Can you buy pet food with EBT card or food stamps?

You can’t buy pet foods with EBT cards or food stamps in all states of the USA. Pet foods are on the list of items that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) doesn’t approve. The program only approves food items meant for human household members. Since your pet isn’t human, you can’t feed them off your EBT card.

You will need to provide another means of payment whenever you need to buy pet foods at a grocery store. You can use your debit or credit cards, or any other accepted payment method at the store.

Let’s find out what happens if you try to buy pet foods with EBT cards, anyway. You’ll also learn what the difference between EBT cards and food stamps is.

What will happen if you buy non-food items with an EBT card?

The chances of you getting away with buying non-eligible items with your SNAP card are extremely low. Most stores program their POS systems to only accept eligible items whenever customers try to use their EBT card for payment. The cashier or self-checkout system will only accept items that the SNAP program approves.

More importantly, state or county inspectors come around to check that the checkout database is correct. They want to make sure that no customer is buying anything they shouldn’t. So most times, grocery stores and supermarkets try their best to stay in compliance with the program. 

When you swipe your card at the checkout stations, the costs won’t go to your card. The system will leave out the balance, so you’d have to pay with an alternative method like your debit or credit card.

That said, food stamp fraud is a thing. It refers to any activity you partake in to acquire benefits illegally. For example, selling your card to someone else for cash or an unapproved item, or writing a higher number than your family size during your application process to get more benefits.

Your cashier may decide to help you checkout unapproved items manually. They just need to enter the item into the system as a non-taxable food item. The penalty for such fraudulent acts varies depending on the degree of your offense and the state you reside in. You could pay fines of up to $250,000 and face imprisonment for up to 20 years.

What is the difference between food stamps and EBT cards?

‘Food stamps’ is the former name of the SNAP program, and not a separate benefits program. The major difference is that ‘food stamps’ was the first name of the benefits program, and it started in 1939. 

Back then, you’d need to bring stamps in the form of paper slips to a store to buy food. There was no electronic means of receiving benefits. For every $1 stamp you bought, you’d have received an extra stamp worth 50 cents, increasing your purchasing power.

It wasn’t until 1984 before the Federal government of the USA launched the first EBT pilot. It enabled retailers and the state to keep records of purchases. The idea was to reduce food stamp fraud, which dropped from 4% to 1% after EBT cards became mainstream in all 50 states of the USA.

The EBT cards, like the earlier food stamps, are electronic cards that the federal government of the USA funds. The cards allow participants of a benefits program (SNAP,  or WIC) to pay for food in authorized stores. 

EBT alternatives for feeding your pets

It’s hard enough filling your own stomach. Having an extra mouth to feed might add to your headache. Since you can’t use EBT cards to buy food for your pets, there are alternatives you can use.

CoFund My Pet

CoFund My Pet has compiled a list of food pantries that will help you find places to source for your pet food near you. The website is also a fundraising platform you can use to secure financial assistance for your pet’s healthcare

Red Rover

Red Rover is an organization that offers special grants and resources for pet owners suffering economic hardships and COVID-19 patients. They also offer emergency shelters for escaped victims of domestic abuse and their pets. 

Local pet food banks & churches

Use Petfinder to locate animal shelters or food banks close to you. Food banks are free to access, so you shouldn’t expect to pay any fees. Some churches may host food drives occasionally or you can even find a sponsor to help with your pet’s needs financially. 

Pet food manufacturers 

If you’re desperate for pet food, you should consider contacting pet food manufacturers. Like most brands, they’re almost always looking for people to test their products. You can get free pet food samples from them. These 27 companies will give you dog food for free.


While you may not be able to buy pet food with your EBT card, there’s an array of options you can try — and for free! 

When in doubt, you can use the resources we mentioned above to find food banks near you. If you have churches nearby, you can source for sponsors there. 

Pet food manufacturers are also a great place to get free samples. Obviously, they won’t give you free samples for life. But if your pet is starving or you’re stranded without resources, it’s one option you should consider.