In a survival situation, keeping up your calorie intake is imperative. Ideally you’ll be able to accomplish that with high quality foods that you have stored, grown, hunted or gathered yourself.
Lacking that you might have to improvise. One consumable that comes up regularly in discussion about potential survival foods is dog food.
Can you eat dog food in a survival situation?
Yes, you can eat dog food to survive, but you must do so cautiously and understand the risks. It is also far more likely that dog food contains germs and various ingredients that you definitely do not want to ingest.
If you were in a major bind it would be far better to eat dog food or other pet food than risk starvation, but dog food should never be your first choice when it comes to survival rations.
In the remainder of this article we will share what you need to know about dog food as a potential source of survival food.
Dog Food Does Provide Calories, Protein and Carbs
If you are in a bind and need calories desperately, dog food can definitely provide. Dog food contains plenty of ingredients you would expect, and others you might not expect. The primary ingredients in dog food are some form of animal protein and various grains. There are of course other additives and ingredients, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
The primary ingredient, protein, is animal-derived, and usually derives from beef, chicken, ground bones and such.
But compared to typical human-centric fare, it is animal protein derived from animal byproducts- offal- not choice cuts of healthy, tasty meat that you or I would eat.
Put another way, a kinder way, it is typically the parts of the animal that people will not eat, including such parts as the skin, bones, organs and so forth.
Additional protein sources are whole eggs (shells and all) blood meal and un-hulled soybeans. The carbohydrate component is typically provided by grains and could include oats, wheat, corn, flour, rice or combination of any or all of the above.
Many name brand dog foods also include added vitamins and minerals or vegetables to ensure that Fido gets the nutrition he needs. Just like many human foods that are fortified much of the time, dog food is too.
However, as mentioned, canine nutritional needs to differ from human nutritional needs, and certain vitamins that would otherwise be present in human food are left out because canine biology produces it on its own.
But It Also Includes Some Bad Stuff
It is also worth noting that the processing of the primary protein source is not held to the same strict standards as food intended for human consumption. This means there might be some genuinely undesirable things in the dog food, like dyes, scents and possibly even feces.
Many times, the flavor listed on the dog food can is not necessarily the meat product contained within; it might just be flavored to taste that way.
Whatever kind of protein is contained in the dog food, it will usually include the entire animal, even such parts of the animal that are considered completely unpalatable or even totally inedible by humans such as the brains, tongues, hooves, udders, and so forth.
Perhaps most shockingly of all, even animals that die from euthanasia or various diseases will still be processed and rendered down into raw protein for inclusion in dog food. I sure wouldn’t want to feed that to my dog and I definitely don’t want to eat that myself under any conditions!
In several well-known and not so well known scandals over the years, dog food companies both domestic and foreign have been caught “cutting” their foods with everything from sawdust to fine plastic and chemicals in order to fool inspectors and save money on ingredients.
This stuff will definitely make your pet ill or even kill them, and it will definitely make you ill… or worse.
Bacteria is Almost Certainly Present
When you combine the decidedly dodgy ingredients, poor safety standards, and marginal quality control attendant to the production of dog food, you get subpar products…
The chances of significant bacterial contamination, viruses and various other foodborne pathogens being present in a can of factory sealed dog food is far, is far higher than virtually any kind of food destined for human consumption. Salmonella and E. Coli are hardly out of the question.
This is definitely bad news for anyone who has a compromised immune system, is already sick or is just suffering from malnutrition due to a total lack of food or just a lack of quality food.
You start nomming on some dog food that has some nasty strain of bacteria in it and you might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, survival-wise.
Even if you are healthy and fit as a fiddle that is not a guarantee you won’t catch foodborne illness from germs already present in dog food.
I would expect vomiting and diarrhea at the minimum if you get a bug from eating it, and either can leave you in bad shape if you are already in the middle of a survival scenario.
And you cannot necessarily rely on taste or texture to tell you if the dog food has gone bad or has bad stuff present on opening; most dog foods do not smell or taste good to people at any rate!
Then Why Do Dogs Not Get Sick When Eating Dog Food?
The pithy answer is that they are dogs, and we are not, but in seriousness dogs are far less vulnerable to many germs than people are.
Even though dogs and humans are both mammals and share some essential biological characteristics, dogs have long evolved as omnivores but also scavengers.
Like most carnivorous animals, they must be able to cope with raw meat and organ tissues that might present an inherent health risk to humans unless cooked.
This level of scavenging also exposes them to a wider variety of germs, and as a result, dogs have evolved a far higher tolerance for dietary contaminants.
Dogs also possess a shorter digestive tract and gut flora that is quite different from ours, one that allows them to better digest and extract nutrients from foods, safely, that would leave us human beings seriously in the lurch.
Accordingly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which oversees the production of dog and other pet foods has set a much, much lower health standard for their food than for humans- some germs just won’t bother dogs.
For these reasons, dogs can eat what is in reality their pretty gross food without worry.
Any Difference Between Dry and Wet Dog Food?
For our purposes, no. The methods of production are obviously different, and the end result looks and smells very different, but the ingredients are broadly the same. The risks of consuming dry and wet dog food are the same.
Other potential considerations are that wet dog food is even more vulnerable to spoilage than dry dog food, and dry dog food is sometimes attacked by the same grain pests that you would expect to see turn up in flower, oatmeal, cornmeal and the like.
On the bright side, dry dog food is nominally more palatable than wet dog food and munching on a few handfuls of dry kibble is less likely to make your gorge rise from the experience.
Do keep in mind that dry dog food is, well, dry, and requires considerable water resources from your body to process and digest it. This means it will make you very thirsty.
Can You Survive on Dog Food?
Let’s say that, for whatever reason, you are in a serious, long term survival scenario and pretty much the only food you have that will go the distance is dog food of one form or another. Can you survive on dog food alone?
In the short term, yes, absolutely. However unpleasant it might be, in a pinch, dog food will keep you alive. It’s high in calories and has all the macronutrients you need to survive and do what you need to do. It might be disgusting, but it will easily keep you alive.
However, over the long term, things get a bit more complicated. While dog food will allow you to survive in the short term, the long term prognosis is not so certain.
Dog food is in no way nutritionally complete for people. It is possible to eat nothing but dog food and maintain your energy levels for some time (assuming you don’t get sick) but after 3 or 4 weeks on the stuff malnutrition will start to show.
After that, you’ll be in a slow decline, health-wise, and also increasingly vulnerable to illness and germs- say, for instance, the germs already present in the dog food.
Dog food is nominally edible by humans, but the nasty ingredients that are questionably sourced, lack of quality control, lack of oversight in production and other shortcomings compared to food intended for human consumption mean the bacteria is likely going to be present from the outset in the food, and you’ll also be consuming things that you would never dream of eating otherwise.
It will provide you protein, vitamins, minerals and fat and will definitely keep you alive, but it is nutritionally incomplete for long-term consumption, not to mention disgusting.
It is highly recommended you avoid consuming dog food if you are immuno-compromised, already ill, or badly dehydrated. Save it for legitimate life or death emergencies.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.