Can Squirrels Eat Cat Food? Dietary Differences

Can Squirrels Eat Cat Food - picture of a grey squirrel on a log stump eating nuts

Last updated on February 15th, 2024 at 08:10 pm

Have you ever spotted a squirrel bravely approaching your outdoor cat’s food dish? It’s a curious sight for pet owners and wildlife observers alike. Why are they doing this? Can squirrels eat cat food?

While there is likely a very good reason your local squirrels are interested in your cat’s food, there are also reasons why squirrels eating cat food are a concern. 

Before scaring off these furry intruders, let’s explore the dietary guidelines for our bushy-tailed neighbors. It’s important to understand squirrels’ nutritional needs and the impact of feeding them cat food to promote a peaceful coexistence between backyard wildlife and pets.

Can Squirrels Eat Cat Food? Yes, But….

Imagine you’re a squirrel: you’re always on the move, constantly searching for your next meal in a world where food sources vary greatly. Pet food left outdoors is like a free buffet, catching the eye of opportunistic feeders like squirrels. 

Squirrels don’t differentiate between the healthiest food and what’s readily accessible to satisfy their hunger. This raises the question: In the vast array of outdoor food options, is it a culinary mistake for these small mammals to nibble on wet cat food or kibble?

Squirrels’ Natural Diet: Nature’s Bounty Over Kibble

In their natural habitat, wild squirrels exhibit diverse foraging behaviors, making them extraordinary survivors. Their natural diet typically includes a variety of types of food items such as seeds—like juicy sunflower seeds or crunchy pumpkin seeds—nuts, chiefly pine nuts, and fruits fresh from the fruit trees. Pet squirrels have the same dietary requirements as their wild counterparts.

Even acorns, sesame seeds, and the occasional tidbits of small insects round out a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients. Moreover, bird feeders often become unintended squirrel buffets, since bird seed typically consists of things that squirrels readily eat.

During autumn, squirrels gather and store food for winter. They use their sharp incisors to crack nuts and seeds with precision. Seeing a squirrel eat an acorn reveals its natural efficiency in maintaining a healthy weight.

If their natural food is scarce, squirrels will take advantage of any alternative food source, including cat food. Even when food is abundant, sometimes they just can’t resist their natural urge to take advantage of ‘free food’ and will carry it away to store just in case food is scarce in the future.

The Unintended Consequences of Cat Food for Squirrels

It may seem like a good idea in theory—pet food satisfies hunger, right? However, cat food, be it dry food or wet, is specifically formulated to meet the dietary needs of felines, which differ dramatically from those of squirrels. 

Cats, being obligate carnivores, require animal protein; hence, their food sources are rich in such proteins and fats appropriate for their evolutionary dietary patterns. In contrast, squirrels, while not strictly herbivorous, thrive on a more plant-based menu.

One of the key issues with squirrels consuming cat food is the potential for nutritional imbalance—a serious concern for animal health. Offering food that’s high in animal proteins and fats, but lacking natural ingredients essential for a squirrel’s diet, can lead to health issues such as obesity, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive troubles. 

Furthermore, a deviation from their natural diet hampers the sustainability of their proven foraging strategies essential for survival in the wild. 

The occasional nibble from a cat’s food dish is not going harm a squirrel, we just don’t want  it to become a regular meal. So, while squirrels can eat cat food, it’s definitely not recommended as a substitute for their natural diet. 

Can Squirrels Eat Cat Food - closeup image of a squirrel eating a nut

What To Feed Squirrels

With our extensive knowledge and love for animals, we believe that pet owners and animal enthusiasts can understand that while it may be tempting to offer a varied menu to squirrels, making cat food a regular part of their diet is not recommended.

To avoid unintentional harm and create a healthy environment for backyard wildlife, it’s important to secure cat feeding stations and use squirrel-proof feeders. If you want to help these energetic creatures, the best food to provide them is seeds and nuts that match their dietary needs. It’s the best way to show you care.

To ensure the health and safety of these backyard acrobats, it’s best to respect their dietary needs and manage feeding habits that may distract them from their natural foraging behavior. You can mimic their natural habitat by occasionally offering treats like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, as these align with their preferred natural ingredients.

Understanding that feeding them cat food is far from a healthy choice helps safeguard their well-being while also preventing potential conflicts with our pet cats and the backyard birds that visit our gardens.

So, the next time you see a squirrel posing as a guest diner at your cat’s bowl, consider it an opportunity to reflect on giving nature its rightful space—even in our own backyards.

FAQs

As the adage goes, curiosity didn’t just trouble the cat—it intrigues squirrel enthusiasts as well. Here, we tackle some FAQs regarding squirrels and their interaction with human-provided delicacies.

Q: What pet food can squirrels eat?

In moments of sheer necessity, squirrels may consume small amounts of dog food or cat food, yet it’s not the healthiest choice. Such foods lack the variety of food items that squirrels naturally seek, and regular consumption could induce health issues.

Q: What wild animals will eat dry cat food?

A trove of wild animals such as raccoons, opossums, birds, and yes, squirrels, may be attracted to a bowl of dry cat food. There have been cases of larger predators being attracted to pet food that is left out, including foxes, wild felids, and even bears. These species are opportunistic feeders and will seize opportunities for an easy meal. 

Q: Will cats keep squirrels away?

Pet cats, particularly those allowed to roam the outdoors, may deter some squirrels due to their predatory nature. Yet, their presence isn’t a foolproof solution to a squirrel problem, as squirrels are adept at evading larger predators.

Q: What foods are toxic to squirrels?

Many common human food items can be harmful to squirrels. This includes chocolates, processed snacks, and any food laced with artificial sweeteners like xylitol. Stick to their natural diet for a safe bet.

Q: Do squirrels eat carrots, bananas, and apples?

Yes, squirrels will gladly ingest fresh foods such as carrots, bananas, and apples. These foods are part of a balanced diet offering nutritional value closer to their wild foraging choices.

Q: What is a squirrel’s least favorite food?

Squirrels tend to avoid foods with strong smells or tastes, such as garlic and onions. Additionally, they’re not fond of raw celery and other less nutritious veggies.

Sources

Can Squirrels Eat Cat Food - closeup image of a grey squirrel

Author

  • Dr. Wendy Wilkins DVM PhD.

    Dr. Wendy Wilkins is an experienced veterinarian and epidemiologist with over 20 years of expertise. She holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a Doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Throughout her career, Dr. Wilkins has excelled in clinical practice, academia, research, and regulatory veterinary medicine. She is a respected voice in knowledge dissemination, delivering factual information in a readable and understandable manner through articles, books, and public engagements.