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Can You Buy Cat Food with EBT?

Can You Buy Cat Food with EBT?

Can you buy cat food with EBT? If you have pets and you’re new to EBT benefits, it’s natural to have questions. We’ll talk about the rules and what works with this program.

What is EBT?

Strictly speaking, EBT is an acronym for the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system. This is the method that the government uses to disburse money from different benefit programs, including:

  • Aged Blind Disabled (ABD) benefits
  • Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) benefits
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits

Usually when people refer to the EBT program, they’re talking about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s because more people receive SNAP benefits than any other kind of EBT benefit.

Since SNAP also has the most strict rules about what you can and can’t buy, it’s important to understand the distinction.

Can you buy cat food with EBT?

Whether or not you can buy cat food with EBT depends on the source of your EBT benefits. If you receive cash benefits, you may be able to buy cat food with EBT. However, it is illegal to use food benefits from the SNAP program to purchase pet food.

Can you buy cat food with food stamps?

According to Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, “it is illegal to… use food benefits to buy non-food items. Examples include cigarettes, tobacco, beer, wine, liquor, household supplies, soap, paper products, vitamins, medicine, or pet food.”

Although SNAP benefits could technically buy tuna or other food that your cat would eat, it is absolutely illegal to use food benefits to purchase food for your pet. If you intentionally use food benefits to purchase food for your pets, you could lose your benefits and face other penalties (including criminal prosecution and fines). Don’t risk it!

Can you buy cat food with EBT cash benefits?

There are a lot fewer restrictions on EBT cash benefits. Those benefits are still intended to cover your necessary living expenses.

Necessary living expenses include:

It is illegal to use your EBT cash benefits to purchase, receive or participate in any of the following:

  • Adult entertainment
  • Alcohol
  • Body art (tattoos, piercings, other body art)
  • Cigarettes & Tobacco
  • Gambling (including lottery tickets, casino games, etc)

Furthermore, you are not allowed to use your EBT benefits to buy any goods or services inside a bail bond agency, gambling establishment, liquor store, nightclub, tavern, or anywhere else that a person under the age of 18 isn’t allowed.

Interestingly, the only mention of pet food that I was able to find was closely tied with food benefits so it appears that you could legally buy cat food with EBT cash benefits.

You may be able to get free cat food!

There are several ways that you may be able to get free cat food that can help you feed your pet for free. You can find a complete list of resources, including veterinary care grants, in this directory.

Food Banks

Many food banks that offer free food for humans also offer free food for pets. Food banks rely on donations, so these offerings may not always be available… but if you are struggling to feed your pet, it helps to call your local food bank!


If your pet sees a veterinarian in your community, they may know other resources that can provide free pet food. This is a great way to find resources in your local community!


You can also call the United Way resource line at 211 for more information about agencies and organizations that can help. They may be able to connect you with churches and other charities that have resources available.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.