Chickens, by and large, crave protein – and they need it in their diets too. When free-ranging and foraging, protein sources include bugs, worms, and grubs. However, many chicken keepers also offer scraps that contain decent amounts of this important macro-nutrient. Thankfully, chickens are also drawn to many kinds of animal food. But what about dog food? Specifically, is it safe, healthy, or something you would want to even provide? Here is what you should know.
So, can chickens eat dog food? Chickens can eat dog food and generally enjoy doing so; just be sure that it is fresh, easy for your birds to consume, and only offered in moderation. Of course, the higher the quality of the dog food, the better.
The best dog food usually contains minimal additives and has high levels of glucosamine and omegas, which are beneficial for the health of your flock.
However, dog food should be considered a treat.
Besides, this food was designed for dogs, and not chickens, after all.
While feeding dog food to your flock is perfectly safe, you must not substitute it for their chicken feed.
Poultry feed is formulated with the right balance of ingredients to keep your chickens healthy. Just as dog food has been for dogs.
They were designed to sustain and keep different animals healthy, and we must respect this regardless of how convenient sharing foods can be.
Calcium is especially important for laying hens; it’s essential for a thriving egg production.
But, dog food is not typically high in this essential mineral and this must be considered.
Equally, lower-quality, more affordable commercial dog food companies often base their feed around grains, and sometimes use a lot of additives for flavoring.
While grains are not necessarily bad for chickens, feed based on meat is much more beneficial to your birds (and dogs if you own them).
Either way, you can sprinkle some dog food around your chicken coop as a treat, just be sure not to make a dog or other pet food the staple diet for your hens.
The foundational diet for chickens depends on their age, species, and purpose for raising them.
Remember, the faster your birds grow, the more protein they require – so dog food and the quantity to offer may or may not be appropriate. It is down to your own context.
A nutritional plan is crucial to the raising of a healthy flock at each stage of their life.
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Let us now take a closer look at the suitability of dog food in your chicken’s diet.
We cover the most common questions including: is dog food healthy for chickens, is it dangerous, how much can you feed, and how to do so appropriately if you decide to do so.
Is Dog Food Healthy For Hens?
Dog food is considered a healthy treat for hens, but it should never make the bulk of their diet. This is true no matter how high a quality the dog food is.
Generally, feeding your flock is not difficult. Just as long as you provide them with the feed that includes all the vitamins and minerals that they need.
When it comes to treats, they can be a great way to add variety and supplement nutrition, and chickens are fond of most things you can look to provide.
If you do decide to offer your hens dog food, you should offer the highest quality brand you can find or afford. This will ensure that it has a higher meat content and fewer preservatives.
In fact, this is a good approach and a healthy way of supplementing their regular diet.
Dog food can be a good protein boost for chickens; which they do need to consume to thrive.
It is believed that when chickens peck at one another, this is a sign that there is a lack of protein in the diet.
Premium brands of dog foods can be an excellent source of this required protein.
We must always remember that commercial food for animals, this includes chickens, is formulated to meet the particular needs of the animal it was designed for.
It might be okay to give your flock dog food exclusively for one day if you happen to run out of their regular feed, but you must not make a habit of it.
Think of your body; it’s designed with specific nutritional requirements, and if those requirements aren’t met, your own health will suffer.
This can be said for chickens, if they don’t get the right balance of vitamins and minerals, their health will decline, and it will show in their appearance.
Making sure that your flock gets the right balance of ingredients in their daily food is also essential for egg production.
If you’re not feeding the right food to your hens, egg production may decline because of a stress-induced molt brought on by nutrient deficiencies.
If you rely on dog food to feed your flock, they will lack in other nutrients, and that will impact their health. The same can be said with respect to any food other than their usual poultry feed.
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Is Dog Food Dangerous For Hens?
Dog food is not dangerous for hens in appropriate quantities. Even lower-quality dog food will not do much if any harm to your flock – it just will not be beneficial either.
Many in the know, regarding chicken husbandry, will discourage you from feeding a pet food that isn’t explicitly designed for chickens. While this is understandable – it’s not entirely fair or accurate.
There is evidence that too much protein can damage the kidneys for chickens, so you must make sure that you don’t oversupply this macro-nutrient.
Remember, their regular feed and other scraps will contain protein and so it is easy to overdo.
