If you have multiple pets, it can be tempting to feed them all the same food. That would make things much easier, after all.
But is it safe to feed your dog’s food to your pet rats? Is kibble or wet dog food better?
While dog food is not necessarily bad for your rats, it wasn’t designed with the rat’s nutritional needs in mind. An occasional bit of dog food won’t hurt your rat, but it should not be the main staple of your mischief’s diet.
This article will explain the reasons why.
Can You Feed Dog Food to Your Pet Rat?
Is Dog Food Safe for Rats?
First off, there is no particular ingredient in dog food that is bad for rats. Dog food generally consist of a protein source (usually meat or meat by-products), some vegetables or grains, and sometimes other things like herbs or spices.
Some dog food will also contain ingredients like fructose or glucose syrup, which isn’t healthy for your dog or your rat, but that’s a story for another article.
Therefore, if your rat ends up eating a bit of dog food, there’s nothing to worry about. Dog food isn’t toxic for your rats.
So why is it not recommended as a diet for pet rats?
Well, dog food is produced to suit the nutritional needs of dogs, and these are not the same as your rat’s requirements. Both dogs and rats are omnivores, meaning that they eat a wide variety of foods in the wild and can derive nutrition from both animal and plant food sources.
However, the dog’s omnivorous diet usually relies more on animal protein sources, and dogs generally require higher protein contents in their diets.
The AAFCO recommends a protein content of at least 18% in dog food1 – many dog foods have much higher protein percentages, up to 25% or more. An adult rat, on the other hand, only requires about 14-16% of protein in their diet2.
There is some evidence that a high-protein diet can have negative effect on a rat’s health over time3,4. Furthermore, dog food would not meet a rat’s nutritional requirements in the way of vitamins and micronutrients.
Can You Feed Rats Wet Dog Food?
For all the reasons discussed above, neither wet dog food nor kibble is an ideal diet for rats.
If your rats happen to come across a bit of dog food by accident, there is no need for concern. But there is no nutritional reason to feed dog food to rats – kibble and wet food alike.
What About Cat Food?
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need meat and meat by-products in their diet to be healthy. They consume far fewer non-animal foodstuffs than dogs and rats do. Therefore, cat food is even higher in meat and protein than dog food, making it even less suitable to feed to your pet rats.
Again, there is nothing inherently toxic for rats in cat food – but it won’t have a suitable nutritional profile for rats.
Can Rats Eat Rabbit or Guinea Pig Food?
Both guinea pigs and rabbits are herbivores. The staple of their diet is plant matter – in the form of herbs, twigs, barks, seeds, and roots. This is inherently different from a rat’s omnivore diet.
While rats may be able to eat some of the components of a rabbit or guinea pig’s diet – especially the seeds – it will not meet their protein, fat and carbohydrate requirements.
Some ingredients in a true herbivore’s diet will also not be very easily digestible for rats and could cause bloating or diarrhea.
What is the Best Food for Rats?
The best food for rats is one that was designed with the rat’s nutritional requirements in mind. Choose a good quality rat pellet food with a protein content of at least 15% and a fat content of about 5%.
This is only a small part of your rat’s daily diet, though.
Even more important is a good portion of fresh and healthy vegetables every day, such as celery, carrot, broccoli, bell peppers or spinach in moderation. Some fruit, especially blueberries, cucumber, watermelon and strawberries, will complement this diet ideally.
To Sum Up
While a bit of dog or cat food won’t harm your rats, it’s certainly not an ideal diet for your mischief.
Much better suited is a rat food that was specially designed to meet the rat’s nutritional requirements. In addition, fresh vegetables and fruits complement your pet rats’ diet.
1. MSD Vet Manual. AAFCO Nutrient Requirements for Dogs. https://www.msdvetmanual.com/multimedia/table/aafco-nutrient-requirements-for-dogs.
2. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on Laboratory Animal Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals: 2, Nutrient Requirements of the Laboratory Rat. . 4th Revised Edition.: Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US), 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK231925/
3. Kołodziej U, Maciejczyk M, Niklińska W, et al. Chronic high-protein diet induces oxidative stress and alters the salivary gland function in rats. Arch Oral Biol 2017;84:6-12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28926744/.
4. da Rosa Lima T, Ávila ETP, Fraga GA, et al. Effect of administration of high-protein diet in rats submitted to resistance training. European Journal of Nutrition 2018;57:1083-1096. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-017-1391-5.
Nina has a degree from the Veterinary School in Zurich, with a special focus on microbiological research. Nina has a passion for sports, nutrition and the outdoors and she loves all pets, but rats have a special place in her heart. When she’s not working or reading and writing about all things related to pet health, she loves to travel and surf.
As a small animal veterinarian, Nina is your go-to expert on pet health and nutrition.