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A character is so down-on-his-luck, so pathetic, so damn broke that he's reduced to actually eating dog food. Bonus loser points if it isn't even good dog food.
Depending on what area you live in and what standards you hold, pet food may or may not be more expensive than human food. Pet food is almost universally available in bulk while you usually have to go to a specialty store for human food. However, if you have Sam's Club or whatever near you, chances are you can buy the same amount per ounce of soup or Ramen Noodles as you could buy pet food, especially in a jurisdiction that puts sales tax on pet food but not human food. Then, of course, there are quality issues. Since pet food is not held too near the same FDA standards as human food, it costs a fraction to produce it and they can get away with a lot of mostly unhealthy fillers. Despite this, they still set a larger profit margin than human food. Anyway, your mileage may vary since prices are hardly uniform across all areas, but as far as widely available bulk food goes, pet food does have the advantage there.
Note that there still are some FDA standards for pet food specifically because it was known that human beings do eat pet food sometimes due to cost issues. Actually, before the manufacturers got the idea of pulling out even the marginal meat and selling it, pet food used to have considerably more nutritional value than it does now.
Anime and Manga
- An episode of Cowboy Bebop showed Faye eating dog food while trying to ignore the looks she was getting from Ein (a dog).
- Cowboy Bebop loves this trope. At other times, Faye gets sick from eating expired emergency rations ("only for the most dire of situations"!), and Ed tries to eat frozen, mercury-contaminated fish that Jet had stored as evidence.
- Pokémon's Team Rocket (specifically Meowth) were reduced to this level ever since James bought Magikarp... yet they still have enough money for mechas. >_>
- It's implied that it's because of the mechas that they're constantly reduced to this level - that and the fact that they keep wrecking the mechas. If they could just go with something less flashy, they'd probably have enough money left over to eat decently most of the time. Also, we occasionally see Ash and co. eating like this, too (or without food at all) due to being wandering trainers - and thus having no regular source of income.
- Nasubi of Denpa Shonen (during a challenge where he is allowed only to survive on things he wins in write-in contests) is forced to subside on dog food that he has won for a couple of weeks.
- Train and Sven from Black Cat get to this point many times, relying on the waitress' kindness of giving them bread crusts.
- Taikoubou from Houshin Engi gets so hungry to the point where he's willing to gorge on GRASS. He gets a stomach ache from this.
- Although it's never shown, there are indications that Inuyasha eats dog food. Justified, as he's half dog.
- Michiru and Chika from Zombie Loan are almost constantly on a diet of expired boxed lunches, bread crusts and the occasional can of hardtack (Shito rarely demeans himself like this). Even though it's not always taken seriously, it doesn't change the fact that both are always starving - and homeless quite often - due to their astronomical debt from Z-Loan.
- AU/Real Person Fic, Just Taken, Rather discussed, as Emma had known Melanie had been eating pet food, along with her little she's willing to eat, thanks to a choking incident. While Emma just let it slide, Victoria along with Geri and Mel discovered this. Melanie's parents also learned of this. Linn also had to have dog food as part of her diet. To be fair, part of Linn's original body was transplanted into a wolf's body, thanks to a freak accident.
- Y: The Last Man uses this more seriously than in most examples, for obvious reasons—when there's no more food to loot from a particular supermarket, there's still pet food.
- Marvel Zombies 3 has zombies bring tributes of pet food to the Kingpin in exchange for spending a few minutes in feeding pens, outfitted by the Jackal with pods that grow human clones.
- The homeless killer from Open House is shown eating cans of dog food.
- The Love Bug (the first one) has Jim Douglas rooting through the cabinets looking for something to eat. He wonders why they have bird food when they don't even own a bird. He ends up eating pressed kelp. To his credit, it apparently doesn't taste THAT bad...
- In Mad Max II: The Road Warrior, Max shares a can of dog food with his dog while the captive gyrocopter pilot looks on hungrily.
