Gym Bros On TikTok Are Eating Dog Food But Experts Say It Might Be Harmful
Clarisey promised viewers he would try dog food if his video got 15,000 likes. After posting, his video got 2.5 million likes — “I knew I needed to try it,” he told BuzzFeed News.
“The dog food tasted extremely dry. Needed so much water after eating it,” Clarisey said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Tasted like little pieces of dirt and I definitely don’t think it was worth it. Even though it’s a lot of protein, I’d take steak or protein powder.”
In this video, he adds “It’s for the gains” as he eats the Kibbles ’n Bits. After grimacing and gagging while he chews the product, he tells followers “I promise you guys, it’s not worth it.”
So, before you head to your local PetSmart and consider trying this approach yourself, here’s what you need to know about eating dog food, the actual amount of protein per serving, the possibility of foodborne illnesses, and what “human-grade” labels actually mean. Experts told BuzzFeed News that just because your pets eat it, doesn’t mean you should.
What’s in dog food?
Although the FDA requires that all pet food must be safe for animals to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, and contain no harmful substances, Melissa Majumdar, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told BuzzFeed News that dog food does not fall under the same rules and regulations as human food. As a result, dog food products typically have a label for the intended use.
Pet food may contain not only animal byproducts that can be found in human foods, like bone meal and organs, but also others, like udders and lungs, that are not, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, an organization that defines ingredients and sets label standards for feed regulators. These byproducts are considered safe for pets to eat, but not people.
“While most ingredients in dog food are similar to human food, they are meant to meet the needs of dogs, not humans, who have different nutritional priorities,” Majumdar said. “Additionally, they contain foods we don’t want a lot of in our diet. If you read the ingredients of dog food, you’ll find chicken byproduct meal and animal fat.”
While the term “human-grade” is sometimes used on dog food labels, it doesn’t mean much, said Tracy Navarra, a veterinarian at Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital. “There is misrepresentation of what ‘human-grade’ means,” Navarra told BuzzFeed News. “Human edible foods are way different and regulated by the FDA. Human-grade doesn’t mean anything.”
According to the AAFCO, pet food that is labeled “human-grade” is not considered edible by humans. In most cases it means it has certain ingredients and is produced in a facility licensed to handle human food, but is still not meant for human consumption.
That said, in an email to BuzzFeed News, Pedigree told us that, “Our foods are intended for dogs and cats, but would not be harmful if a human consumed them. The manufacturing processes and research that go into our products are equal to —and in some cases, even better than — those of human food manufacturers.”
But, like human food, pet food can be contaminated with some types of bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.
Although the CDC labeled kibble, canned, and fresh pet foods as safe, there is a risk of humans getting sick if they eat it, especially recalled products. Listeria, which has been found in recalled pet products, can cause mild to severe health problems, from stomachaches to blood and nervous system infections.
Nutritional risks probably outweigh the benefits
Dog food does not meet the nutritional requirements of human food, just as human food does not meet the nutritional requirements of dog food.
“Dogs’ intestines are equipped to deal with pathogens, bacteria, dirt, virus, litter, parasites, etc., that the human gut is not accustomed to,” Navarra said. “We are not the same, so we should not eat the same. While the nutritional needs of protein, carbohydrates, and fats may not be that different between the human and dog, it should not be the deciding factor in choosing, by free will, to consume dog food.”
A dog’s digestive system can break down proteins quicker and more efficiently than a person’s. Dogs may produce more stomach acid than humans do, so it’s a lot easier for dogs to digest ingredients found in pet food, including bone matter.
Generally, the recommended dietary allowance for protein for healthy adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight, so that’s 44 grams of daily protein for someone who weighs 120 pounds and 55 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds.
Protein is an important part of our diet, growth, and development — but eating too much can negatively affect the body, potentially causing bone, kidney, and liver problems and possibly an increased risk of cancer or coronary artery disease.
So how much protein does dog food actually have?
Nutrition facts labels for dog food are listed in percentages of dry matter, or DM. Dog food protein usually ranges from 8 % to 18% DM depending on the age of the animal it’s intended for, Majumdar said. This means it has about 8 to 18 grams of protein per cup, according to Majumdar. For reference, a small dog might eat one cup a day of dog food, a medium-sized dog roughly 2 cups, and a large-breed dog, 3 cups.
Clarisey got his information from MyFitnessPal, which seemed to suggest that 200 grams of a Pedigree dog food product, or about one cup, had 666 grams of protein.
However, Pedigree told BuzzFeed News that the highest percentage of protein in any of their dog food products was 28.7%, meaning that a serving of dry dog food might have around 60 grams of protein, not 666 grams.
A MyFitnessPal spokesperson declined to help us figure out why our math did not seem to be mathing, but they did confirm that TikTokers appeared to be making questionable life decisions based on the info.
“MyFitnessPal did see an uptick in people logging dog food due to the TikTok trend, which was driven by males 18-24 who want to gain or maintain weight. The spike in logging primarily took place between February 20-24,” said Jen Whitman, spokesperson from MyFitnessPal.
Either way, consuming over 600 grams of protein wouldn’t be healthy. It’s about two to three times higher than the daily amount that’s considered safe even for bodybuilders.
“Excess amounts of protein will add strain to the kidneys, liver, and bones,” Majumdar said. “A person eating excessive protein may develop kidney stones, constipation, weight gain, and could be missing out on essential nutrients and fiber found in other food groups. Long term, we also may see higher cholesterol and heart disease or colon cancer with this kind of diet.”
According to UK Pet Food, pet food can contain sodium levels that, while not a cause of concern for animals, may cause hypertension in humans. Pets are able to consume dry or wet foods containing sodium and not experience the increased thirst or water consumption that humans would.
“Dry dog food, which is shown in some of the TikTok videos, may also be difficult to chew and digest,” Majumdar said. “The average person relies on food for 20% of fluid needs, so eating primarily dry food may impact hydration.”
Luckily, there are other options available that don’t require heading to the pet food aisle.
Alternatives to protein intake
We get it: workouts fueled by protein and other nutrients may help build muscle mass and strength for exercise performance. However, carbs are just as important for exercise performance and endurance, which can provide energy to support physical activity.
In fact, you might need more carbs than protein, and it’s recommended that people get 45% to 65% of their calories from carbs, which translates to about 225 to 235 grams daily if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet. “They provide energy for fueling fitness sessions and to build muscle,” Majumdar said. “If you’re feeling sluggish or experiencing a slow recovery after lifting, you may not be getting enough carbohydrates.”
However, if you are keen on getting protein, there are cheaper safer ways to get enough protein in your diet. Majumdar told BuzzFeed News that lean proteins such as chicken or turkey without skin, lean cuts of red meat, fish, low-fat dairy, eggs, beans, tofu, edamame, or whey or soy protein powder are all good ways to get more protein.
“If you are looking for lower-cost options, beans, both canned and dry, and canned meats like chicken and tuna can help with the budget. Eggs are also typically less expensive than meat,” Majumdar said. “Plant-based proteins like beans and lentils can help save money and are nutrient-dense — full of fiber, protein, B vitamins. Beans cost us about 48 cents per pound compared to an average $5.20 per pound. Be savvy and save on fat and cents with beans.”