Is Pet Food Safe for Humans to Eat?

Is Pet Food Safe for Humans to Eat? Nearly 80 million American households have
a pet, with a majority being a cat or dog. Additionally, 42% of homes have more than
one pet. A lot of food is needed to feed all of these
animals, so it should come as no surprise that pet food is a 21 billion dollar industry. While this food is specially made for our
four-legged pals, the question many have (including this researcher) is- in a post-apocalyptic
world where human food was scarce, could I eat my cat’s wet food? Would I get sick from eating my dog’s milk
bones? For the short answer, while it certainly doesn’t
look appetizing, nor (probably) taste any good, the answer is, for the most part, yes-
humans can safely eat their pets’ food… but there are some important caveats which
we’ll get into. For the long answer, let’s look at a brief
history of pets and their food and what manufacturers put in it today and why. It is theorized that dogs first became man’s
best friend sometime during the Ice Age, between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago. It’s thought that the first dogs were simply
tame wolves. Their domestication likely was associated
with the wolves realizing they could get a quick and easy meal if they hung out near
human gathering sites, feasting on the leftover meat of the humans’ hunt. The domestication of cats came much later,
perhaps about 3000-10,000 years ago, with the first potentially domesticated cat discovered
in a 9,500 year old grave. That said, the mass domestication of cats
probably occurred at least a few thousand years after that and was directly related
to the proliferation of agriculture. The theory goes that as humans started storing
grain and wheat, mice came along to eat it. As we all know, the natural (and cartoon)
enemy of mice are cats. (Aside: as we also all “know,” mice love
cheese… except they don’t actually, and will even sometimes be actively averse to
it.) Over thousands of years, both animals have
evolved or been bred to have certain traits become more pronounced or disappear entirely. In terms of physical characteristics, domesticated
dogs today have smaller skulls, paws and brains than their wolf ancestors. Dogs have also adjusted their behavior, becoming
active during the day as opposed to nocturnal like they once were. Today’s house cats, which haven’t been
so deliberately bred, aren’t that much different than the wild cats of yesteryear, at least
physically. Domestic cats may be slightly smaller than
their ancestors, but it is really their genetic and personality traits that separate them
from their forebears. For instance, present-day cats are thought
to be more docile and have better memories than their ancestors. Essentially, cats over time evolved such that
they’re more likely to purr than hiss, with the latter cats less likely to get food from
humans, providing them a decided disadvantage over cats more comfortable around us. Because of these changes (and a more sedentary
lifestyle due to be domesticated), both animals have developed to require fewer calories and
slightly different dietary requirements than their ancestors, who primarily lived off of
raw meat. This brings us to what these animals should
be eating today, and what is generally included in their commercial pet foods. Dietary needs for a dog differ from other
animals, including humans. Canines need more fat than humans, which is
their primary energy source. While dogs also need protein (which helps
build muscle mass) and some amount of carbohydrates (which helps with digestion), human diets
require more. In addition, dogs produce their own vitamin
C and don’t need it included in their food. Despite the differing dietary requirements,
in the end, today’s dogs eat much like their ancestors – consuming the leftovers of humans,
whether you feed them from the table or not. You see, commercial dog food products are
often simply made from “the byproducts of human food production,” as in what’s left
over after humans have taken what we want of the meat. And this is perfectly fine, according to the
Association of American Feed Control Officials, provided the recipe is formulated specifically
for a dog’s dietary needs. It also means that dogs have adapted to be
able to eat a large variety of foods. On the other hand, cats do not eat like dogs,
nor should they be eating dog food or a typical human diet. For one, cats need to eat more meat due to
the presence of an amino acid called taurine, which is only found in animal-based proteins. Unlike humans and other animals, cats are
unable to manufacture their own taurine and, therefore, need to get it from their food
sources. If they don’t, they relatively quickly,
and permanently, go blind, among other health issues. Additionally, since cats are “obligate”
carnivores – as in, they must eat meat in order to get the nutrients they require – animal-based
proteins are essential for felines. Despite this fact, many dry cat foods use
primarily plant based protein. Dry cat foods are also not typically optimal
for our feline friends owing to the fact that they do not have a strong sense of when they’re
dehydrated. You see, cats at one point were desert animals
and their bodies are still optimized for desert-like conditions- able to withstand temperatures
as high as 126° F to 133° F (52° C to 56° C) before showing signs of being overheated
and their feces is typically very dry and their urine highly concentrated, allowing
them to potentially stay hydrated off nothing but the water they get from eating animals. While cats that eat a dry food diet do drink
more water than their wet food diet compatriots to make up for the discrepancy, studies have
shown that, in the general case, their total daily water intake is generally less than
optimal, likely due to their weak thirst “sense”. Thus, if they are not getting a significant
amount of moisture from their food, as they would in the wild, many cats tend to live
in a perpetually mild dehydrated state. For reference, most wet cat foods are about
75% water (about what they’d get from eating animals in the wild) vs. most dry cat food
at about 5%-10% water. The combination of many dry cat foods primarily
being based on plant-based protein and lacking much in the way of moisture is generally thought
to be why many house cats ultimately develop diabetes and kidney problems, among other
related issues, later in life. That’s not to say all dry cat foods are
inherently bad (some are made of very high quality meat-based proteins and the like,
and simply suffer from a lack of moisture) nor all wet cat foods are inherently good
for your cat (some are packed with unhealthy amounts of fats and the like). In either case, the order of the ingredients
is key here, with the first item on the list being the primary ingredient and on down. Cats also need more thiamine, Vitamin A and
Vitamin C than dogs and humans. Without food that specifically has these elements,
cats will be undernourished. This brings us back to humans. In theory, given the human body’s ability
to adapt to a wide variety of food sources, humans are able to eat both dog and cat food,
whether wet or dry, high quality or not… in a limited quantity. For instance, regular high intake of animal
based Vitamin A (which, as mentioned, pet foods tend to have a relatively high amount
of) in humans can cause a myriad of serious, even fatal, complications. For this reason, good quality vitamin supplements
(which are harder to find than you might think) generally use plant based Vitamin A via carotenoids,
like beta-carotene. In this case, if your body needs more Vitamin
A, it will convert the beta-carotene to Vitamin A; if it doesn’t need it, it won’t. In contrast, a meat-based Vitamin A source
is already in the form your body needs, meaning you can potentially get too much of it in
your system. This is particularly a concern for pregnant
women. So, in the end, while it is possible for a
human to subsist for a time on dog and cat food, there is the general caveat that these
animal foods are specifically formulated for the particular animal and not meant to meet
the dietary requirements of humans, though irregular consumption of these foods shouldn’t
hurt you. In other words, cat food shouldn’t be your
breakfast every day. Of course, this hasn’t stopped other writers
and publications from attempting this very thing as a stunt. Nor did it stop a pet store owner from eating
dog treats for thirty days as a way to promote her store. She was later featured on the Today Show. There’s also the TLC show “My Strange
Addiction” with one episode focusing on one person’s cat food fascination.


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