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Can I Feed Cat Food to My Chickens?

Adding a bit of protein to your chickens' diet can be a good thing, but don't reach for the canned cat food.

During the fall molting season, adding some high-protein treats to your chickens' diet can be beneficial.  Since feathers are made up primarily of protein, that extra boost can help the molt go smoother.

Can I Feed Cat Food to My Chickens?

Normally, chickens will get the protein they need from a good-quality commercial layer feed, supplemented with any bugs, worms, slugs, grasshoppers, snakes, lizards and frogs they find to eat while they're out roaming in the yard.  Grasses and weeds are also very good sources of protein for chickens. 

The extra protein while they're growing in their new feathers is very beneficial to them.

What Should I Feed my Chickens While They're Molting?

During the molting season, you might wonder if there's anything special you should be doing for your flock. Anything different you should be feeding them. And that's entirely up to you.

I keep my chickens on layer feed year round, although some people suggest switching to a higher protein grower feed or even a game bird feed during the molting season. But I often have my spring chicks newly laying, so I want to make sure they are getting the proper nutrition to lay their eggs. 

However, if you don't have any youngish chickens, chick feed, which is usually fed to baby chicks for the first eight weeks of life, is also higher in protein than chicken layer feed and can be fed during the molting season. 

While I wouldn't substitute it completely for the feed for adult hens, if you have a partial bag of chick or grower feed leftover from your baby chicks, offering it to your molting hens in addition to their regular feed is a great way to get rid of it. 

Since chickens don't lay eggs once they're full-on molting, they don't need the extra calcium this time of year that the layer feed provides, so a little starter or grower feed is fine.

Can I Feed Cat Food to My Chickens?

I'm often asked if I recommend feeding chickens cat food during the molting season because canned or dry it's very high in protein. 

I personally don't recommend doing that. Cat food is formulated for cats not chickens. It's fortified with things that your chickens don't necessarily need. 

You'll be much better off just buying cans of sardines, mackerel or other canned fish for your chickens if you want to feed them fish for protein.  And it will likely be cheaper too! 

There are also lots of plants that are high in protein that can be offered as treats all through the year, but are especially beneficial during the fall molt.

Healthy Sources of Protein for Molting Chickens


Cooked eggs are extremely high in protein and chickens love them.  You can feed your chickens raw eggs as well, but some thing that might lead to 'unauthorized' egg eating, so scramble or hard cook the eggs to be on the safe side.

And just so you don't worry, feeding eggs to your chickens isn't going to lead them to start eating their eggs after they lay them.


Cooked chicken or turkey (yes chicken!) is a great source of protein. You can give your chickens the whole carcass to pick at. 

There's no worry of them choking on splintered bones like there might be with dogs or cats. You can also give your flock the little bag of organ meats that comes with your Thanksgiving turkey.


Beef, lamb or pork scraps and bones can all be given to your chickens as well, along with organ meats if you have them. Meat can be raw or cooked. After all, your chickens likely eat small birds and mice if they can catch them. 

I know many hunters will give their flock the "trimmings" after they have gutted a deer or other game.

And if you fish, your chickens will love you! All types of fish, either fresh, cooked or canned, are great sources of protein for molting chickens. You can give them the entire fish - head, guts, bones and all.  

Shrimp shells, raw or cooked, lobster shells and innards,  plus the shrimp and lobster meat can all be offered to your chickens.


Dried mealworms or grubs are one of the best sources of protein available, and chickens go nuts for them! You can also grow (raise?) your own live mealworms if you are so inclined. 

Nuts and Seeds

Seeds can be a great protein source. Pumpkin seeds, both fresh and dried, as well as sunflower seeds, shelled or unshelled, are both great choices. 

Nuts including walnuts, almonds and peanuts can all be chopped and offered as a treat. Just be sure they are unsalted.


Sprouted beans and legumes are another favorite treat that is a good protein source. Mung beans, peas or lentils are all great choices. Growing sprouts is easy and a good way to provide added protein. 

So there you have it. Some healthy sources of protein for your molting chickens. So next fall don't panic when you see all those feathers all over the place, and don't go buy a case of canned cat food. Just get busy adding some other healthier sources of protein to your chickens' diet. 

(Remember to limit treats to no more than 10% of your chickens' total diet. About 1 Tablespoon per hen.)

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