Ultimately, you must ensure that they consume the correct percentage of protein in their diet.
Some chickens might take to dog food if they haven’t tried it before just because it’s new and may have an exciting flavor.
Here, you should consider that love for dog food doesn’t always or necessarily mean that they are lacking in protein.
Other chickens may avoid dog food if provided entirely. There is nothing wrong here and it should never be force-fed.
Some chickens just will not take to it, and that is perfectly fine. Others may have a preference for certain brands, flavors or textures.
Nonetheless, any leftover food should be quickly removed however to prevent visitors, such as rodents like rats.
Chickens do need variety in their diet to be healthy, so once they eat their main feed, introduce them to a wide and varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Chickens know what they like, and generally speaking, they won’t eat food that is going to cause them to get instantly sick.
But it can happen and you must be aware of those foods that are completely off-limits.
Avocados, chocolate, and high-fat dairy products are the main ones.
How Much Dog Food Can You Give Your Chickens?
Dog food must only be offered as an infrequent snack – in limited quantities and in moderation. Once every couple of weeks is a good schedule to follow. Preferences do and can develop which you will want to avoid with this food – and any other treat for that matter.
Nevertheless, you can sprinkle a can of dog food around the coop and let your chickens eat it when they want to.
You can also provide dog food to an unwell hen, and sometimes this can get them eating again and boost their nutrition at this vital time.
Always observe the 90/10 rule. In other words, chicken feed should make up 90% of their daily intake, and treats should make up a maximum of 10% each day.
Chickens need approximately 38 nutrients at the correct levels; poultry feed is developed to meet these demands.
For baby chicks between day 1 to week 18, you should feed a complete starter feed.
After 18 weeks, a complete layer feed for laying birds.
Laying hens eat about 0.25 pounds of complete feed every day, this is equal to one-half cup.
When putting the 90/10 rule into practice, this means that treats must not go beyond two tablespoons. A few small treats a day will suffice.
Don’t stress too much about what treats to feed your birds, but make sure that they have a balanced ratio of food each day and enjoy your time with them. With some exceptions, your flock can eat many of the same foods you do.
How To Feed Dog Food To Chickens
Feeding dog food to chickens is reasonably straightforward; you can open up the can and offer it as it is.
You can take a can and sprinkle it around the coop, or you can even mash it up and mix it in with their feed or other treats.
Nuts, seeds, and grains go well with dog food, but always keep in mind not to overdo it with treats.
If you have around a dozen chickens, offering a 3kg can is a good amount. You can watch your birds as they slowly peck away until it’s all gone.
Chickens can also eat dried dog food; and interestingly, it is easier for adult poultry birds to eat dried food.
Consider the following do’s and don’t to keeping backyard chickens:
Chicken Feeding Do’s
- Offer insects as a protein boost in addition to fruit and vegetables.
- Provide unlimited feed and include extra calcium through grit or oyster.
- Offer extra carbs in the winter.
- Spread out the feed to prevent aggression when they eat.
- Chicken feed must be kept organized in buckets with a feeder.
- Offer high-quality dog food to a sick chicken for an extra protein boost.
Chicken Feeding Don’ts
- Feed them too many treats.
- Offer them grass and other clippings.
- Saturate your bird’s diet with starches like pasta and bread.
- Use scraps as their primary food source ( it’s okay to mix some scraps with pellets).
- Mix feeds unless you understand the nutritional elements in chicken feed.
Dog food is perfectly safe to feed to your flock; it won’t do them any harm, as long as you only offer it to them as a treat on occasion.
Instead, commercial chicken feed should form the bulk of the diet.
It is formulated to provide the right balance of vitamins and minerals for your birds, and you can get a feed that is age and size appropriate.
Keep in mind your purpose for raising chickens, if you’re keeping hens for laying, then more calcium is required in their feed.
If you are keeping birds for their meat, more protein is needed in their diet, as they will need to develop faster.
When considering treats, make sure that their staple feed makes up 90% of their diet, treats should only make up a total of 10%.
There are usually healthier treats to give your flock other than dog food; but all in all they require variety, consisting of fruit, insects, and vegetables.
Raising chickens comes with challenges, and there is so much to learn about raising happy, healthy, and safe chickens.
A nutritional plan is vital for maintaining a healthy flock.
Wondering what else chickens can eat? Check out my other chicken feeding guides below!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.