- In Jungle 2 Jungle, Tim Allen 's character's estranged son (raised in a jungle) chows down on cat food.
- In one of the later Lethal Weapons, Riggs becomes addicted to dog biscuits.
- Lethal Weapon 4. Rigg is sitting with his girlfriend and their dog. His girlfriend goes "Here boy!" and tosses a biscuit that Riggs chomps out of mid-air like a dog.
- In the first (Dutch) Flodders movie, the mother gives the dog some food... and then eats a bit from the can herself. (Understandable if you see the food she's usually cooking which manages to look even more disgusting, but still.)
- Occurs in District 9 where the partially transformed Wikus eats a can of cat food because it's one of the only things he can get inside the alien ghetto. In this movie, cat food is considered a drug for the alien "Prawns".
- If you can stand to sit through enough of Showgirls there's a scene where Crystal and Nomi discuss poverty and compare tastes in kibble.
- In Problem Child 2, Debbie Claukinski's ex-husband Voytek is in his rathole apartment eating Chow Down when Junior calls. Chow Down, which comes in Beef, Chicken, and Horse and made Nippy take a dump three times his size.
- How can one mention this without the famous scene from UHF.
George Newman: Uh-oh. Bobbo fall down go boom. Aw, what's the matter, Bobbo? I know! You're hungry! Have I got just the thing for you! Yes sir, clowns, AND kids just can't resist the mouth-watering, lip-smacking taste of Mrs. Hackenberger's Butter Cookies!
- In The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, the author recalls that, during her childhood, she knew children who ate dog biscuits.
- In The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett, the author recalls doing so himself.
Whatever happened to those dog biscuits? They were real dog biscuits, not the anemic things you get in boxes today; they were red and green and black and came in various interesting shapes. The black ones tasted of charcoal.
- The Future Slang glossary at the back of the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Transit includes "Petfood Monster" for an extremely poor person.
- Used as a form of Ironic Hell in the Philip K. Dick short story The Alien Mind, where some animal-loving aliens discover that a visiting Earth astronaut has killed the cat sent along with him on the mission. The aliens steal all his food, leaving him with nothing but sacks of dry cat kibble to eat for his two-year return trip to Earth. Just to twist the knife, they're all the same flavor.
- In both the book and the movie of Running With Scissors, the main character sees his mother eat dried dog food out of curiosity. She admits to him that it's not bad.
- In the book, it's not his mother who eats it, but Agnes, Dr. Finch's wife.
- Likewise, in The
WorstBest School Year Ever, the narrator mentions that for a while her little brother had a particular fondness for a certain brand of puppy treats.
- The prodigal son from one of Jesus' parables in The Bible was reduced to eating pig scraps after blowing all his money.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun had a Broke Episode in which the Solomons ate cat food, not realizing what it was:
Sally: At a back-aisle, I found these unbelievable savings... tuna, liver and new seafood blend for your finicky types.
Lister: And you can take that look off your face: like I'm doing something disgusting. I'm just trying to stay alive.
- According to the DVD commentary, that really was dog food.
- In a Good Times episode, Evans has dinner with a nice old lady whom they know eats dog food for economy purposes. This creates a comically awkward moment when she brings a meatloaf for the occasion, which they naturally assume it's dog food. As a result, the Evans frantically pass the dish around on the slightest excuses, desperate to avoid eating it. In the end, she calls them on it, admitting that while she does do so herself, she would never bring such an item to dinner with friends.
- An episode of Night Court had Harry trying to figure out who to give a lot of money he'd accidentally come into to; the entire episode was a parade of people with more or less blatantly made up sob stories, including an old woman up before him for shoplifting cat food to eat. When Harry asked why she didn't shoplift 'real' food, she started to say 'Catfood was more...' and trailed off. Harry finished '...pathetic. Next case!'
- Which is a call out to a PSA for a New York food pantry which showed an elderly woman buying nothing but cat food at the grocery with the caption "This woman has no cat" appearing on the bottom of the page.
