Yes, chickens can eat dog food, so don’t panic if your flock has been munching up leftover dog (or cat) food. It’s not ideal though, and a lot more expensive than chicken feed. The bulk of a hen’s diet needs has to come from chicken feed for them to maintain optimal health.
What’s in Dog Food?
If you want to know whether or not your chickens can eat something safely, the answer always lies within the ingredients and nutritional content of the food.
In the case of dog food, this is a little bit tricky because the exact composition of dog food varies from one brand to another.
Generally speaking, however, dog food is typically made up of meats, meat by-products, grains, cereals, and added vitamins and minerals.
None of which is terrible for chickens. Dog food certainly isn’t toxic, poisonous, or harmful.
So, you don’t need to worry if your hens have been helping themselves to your pooch’s food - although you shouldn’t be substituting chicken feed with dog food.
The issue is that dog food doesn’t contain all the complex nutrition that hens, and laying hens, in particular, need.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s dog food, after all, not chicken feed. Therefore, if you were to feed your hens dog food for a long period you do risk mineral deficiency.
What Do Chickens Need in Their Diet?
Much like every animal, chickens have their own specific dietary requirements to maintain optimal health.
They need a balance of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. The balance of which changes as chickens go through different stages in their lives.
For example, young chicks require a starter feed with high protein content to help them develop during those important first few weeks.
The protein % lowers as they age and have their first set of feathers. When hens start laying eggs from around 6 months on, they require a special layer feed that contains more calcium and added minerals to ensure they can produce healthy eggs.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to feeding chickens is the “90/10 rule”. This means that they should be getting 90% of their diet from a quality age-appropriate commercial feed, and 10% from treats and table scraps.
So, when it comes to dog food, that falls within the 10% part of their diet for sure. Keep it in moderation, and you shouldn’t run into any issues.
Will Dry Dog Food Hurt Chickens?
If you watch and listen to dogs eating dry food, it's pretty obvious that someone that kibble is very tough.
You may have noticed that chickens do not have teeth. This doesn't mean that they cannot eat hard foods though.
Some chicken feed is pretty tough, and if you’ve ever given your chickens fruits with tough skins, you will have noticed they find a way to pick those apart and eat them.
To explain how a chicken’s digestive system works briefly; when chickens eat food, they peck at it but pretty much swallow it whole.
The food then goes into their crops, which is like a large pouch on the front of their chests. When they’re ready, which is typically overnight, the food then moves through their digestive system into an organ called a ‘gizzard’.
The gizzard is a large muscle, almost like a stomach of sorts, which along with grit or some other hard substance contracts and ‘chews’ up hard foods.
So, you don’t need to worry about dry dog feed being too hard or difficult for chickens to eat. Their digestive system will be able to break it down. The only issue would be pieces of food that are too big, so do be mindful of that.
Related - Should you mix grit with chicken food?
Can Chickens Eat Ground-Up Dog Food?
Ground-up dog food is going to be easier for chickens to digest for the reasons just described above.
If you have a quality dog food with protein content in a similar range to what your chickens should be eating, there's no harm in giving them a little bit.
There is also the question of whether or not wet dog food is better than dry dog food. Really, the main difference between the two is that wet dog food provides a much higher moisture content.
Wet food is also preferred by many dogs. But from a nutritional standpoint, it’s usually the same so I don’t look at it any differently when thinking about whether my chickens can eat it or not.
What Should You Not Feed Chickens?
Dog food may be fine (in moderation), but there are some foods that are definitely not fine for chickens.
This isn’t a complete list, but here are some of the foods you should always avoid letting your chickens eat to be on the safe side (referenced from the RSPCA and other chicken care sources):
- Green potatoes and some nightshade foods – there is a toxin called solanine present in this food group that is harmful to chooks.
- Avocado skins and pits – this contains a fungicidal toxin called persin.
- Tea and coffee – there are various toxins that are harmful to most animals.
- Candy and other sugary treats, this includes soda – foods with high sugar content and preservatives are bad for chickens (and us).
- Foods high in fat or salt, greasy fast foods, etc – fatty foods do not exactly deliver quality nutrition!
- Any moldy or spoiled foods – you wouldn’t want to eat moldy food, would you? Mold spores are toxic and can potentially cause some health issues.
- Chocolate and foods with cocoa or chocolate in – there are compounds in chocolate that cause health issues for most pets.
There you go, the bottom line is that dog food isn’t harmful or toxic for chickens - but there are plenty of other foods that make for a much better choice if you want to treat your flock.
Please remember the 90/10 rule. Stick to feeding your chickens a quality commercial chicken feed for 90% of their diet, and throw them some healthy treats and leftovers to add some variety to their diet for the other 10%.
Trust me, I know how much fun it is feeding chickens different foods, and how crafty they are and willing to eat just about anything they can get their beaks into.
However, it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re providing all the right nutrition to keep them nice and healthy!
Image credits - Photo by Will H McMahan on Unsplash