Can Cats Eat Dog Food? All You Need To Know

Cats, Cats Diet

Last Updated - December 12, 2023

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It's not an uncommon scenario - you go to feed your cat and realize that you're out of cat food. As pet parents, you may wonder whether cats can eat dog food instead. Or perhaps you've caught your cat snitching from your dog's food bowl and wondered if there's really any harm in that. Can cats eat dog food? What would happen if a cat ate dog food? Below, we will explain everything you need to know about pet foods.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

The short answer is no. However, this does not mean your cat can't have one odd meal.

There is a reason why kibbles are labeled "cat food" or "dog" food and not "pet food." It is a good reason for it too. Even the highest quality dog foods are problematic to healthy cats. Although they may look very similar on store shelves, cat food and dog food have key differences in their ingredients because dogs and cats have very different nutritional needs.

Cat food has more protein and contains certain vitamins and fatty acids. Not to mention, the species-specific diet is also designed for your cat's life stage. For example, a kitten needs more nutrients and energy sources than adult cats.

Cat Nutrition

Unlike dogs, cats are "obligate carnivores," which means that cats must have meat in their diet and cannot survive without it. Cats are strict carnivores and must have high protein in cat foods, vitamins, and amino acids to have a healthy life.

A cat's diet should consist of high protein from meat or fish and amino acids. While dogs can create their own taurine (an essential animal-based protein) from other amino acids, cats can't. Taurine is also called arachidonic acid. Without arachidonic acid, the cat's body will experience severe side effects. Symptoms of taurine deficiency include:

  • Retinal degeneration, leading to blindness if not addressed

  • Weakening of heart muscles, leading to cardiomyopathy if not addressed

  • Digestive issues

  • During pregnancies, miscarriages, and stillbirths, fetal abnormalities, low birth weights, and small litter sizes

  • For kittens or cats with taurine deficiency, abnormally slow development

  • Without taurine cats can develop the disease around their heart wall and cause heart failure.

Because cats can't make their own taurine, their food must provide ample bioavailable taurine, and dog food provides minimal to no taurine. 

Cat food also tends to have a higher protein content than dog food. Cats in certain life stages, such as kittens or old cats, require plenty of easily digestible protein. While dogs require protein as well, they are better equipped to extract protein from various sources.

Cat food is also higher in fat than dog food. The high-fat content is important to cats because it makes the food more appetizing to them. Cats have far fewer taste receptors than dogs and humans, so they aren't interested in repetitive, bland food. A large amount of fatty acid in cat food is delicious and beneficial to a cat, and it can cause problems in dogs. The dietary requirements of each animal are simply very different.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food 3

Why Do Cats Eat Dog Food?

If a dog food is so harmful to cats to eat frequently, why do cats do it? Cats eating dog food is not a completely abnormal occurrence. But why is that?

  • Confusion - Cats don't know that they don't make their own taurine. Just as a human can't look at dog food and cat food and see any real difference, a cat can't either. They see a food that looks similar to theirs might even taste better and don't know that their body will suffer from it.

  • Fussiness - Many cats tend to be picky eaters. They also seem to become more bored in their food routine than dogs. If you typically feed your cat the same cat food daily, don't be surprised if it starts stealing from the dog's bowl, just for a change of pace.

  • Greed - Some animals are just greedy. They finish the food in their bowl and happily eat seconds from the dog's bowl. A good solution to that would be using a slow feeding cat bowl. However, take notice if greediness isn't a usual trait of your pet. Sudden increased appetite may be a sign of hyperthyroidism and diabetes.

How To Prevent Cats From Eating Dog Food

If your cat keeps getting into the dog food, a good trick is feeding your pets separately, and separating them during feeding times will keep them from eating from each other's bowls. You can feed your dog in its crate or a separate room with the door closed and keep them separate until all the food is eaten.

This doesn't mean that your dog will be in its crate all day because most veterinarians will tell you not to leave a dog's food available all day long. Dogs are more prone to obesity, and remove any food your dog hasn't eaten after half an hour of feeding.

What Happens If My Cat Eats Dog Food?

A cat that occasionally steals a bite from the dog food bowl is fine, as long as it mostly eats cat food. Or, if you simply ran out of food for the night, it would be okay to feed dog food to your cat as long as you feed a complete and balanced cat food the next day.

Dog food is not toxic to cats, just nutritionally deficient. It does not meet a cat's nutritional needs, and long-term feeding on dog feed leads to a long list of serious health issues. It's okay if you need to feed your cat dog food in a pinch, as long as it's for less than 24 hours. Don't let this happen too often! But if you run out of your cat's food and the stores are closed, dog food will be fine to use until you can go to the store in the morning.

What About If My Dog Eats Cat Food?

There are more risks for a cat eating dog food than for a dog eating cat food. There's nothing in cat food that is toxic to dogs, and it won't deplete them of their proper nutrition. However, cat food is high in protein and fat, more so than dog food, and it also lacks other nutrients that dogs specifically need. For a dog, this can result in pancreatitis and digestive upset and lead to obesity if it's a long-term habit.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.