Help! My Baby Accidentally Ate Cat Food (Is She Going to Get Sick?)


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Babies are natural explorers. They are learning and discovering new things every day. It’s exciting to watch your baby’s world open up as they become more mobile, but this phase presents new challenges. It’s important to create an environment that is safe for your baby. Most parents childproof their homes to protect their baby from dangers such as stairs and electrical outlets, but what about pet food? Can cat food be hazardous, and what do you do if your baby accidentally eats cat food? 

Cat food does not contain ingredients that are inedible or toxic to humans; however, pathogens like Salmonella can contaminate cat food, which can cause your baby to become sick. It can also pose a choking hazard for babies or trigger an allergic reaction. If your baby gets sick after eating cat food, call Poison Control or contact your doctor.

Read on to learn more about what to do if your baby eats cat food and how to prevent it from happening. 

What happens if my baby accidentally eats cat food?

Cat food does not contain ingredients that are poisonous or toxic to humans.

If a baby ingests cat food, the primary concerns are the potential for choking, allergic reaction, and foodborne illness.   

If your baby has eaten cat food, the most urgent concern is that they are at risk for choking. If your baby is having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately. In emergency situations, first aid or infant CPR may be necessary. 

If your baby has, or potentially has, food allergies, their exposure to cat food can be dangerous. Depending on the severity of the allergy, your baby could experience an allergic reaction within minutes.

Another risk to be aware of is cat food’s susceptibility to foodborne illnesses. Pet food is not handled with the same safety measures and care as human food, so there is a greater risk of exposure to pathogens. 

The likelihood of your baby becoming sick from eating cat food depends on the type of cat food and how it has been handled. Cat food containing raw meat or eggs poses the largest threat of illness. Cat food that has been stored improperly or has damaged packaging is also a greater risk. Though there is potential for canned cat food to contain harmful bacteria, the canning process creates a sterile environment, making it much less of a problem if ingested. 

No matter what type of cat food your baby has eaten, you should monitor them for symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. These may be indicative of a foodborne illness. 

Can eating cat food make baby sick?

Cat food is not intended for human consumption.

Though it does not contain ingredients that are harmful to humans, the standards and regulations involved in manufacturing and distributing pet food are not as strict as those for human food. Because of this, pet food is more prone to bacterial contamination.

If your baby eats cat food that contains pathogenic bacteria, your baby can become sick. 

Salmonella

Salmonella is a common foodborne illness associated with pet food.

Salmonella is most prevalent in raw food varieties; however, any type of food can be susceptible to Salmonella contamination. 

Signs and symptoms of a salmonella infection

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of salmonella may arise 6 hours to 6 days after infection.

Salmonella symptoms include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache

When to seek medical attention

Contact your pediatrician immediately if you suspect your baby has salmonella. 

Though the CDC recommends waiting to receive medical care until you have prolonged symptoms, babies are at a greater of serious complications and may be treated sooner. Antibiotics aren’t typically prescribed to the general population but may be prescribed to vulnerable individuals, such as young children, to prevent the spread of infection.

Ingredients

There is a wide variety of cat food available on the market.

The risk associated with ingesting cat food partially depends on the food’s ingredients and your child’s sensitivities. Most (86.9%) of dog and cat foods contain at least one major allergen and 43.9% contain at least two.

Here is a list of common food allergens found in pet foods from the same study in order of highest to lowest prevalence:

  • Wheat
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Soy
  • Milk
  • Shellfish
  • Peanut 
  • Treenuts 

Potential allergens are not the only ingredients to avoid when purchasing cat food. Raw food diets are common for cats, but food that contains raw meat or eggs carries a much higher risk of being contaminated, and air-dried cat foods are a safer, still nutritious, alternative to raw cat food. 

Allergic reaction

If your baby has a known food allergy, do not purchase cat food that contains that allergen. 

Consult your pediatrician if your baby develops any of the following symptoms:

  • Rash or hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomach pain or diarrhea  
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of consciousness 

Dirty bowls

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) has placed pet bowls as fourth on their top ten list of “germiest” home items.

Often neglected, cat food bowls can quickly become hotbeds for bacterial growth, including harmful pathogens such as Salmonella. Your baby can become sick from eating cat food out of or even playing with a contaminated food bowl.

The NSF recommends cleaning and sanitizing your pets’ food bowls every day to prevent the accumulation of bacteria. 

Can baby choke on cat food

It is common for babies to want to explore everything with their mouths (an action appropriately called “mouthing”) and it’s partially due to the many sensory receptors located at the mouth.

This, combined with the fact that they are still learning to chew and swallow, makes babies at high risk of choking. 

While sometimes overlooked, cat food can be a major choking hazard for little ones since a small child’s trachea is only about the diameter of drinking straw. Cat food that is roughly this size has the potential to block your baby’s airway if swallowed. A choking incident can result in injury to the throat, brain damage, and even death. 

You can protect your baby from choking on cat food by making it inaccessible to them. You can also choose a cat food that is soft or made up of smaller pellets that do not clump.

What to do if baby eats cat food

Most babies who ingest cat food do not suffer any serious side effects; however, it is important to be aware of the risks.

If you find that your baby has eaten cat food, here are some actions to take:

  • Ensure that your baby’s airway is not obstructed and that they are not at risk of choking. Seek medical attention if they are having difficulty breathing.
  • Wipe out your child’s mouth, and give them a small amount of water to drink.
  • Monitor your baby for a potential allergic reaction, especially if your child has a history of food allergies. If necessary, call your pediatrician. 
  • Search the pet food recalls to determine whether the cat food that was ingested has been recalled due to contamination.
  • Keep an eye out for symptoms linked to foodborne illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Consult your pediatrician if you suspect your baby has become sick.

If your baby has eaten a large amount of cat food or if you have additional concerns, you can contact Poison Control 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1222. 

Keeping baby from eating cat food

As your baby becomes more mobile, it is important to assess your home for potential dangers and make adjustments to prevent accidents.

Here are some ideas to prevent your baby from eating cat food and limiting its risk:

  • Keep cat food in an area of your house that is not accessible to your baby, or create a safe place using baby gates. 
  • Consider purchasing a childproof pet bowl. This feeder by SureFeed can be programmed to open when it’s in contact with your pet’s microchip.
  • Store cat food in a childproof, air-tight container. This will keep your baby out and help prevent contamination. 
  • Clean and sanitize your cat’s food bowls every day to stave off foodborne illnesses. 
  • Do not purchase cat food that contains allergens that your baby is, or may be, sensitive to. 
  • Reduce the risk of choking by choosing soft cat food or small-pellet varieties. 
  • Switch to using cat food that has a low risk of causing illness, such as canned cat food or foods with human-grade ingredients. 

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Josh

I'm the dad in charge of Natural Baby life. With 10 years of parenting experience across three children, I am constantly learning how to raise children more naturally. I'm passionate about doing whatever it takes to raise a happy and healthy baby! Find out more about me here.

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