very dangerous and even fatal. While their protein needs are similar, chickens have different nutritional requirements for amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Dog and cat foods do not contain adequate levels of nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and niacin that are essential to a chicken’s health.

Signs of illness like lethargy, poor egg production, and loss of appetite are indications your chickens’ diet is lacking. Prevent deficiencies and toxicity by avoiding dog or cat food as a substitute for chicken feed. Opt for specialized protein feeds like mealworms, crickets, or boiled eggs to supplement their diet instead.

The bottom line is chicken feed formulated specifically for poultry provides the right balance of nutrients chickens need to stay happy and healthy. Do not feed dog or cat food to avoid potential toxicity, liver and kidney damage, or even death in extreme cases.

Scroll to Top