- In one episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert mocked Americans who couldn't tell dog food from pâté. According to a recent study, 83% of participants mistook the low-grade animal food for the French delicacy, prompting Colbert to blame high-fructose corn syrup. He went on to say that when he wants pâté, he only chooses the fanciest of feasts. He then proceeded to whip out a can of Fancy Feast cat food and eat it. 
- In an early episode of The Greatest American Hero, the only thing to eat in Ralph's apartment was a half-empty box of dog biscuits, which Bill the FBI agent tucked into with a shrug. He developed a taste for the things that became a Running Gag for the rest of the series.
- They really are remarkably tasty.
- A hilarious moment occurred on the Game Show To Tell The Truth happened when the panel was served stroganoff with "special meat", and was promptly told what it was. Watch it here.
- A similar situation happened on Dragon's Den: Watch it here.
- On The (AFL) Footy Show had Sam Newman eating of Whiskas cat food from a can, washed down with a glass of Jack Daniels. Mmm, delicious
- On an episode of Speeders, a cop pulled over a guy snacking on dog biscuits. The driver said that he had the munchies and he was offered these. He said it tastes like chicken.
- The Bundys of Married... with Children had eaten Buck's dog food a few times. In fact, in one episode, Al had eaten so much dog food that he started acting like a dog.
- In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie and Frank scarf down cat food and huff paint so they can pass out at night and aren't woken by the hundreds of cats yowling outside their window. Dee points out that there might not be so many cats if Charlie didn't leave half-eaten cans of cat food around. Charlie counters that the cats are more interested in the thousands of rats that also plague the area. He's not stupid!
- In an episode of Will and Grace, Grace comes in and eats dog food, and actually said it was pretty damn good. However, Will, who is absolutely in love with his boyfriend's dog (more so than the boyfriend himself) is actually cooking the dog food like a gourmet meal. He was seen putting hot sauce on it, so it's possible she couldn't even actually taste it.
- Five Iron Frenzy had a song named "Dog Food" about eating exactly that. In this case, however, it was about a character who liked the taste of dog food and ate it willingly.
- My Chemical Romance had their alter-egos feasting off of pre-moistened kibble in their music video for "Na Na Na"
- "Loser eats dog food", while certainly one of the more unusual match stipulations, wasn't entirely unheard of in years past.
- Shadowrun has with kibble being really cheap yeast-based food products. Although it doesn't taste like it necessarily.
- As does Cyberpunk 2020. Kibble is listed under "groceries" and described as tending to "look, smell and taste like the dry pet food it takes its name from". Then again, a week of fresh food costs almost as much like a scooter, so...
- The Tex Murphy games.
- In Wolfenstein 3D, BJ was able to eat dog food to recover health.
- In Dwarf Fortress, dwarves will eat rats and bugs if they can't get real food.
- In addition, dogs serve as a decent food source.
- Cooking any recipe with Repede in Tales of Vesperia results in creating dog food. Which is eaten by the entire party.
- More of a dig at military food, but there's one strip in Air Force Blues where Coffman's food budget is running low, so he eats Alpo, even though the food at the base mess hall is free.
- Happens on The Simpsons with a twist - they were just trying to save money. And it wasn't dog food, but something else even more absurd - Canned Plankton bought at the '33 cents store'. It failed the Food and Drug health standards of Mexico, and gave people "red tide poisoning". Their money-saving adviser steals the scraps from their backyard, calling them fat-cats for wasting it.
- In The PJs, Thurgood sees Mrs. Avery eating cat food and thinks she can't afford to eat... more so than the other people in the projects, I mean. It turns out she could, but she had a lifetime supply of cat food from winning on a game show. She ends up taking in a cat because she can feed it for free.
- Futurama has Bachelor Chow, a dog food-like product that you put in a bowl, fill with water, and eat like cereal.
"Now with flavor!"
