Why Pet Food Is a Hidden Danger to Kids

A young boy feeding his pet puppies.
Photo by Javier Pierini/Getty Images

Parents with young kids in their home often work hard to get things childproofed, with baby gates on stairs, locks on cabinets, and covers on electrical outlets.

If you have a pet in the home, you may be overlooking a common hidden danger to your child's health and safety. Even if you already work to prevent dog bites, cat bites, and dog allergies, many parents forget that dry pet food is a choking hazard to their infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children.

Choking Hazard

Dry pet food, especially dog food, is a choking hazard for young children.

Like coins, magnets, hard candy, and toys with small parts, dry pet food should be kept away from infants, toddlers, and younger preschool-age children. That means simply putting a bowl on the floor filled with pet food would not be a good idea since your child could easily get to it. Instead, feed your pet in a childproofed room of the house.

Pet Food Recalls

In addition to the choking hazard of dry pet food, there is a more hidden hazard that parents may not be aware of—any pet food recalls due to contamination with Salmonella or other bacteria. According to the CDC, as of October 2008, there have been 79 cases of Salmonella infections in 21 states from the contaminated dog and cat food. And most involve young children, with a median age of infection of only 3 years of age. Many developed Salmonella symptoms, including bloody diarrhea, fever, nausea, and cramping abdominal pain.

Of course, that is not to say that people are getting sick because of actually eating pet food. The source of contamination is likely just touching the contaminated pet food and then eating something else before washing their hands or simply putting their fingers in their mouth. Or your pet could have become sick from eating the contaminated food and then you got sick from touching your pet.

Pet Food Safety

Since there have been over 13 recall announcements involving 135 pet products since 2006 and there is always the danger of choking on dry pet food, parents should take steps to keep their family safe when feeding their pets, including:

  • Washing their hands after handling pet food and their pet's feeding dish
  • Not leaving pet food unattended where a young child can get to it
  • Avoid putting pet food and feeding dishes in the kitchen where you prepare food for the family
  • Checking the floor for leftover pet food after your dog or cat eats

Also, to keep both your family and pet safe, monitor the FDA for recalls and safety alerts about pet food.

My Baby Ate Dog Food

So what should you do if your infant or toddler eats dog food or cat food?

Since one of the biggest hazards is choking, you should first make sure that your child is breathing well without any difficulty. Seek immediate medical attention if you think he might be choking, which most likely includes calling 911.

Once you have reassured yourself that your child isn't choking, you have a few options. You could:

  • Call Poison Control for extra advice
  • Call your pediatrician
  • Observe your child for symptoms and see your pediatrician if your child develops vomiting, diarrhea, or a stomachache, etc.
  • Make sure the dog food wasn't involved in a recall

And work to make sure it doesn't happen again by following some of the pet food safety rules above.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • CDC. Update: Recall of Dry Dog and Cat Food Products Associated with Human Salmonella Schwarzengrund Infections -- United States, 2008.

  • CDC. Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Infantis Infections Linked to Dry Dog Food. May 3, 2012
  • CDC. Multistate outbreak of human Salmonella infections caused by contaminated dry dog food---United States, 2006--2007. MMWR 2008;57:521--4.