The Secret Cravings of Chickens. Why They Can’t Resist Cat Food


Chickens eating cat food is an interesting phenomenon that many backyard chicken owners have observed. While chickens are natural foragers and eat a varied diet, cat food contains nutrients that may appeal to a chicken’s nutritional needs or taste preferences. However, there are also risks to consider when feeding cat food to chickens. This article will provide an overview of why chickens may be attracted to cat food, the potential benefits and risks of feeding it to them, and healthier alternatives that can satisfy a chicken’s nutritional requirements.

Chickens’ Natural Diet

In the wild, chickens are omnivores and get their nutrition from a diverse diet. Chickens naturally eat seeds, plants, insects, worms, and small animals. According to Backyard Chicken Coops, chickens consume seeds and vegetation like grass, fruits, berries, and leafy greens [1]. They also forage on the ground for protein-rich insects and invertebrates including crickets, flies, spiders, caterpillars, beetles, and worms [2]. This varied diet provides chickens with the balanced nutrition they need.

Nutritional Needs of Chickens

Chickens require balanced nutrition to stay healthy and productive. Their dietary requirements depend on factors like age, breed, and whether they are layers (egg producing) or broilers (meat producing).

Protein is an essential nutrient for chickens. According to the University of Georgia, laying hens need 17-18% protein in their diet to support egg production ( Meat chickens or broilers require up to 23% protein for optimal growth and development.

Calcium is another critical nutrient, especially for laying hens. They need adequate calcium, around 3.5-4.5% of their diet, to produce eggshells. Calcium supports bone health in all chickens.

Other important dietary nutrients include amino acids like methionine, vitamins such as A, D3, E, and B12, and minerals like phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. A balanced diet provides all the nutrients chickens need in the right proportions.

Clean, fresh water is also essential at all times to support chickens’ health.

Protein Content in Cat Food

Cat food contains high levels of protein compared to the diets of other domestic animals. Many commercial cat foods have a crude protein content between 30-40% on a dry matter basis. This is much higher than dog foods, which tend to have 20-30% crude protein (source). The high protein content provides essential amino acids cats need due to their carnivorous ancestry and physiological demands.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they thrive on meat-based proteins. Animal-sourced proteins provide more complete nutrition than plant proteins. Meat, poultry, and fish contain all the essential amino acids cats require in their diet (source). High-quality cat foods include protein from chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, salmon, tuna, and more. This supplies optimal protein for muscle growth, tissue repair, immune function, and other bodily processes.

Kittens and pregnant/nursing cats especially benefit from high-protein cat food. Growing kittens have increased protein needs for development. Nursing queens require added protein to produce milk for their litters. Senior cats may also need boosted protein levels to maintain lean muscle mass as they age (source). Premium cat foods cater to these needs with added protein content.

Other Nutrients in Cat Food

In addition to protein, cat food contains other nutrients that chickens need in their diet like vitamins and minerals. Chickens require a variety of vitamins and minerals for their health and egg production including vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folate, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iodine, iron, and selenium.1 Many cat foods are fortified with vitamins and minerals to meet cats’ nutritional requirements.2 While the forms and amounts of some nutrients like calcium may be too high for optimal chicken health, the inclusion of a broad spectrum of micronutrients can make cat food an appealing option for chicken owners looking to provide balanced nutrition through an unconventional feed source.

Palatability of Cat Food

Chickens do enjoy the taste of cat food. Cat food contains fat and protein which make it appealing to chickens’ appetites. According to Backyard Chickens, chickens seem to find cat food irresistible and delicious to eat [1]. The high palatability of cat food for chickens is likely due to the appealing flavors added to cat food, such as fish, chicken, and liver, which chickens also find tasty. Chickens have a good sense of taste and smell, so cat food with enhanced aromas and flavors stimulates chickens’ appetite and causes them to seek it out as something yummy to eat.

Risks of Feeding Cat Food

While chicken feed is specially formulated with the appropriate protein, fat, and nutrient levels for chicken health, cat food can pose some risks when fed regularly or in large amounts. Two major risks are weight gain and liver damage.

Cat food typically contains much higher levels of protein and fat compared to standard chicken feed. While chickens do enjoy the taste of cat food, feeding too much can lead to excessive weight gain, which can negatively impact egg production. Overweight chickens are also at higher risk for health issues like fatty liver disease and reduced mobility.

The high protein and fat content in cat food places significant strain on a chicken’s liver to process and metabolize these nutrients. Over time, regularly feeding cat food can potentially lead to permanent liver damage and disease. For optimal health, chickens require balanced levels of protein and other nutrients tailored specifically for their needs.

Precautions for Feeding Cat Food

While chickens can occasionally enjoy cat food as a supplemental treat, there are some precautions to keep in mind when feeding cat food:

Cat food should only be fed in limited amounts. Cat food is very calorie dense and high in protein and fat compared to a chicken’s natural diet. Feeding too much cat food can lead to obesity and other health issues in chickens [1].

Cat food should not be used as a replacement for a complete chicken feed. Commercial chicken feed is specially formulated with the appropriate balance of nutrients chickens need. Relying solely on cat food does not provide all the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids necessary for chicken health [2].

Try to limit cat food to a few small treats per week at most. It should comprise no more than 5-10% of a chicken’s total dietary intake.

Supervise chickens when feeding cat food to prevent bullying or excessive consumption by dominant chickens in the flock.

Look for high-quality cat foods without artificial flavors, colors and preservatives when choosing cat food treats for chickens.

Healthy Alternatives to Cat Food

While cat food may be an easy protein source, there are healthier treats and feed alternatives for chickens that provide balanced nutrition. Here are some healthy alternatives to consider:

Mealworms are an excellent source of protein and nutrients for chickens. They are naturally appealing to chickens and can be an occasional treat. However, moderation is key as too many can cause diarrhea or obesity.

Fresh vegetables like lettuce, kale, zucchini, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin provide important vitamins and minerals. Vegetables should be chopped into bite-size pieces. Offer a variety for a nutritious supplemental treat.

A complete chicken feed is the best primary food source. Look for a feed formulated specifically for chickens with a balance of grains, protein sources and vitamins/minerals. Free choice access allows chickens to self-regulate.

In addition to a quality chicken feed, fresh water should always be available. With the right primary diet and selective supplemental treats, there is no need to feed chicken’s cat food.


In summary, chickens can benefit from eating cat food in moderation as an occasional treat due to the high protein and fat content. However, cat food should not become a regular part of a chicken’s diet, as it does not provide the full nutritional profile chickens need long-term. Potential risks include obesity, nutritional deficiencies, and gizzard impaction. The takeaway is that limited amounts of dry cat food can be fed safely to chickens as a supplemental snack, but should not replace chicken feed as their staple diet. Chicken owners should monitor their birds closely when introducing any new foods.

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