What happens if human eats cat food?

It’s not uncommon for pet owners to wonder if they can eat their pet’s food in a pinch. After all, if your cat or dog can eat it, it can’t be that bad for humans, right? Not exactly. Cat food is specially formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of cats, which are very different from the needs of human beings. Eating cat food occasionally isn’t likely to cause harm, but making it a regular part of your diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health issues over time. Here’s an overview of what might happen if humans make a habit of eating cat food.

Nutritional Content of Cat Food

Cat food contains many of the same ingredients as human food, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. However, the nutrient ratios are tailored specifically for feline health and may not provide everything a human needs for optimal health. Here’s how the nutritional content of cat food differs from human food:

Higher protein

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat and metabolize protein from animal sources in order to survive. Cat foods provide a lot more protein than the average human diet – often upwards of 40% protein by dry weight versus 10-15% in most human diets. While occasional high protein intake isn’t harmful for humans, eating very high protein foods consistently can tax the kidneys over time.

Higher fat

Cats also have a higher need for dietary fat than humans to support energy, cell structure, and nutrient absorption. The fat content of dry cat food often falls between 30-40%. While the exact amount varies by formula, it’s almost always higher than the 20-35% of calories from fat recommended for human health. Too much dietary fat can raise cholesterol levels.

Lower carbohydrate

Since cats have a limited ability to metabolize carbohydrates, cat food is very low in carbs – often less than 10% versus the 45-65% of calories typically recommended for humans. Carbs provide energy and fiber that people need in larger amounts. Long-term carb restriction could lead to nutritional deficiencies and constipation.

Added vitamins and minerals

Cat foods contain added nutrients like taurine, vitamin A, arachidonic acid, and others tailored specifically to feline health. While many overlap with human requirements, the different ratios mean cat food can’t fully meet human nutritional needs. Relying solely on cat food could lead to deficiencies over time without supplementation from other food sources.


Cat food contains flavorings to make it more palatable to feline tastebuds. While these are designed to be safe for cats to ingest, some may be less than tasty for humans and could cause stomach upset if eaten regularly.

Health Risks of Eating Cat Food

Occasionally eating a bite of cat food isn’t likely to hurt you, but making it a habit comes with potential risks:

Nutritional deficiencies

As outlined above, cat food won’t provide optimal amounts of all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients humans need for good health if it becomes a dietary staple. Deficiencies could develop over time, leading to anemia, bone loss, muscle wasting, and other problems.

Kidney problems

The high protein and mineral content of cat food puts extra strain on the kidneys that could impair function over time. This is especially concerning for those already at risk of kidney disease due to age, genetics, or underlying conditions like diabetes or hypertension.

Weight gain

Although cat food is calorically dense, it may not provide lasting satisfaction for humans. The formulations are so high in fat and protein that eating large amounts can easily cause excess calorie intake and weight gain over time. Obesity brings risks of its own.

Gastrointestinal issues

The digestion-aiding fiber content of cat food is much lower than most human fare. Low fiber diets are linked to gastrointestinal issues like constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating in people. The high fat content could also cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Allergic reactions

Some ingredients commonly found in cat food, like fish and wheat/corn derivatives, are known human allergens. People with food sensitivities could experience an allergic reaction if they eat kibble or canned cat food formulations containing their allergen triggers.

Infectious disease risks

Raw cat food in particular may pose food safety risks if handled improperly. Bacteria like salmonella and listeria can contaminate raw food and survive freezing. Proper food handling is critical, especially for those with weakened immune systems. Cooked foods still carry a lower pathogen risk.

Toxic effects

While pet food ingredients are considered safe for animals, some may interact negatively with human biology if consumed regularly. For example, chronic exposure to high vitamin D levels from cat food could cause toxicity. Repeated intake also introduces more environmental toxins like heavy metals into the human diet.

When Eating Cat Food May Occur

In most cases, eating cat food deliberately or in large amounts reflects an underlying condition requiring medical intervention, such as:

Mental illness

Certain mental illnesses may compel people to eat pet food as part of abnormal obsessive behaviors or fixations. Pica, an eating disorder involving ingestion of non-nutritive substances, could also be a factor.


Confusion or memory loss from Alzheimer’s, dementia, or related cognitive conditions may cause some seniors to accidentally snack on pet food left out. Monitoring food access points can help in these situations.

Financial constraints

The exceptionally poor and food insecure who can’t afford groceries may resort to eating pet food to ease hunger even while knowing the risks. Seeking assistance through food banks and government programs is a safer solution.

Fad diets

Extreme fad diets may lead people to eat pet foods in an attempt to rapidly lose weight or eat more protein. Relying too much on animal products like cat food for long periods risks nutritional imbalances and health complications.

Survival situations

In dire emergencies like natural disasters where human food supplies are cut off, some people may eat pet food as the only accessible source of calories. This scenario only applies for short term survival until more suitable food sources become available.

Healthier Alternatives to Cat Food for Humans

For those looking to increase protein or try animal product-heavy diets for health goals like weight loss, many safer options exist than turning to the cat food aisle. Here are some healthy alternatives:

High protein snacks and shakes

Protein bars, jerky, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, and protein powders offer concentrated protein sources made for human consumption and nutritionally balanced with vitamins and minerals.

Lean meats

Chicken, turkey, fish, and cuts of red meat like sirloin provide high quality protein without the questionable additives of cat food. Going for leaner cuts helps control fat and calories.

Beans and legumes

Beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas give a protein boost to meals and snacks without much fat or cholesterol. They also provide filling fiber.

Edamame and tofu

For non-meat protein options, try edamame soybeans or tofu. Both provide complete proteins and are rich in other nutrients like iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Nut butters

Look for natural nut and seed butters like almond, peanut, sunflower, and cashew varieties. They offer plant-based protein, healthy fats, and nutrients.

Dairy products

Milk, cheese, plain Greek yogurt, and other dairy items contain protein plus bone-strengthening calcium and vitamin D. Opt for low fat versions if weight loss is the goal.

Protein-rich whole grains

Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, oats, millet, and chia/flax seeds pack a protein punch along with energizing carbs, fiber, and antioxidants.

Key Takeaways

Though formulated to meet feline nutritional requirements, cat food generally lacks appropriate levels of key nutrients for human health if consumed as a primary diet. Potential risks range from vitamin and mineral deficiencies to kidney problems, bowel issues, allergies, and infectious disease exposure in severe cases. Eating small tastes of cat food periodically is unlikely to harm otherwise healthy adults. However, those who chronically eat cat food in large quantities may develop health complications over time without balanced dietary intervention. Mental illness, financial constraints, dementia, and survival scenarios are examples where humans may be driven to eat cat food despite the risks. For those looking to boost protein intake, many healthier and more nutritionally appropriate options exist that are made for human consumption.

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