Will Deer Eat Dog Food?

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Whether you happen to have left dog food out by accident, or have placed it out for wild animals to eat, the chances are that you will have noticed it gone by the next morning. Will deer eat dog food – and is that where it’s going?

Generally speaking, dog food isn’t a deer’s favorite snack. They are herbivores and not interested in meat protein. However, if said dog food doesn’t have a meaty odor, then deer may still take a nibble. Be warned, however – dog food has no nutritional value for deer and is therefore not a good idea to leave out as part of a feeding plot. It could also prove hazardous to their health in large quantities.

Why do deer eat dog food?

Various sources suggest that deer will happily eat food fit for your dog – but it’s all down to the type. Moist, meaty chunks will certainly not welcome deer to your yard. It might, however, encourage local predators into your garden – some of which may deter deer and other animals from visiting.

Deer will likely head for dog food if it is dried and unscented, or at least non-meaty in smell. However, feeding deer dog food at all could be harmful to their digestive health and overall wellbeing, so be sure to avoid leaving it out in favor of other, more nutritious snacks and foodstuffs.

Why not go natural – and grow plants deer love to eat? Alternatively, an oak tree or two will attract deer thanks to their propensity for dropping acorns. Ultimately, you need to be careful with feeding deer, period – as their ruminator systems mean interrupting their natural feeding schedules could prove deadly.

What’s more, dog food should be best fed to your pup alone – it’s formulated for their nutritional needs.

On top of this, it might not even be legal to feed deer in your state – for example, if you live in Colorado, you can’t intentionally feed your local deer without breaking the law. Tread carefully!

Why are deer and dog diets so different?

It’s all down to evolution – dogs are domesticated, and, perhaps more obviously, are omnivores. While deer will rarely nibble at meat if they have to, their ruminant systems have evolved to purely subside on feasts of nuts, plants, and even twigs.

Therefore, it’s understandable deer won’t feel compelled to eat dog food. It’s simply not made with their complex needs in mind.

Dogs, who have evolved from wolves, will happily munch on various foods – from dry kibble and raw meat to vegetables. As such, their dietary needs are surprisingly complex. What’s more, scientists responsible for making dog food pay attention to their specific needs – such as energy levels, coat health, and breed-specific conditions.

When it comes to deer, however, dietary needs can get even more complex. Deer will frequently change their diets from season to season. Therefore, what a deer eats in summer is much different from what they will eat in the winter. While you may see deer eat meat in very rare circumstances, they won’t be able to digest it.

Deer metabolisms are famously slow in the colder months, which means they are not likely to process as much. Ultimately, feeding deer dog food in colder months could prove fatal for them.

Why you shouldn’t feed deer dog food

While you likely feel you’re being kind when leaving leftover dog food for deer to enjoy, it could upset deer digestive systems to the extent of acute bloating, and even acidosis. Slowing down deer digestion to this extent can prove fatal. 

What’s more, if deer digestive systems are full of food that they can’t process as normal, they stand to risk starvation. This is because if their stomachs are completely full, they can’t eat anymore – but it isn’t passing at the other end, either!

That’s why it is crucial to ensure your deer – if you’re lucky to have visitors – enjoy a selection of watermelon, sweet potatoes, oranges, and more. Soft, unassuming vegetables and sweet berries are likely to be easy on their stomachs and appealing to their taste buds.

Do also go light on the carbs. As many of us try to control carbohydrate consumption in our own diets, deer, too, won’t fare too well with a starchy diet. Not only can it pack up their stomachs and cause blockages, but it can also even cause enterotoxemia. This is a condition that arises through bacterial emergence – and may prove extremely painful for your local deer, and could kill them in some cases.

Above all, it’s important to consider feeding wild animals with caution. Deer digestive systems are some of the most complex we’ll come across in the wild – and certainly this close to our yards. Just because your dry kibble contains ingredients deer will likely eat in the wild, doesn’t mean it’s safe for them to consume as a compound treat.

If you have left dog food out in your yard and regularly see deer visiting your garden, clear it up and throw it out as soon as possible. Organic wet food and kibble are likely to be less dangerous than processed food – but regardless, it is still not worth risking a deer’s health.

You also shouldn’t leave dog food out for deer if you want to avoid certain other animals taking a closer look. Particularly meaty-smelling food will, naturally, encourage visitation from local carnivores and omnivores. This, again, could deter deer. However, never use it as a deer deterrent – it really is not worth risking the health of local animals.

What wild animals eat dry dog food? 

Some of the most common animals you’ll see eating dog food from gardens include raccoons, rats, skinks, mice, and even stray cats. Some gardeners have even noted birds eating dry dog food – such as bluebirds, sparrows, and even blue jays. This is rare behavior, of course!

There are plenty of animals that enjoy dry dog food. Not only does the smell appeal to them, but so does the texture, the taste, and the fullness it provides! 

Again, avoid leaving dog food out if you can – it could attract vermin, and worse, even harm your local animal population. It’s fit for dogs alone to eat.

What can I feed the deer in my backyard? 

If it’s legal for you to feed deer in your state, consider leaving out a mess of vegetables, fruits, and nuts in the summer. Organic food and crops deer are likely to come across in their wild habitats are normally the healthiest choice – despite dog food being cheap and convenient, don’t cut these corners if you can help it.

It can take them between two to four weeks for deer to get used to a new food, so feeding them something too much too quickly can be a big mistake. Instead, start putting out the foods that you wish to feed them bit by bit, and slowly incorporate them into the foods that they are already eating outside (weeds, nuts, etc.). 

They love to eat sweet fruit such as apples, bananas, pears, berries, oranges, or grapefruit in the summer. In terms of vegetables, deer are big fans of peas, celery, and pumpkins in particular – and you are always likely to appeal to deer with a variety of nuts, such as acorns, pecans, beechnuts, and hickory

However, in the winter, their bodies need to adapt to the lack of their normal food, so deer usually turn their attention to twigs and other roughage readily available. If you have been feeding them in the summer, then you can continue to feed deer oats in particular, as these are relatively easy for them to digest. 

However, it’s not always recommended that you feed deer in the winter at all – for reasons similar covered above – their systems are simply too complex for everyday feeding to safely satiate.

What is the cheapest thing to feed deer? 

Oats, in particular, are inexpensive, easy to buy in various stores, and can be stored for long periods. They are also safe for deer to eat and can be fed to them year-round (as long as you have incorporated the oats into the deers’ diets before the winter). 

Gathering nuts such as acorns is another great way of feeding them without expense. If you happen to have acorns in your garden, or even in an area near you that the deer may not be able to reach, then gathering them and placing them in your feeding plot is a free way of making sure your local visitors are safely satiated.

Many people choose to feed deer dog food simply because they have already paid for it. While this may seem a worthwhile cost-cutting exercise, it simply isn’t worth risking your deer’s health.

Some deer feed can be great value depending on how many visitors you have coming to your yard. However, some brands may inflate prices – meaning the cheapest way to keep deer full is to simply rely on nature itself. This is the safest option, too, if you want to keep deer coming to your garden.

If you have leftover dog food and it is 100% organic, you may be able to compost it. Otherwise, the best course of action is simply to throw it out – unless it is still fully canned or bagged and safe for consumption – in which case, it may be worth donating to a local dog shelter or pound.

About author
Graham Pierrepoint is an avid wild gardener, spending much of his spare time creating exciting spaces for local birds, bugs, and other beasties to explore! He writes regularly for Wild Yards to help share his years of flora and fauna expertise with other birdwatchers and horticulturists.

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