- Also played straight in a single line from Victor the car salesman after selling Amy an expensive car (which she bought for more than the sticker price).
Victor:No dog food for Victor tonight!
- Shaggy Rogers, probably. It's never actually explained if Scooby Snacks are dog treats or human snacks, but the former seems most likely.
- SpongeBob SquarePants is apparently the first and only citizen of his entire town to deliberately eat snail food. It wasn't because he was starving, but rather because he's weird.
- Later, Squidward does this when he's locked upstairs at Spongebob's house and realizes he doesn't have anything to eat besides whatever's in a brown paper bag on the floor. It's snail food.
- Chester on Fairly Oddparents has been known to eat cat food due to being poor, however, he seems to enjoy it. When Mr. Turner quit his job in one episode, Timmy was fed shoes - but don't worry, when they opened up a Bed and Breakfast and earned some money, Mrs. Turner happily exclaimed that they could now get much more expensive shoes to eat.
- In an episode of Rugrats Tommy wants desperately to eat some of the dog food laid out for his dog Spike. His grandfather stops him, and then says, "Hmm...I see your point..." upon looking at a bowl of strained carrots. Thus Tommy goes on a mission to get some dog food.
- Dog food isn't actually that bad. It's made of all the meat they won't put in sausages.
- They also pump it full of anti-bacterial so most dog food is, at a minimum, not dangerous to eat.
- Dry dog kibble has been recommended as good emergency food to stash in your car; it stores well, is nutritious, and you won't be tempted to eat it until it's really an emergency.
- Professional pet food tasters exist. One made the talk show circuit in the The Nineties and had a People magazine story written about him. He claimed that most people would not be able to distinguish between expensive cat food and pate.
- Eating dog food is occasionally part of erotic humiliation for couples that engage in "pet play". Score another point for Rule 36: there is nothing, anywhere, that is not Fetish Fuel.
- Most people can't tell the difference between dog food and cheap, cold beef stew through. A little label swaps and the humiliation is accomplished rather more easily.
- Because they're eaten with relish, Scooby Snacks don't count – until they undergo Defictionalization with the mark placed on a real product.
- The Monkey Chow Diaries: one man decided to find out how well he could live on nothing but ZuPreem Primate Dry Diet.
- Other people, such as Nathan Edward Williams, have blogged about subsisting on a pelletized diet intended for zoo primates.
- Horse treats taste pretty good, though they often cost more than normal candy. They taste remarkably similar to energy bars marketed towards runners. For some brands, the horse treats taste better.
- Every dog owner has at least wondered what Fido's biscuits really taste like. Very dry and bland, mostly.
- The sunflower seeds that come in small animal food mix are perfectly edible and tasty, although smaller and more tedious to shell than the ones sold as a human snack food.
- A woman quit smoking by eating a dog biscuit every time she had a cigarette craving.
- Beggin', Lettuce and Tomato sandwich.
- The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform has been referred to as the "cat food commission" by progressive critics (to the tune of 336,000 Google hits as of 2/8/11) who believe too many cuts have already been taken from the social safety net.
- A common argument by supporters of the Clinton healthcare plan of 1993 ("Hillarycare" to its' detractors) was that healthcare was so expensive that poor people (and especially senior citizens) could not afford to buy both food and prescription medication, and was forced to survive on pet food. YMMV on how accurate this argument was at the time.
- Similarly, there was an urban legend spread by Hugo Chavez supporters that before his ascension to power, poor people in Venezuela were reduced to eat dry kibble of a certain brand, and even used an article from some magazine in the early nineties about the alleged phenomenon as a "proof". This is more easily disproved, as old newspapers with supermarket ads and popular market price reports show how dry kibble was a luxury novelty that was only introduced on the 1980s and it was actually cheaper to buy cassava roots and other starchy foods by the bushel if you were poor and wanted to feed a large family. That the urban legend got a spike during the food crisis of 2016-2018 (which was created by Chavismo terrible agricultural policies) makes it even more suspicious.