Written by Vet Tech

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Finally Answered

  • Written by:Amber LaRock, Vet Tech
Although dogs would love a taste of everything, there is a good reason why a dogs' food is for dogs and cats' food for cats. So, read on to see if cats food can make your dogs sick, and how to keep felines bowl far from canines reach.

If you share your home with a cat and a dog, you may have seen your canine companion trying to sneak their way into the cat’s food. You may have even wondered if they can share the same diet.

In this article, we will discuss the differences in canine and feline nutrition, and why you should not allow your dog to eat cat food.

Nutrition: Dogs Vs. Cats

Dogs and cats have completely different dietary requirements and rely on different ingredients for metabolic function. Some basic ways in which dog and cat nutrition varies includes:

Cats

  • Cats are carnivores and require a high protein diet to function. The amino acids found in plant proteins are not sufficient for a cat’s dietary needs.
  • Cats require a higher level of fat in their food that assists in nutrient utilization and transportation.
  • Amino acids from vegetable sources are not well utilized in the cat’s body.
  • Cats rely on a different set of vitamins and minerals for healthy body functions.
  • Cats do not need carbohydrates in their daily intake.

Dogs

  • Dogs are considered omnivores, meaning they benefit from the amino acids found in both protein and vegetables.
  • Dogs do have the ability to break down some carbohydrates and can source some of their energy from carbohydrates.

Specific Dietary Needs: Dogs Vs. Cats

Now that we understand the basics of dog and cat nutrition, let’s dive into their specific dietary needs, and what they require in a sufficient diet.

  • Protein

    Since cats are obligate carnivores, they rely much more on the specific amino acids from animal protein.

    Cats lack the ability to produce some of these essential amino acids on their own, so they require a much higher protein level in their food, specifically from animal tissue.

    Dogs are omnivores, meaning they don’t rely as heavily on animal-based protein. Dogs do well eating a diet that is rich in plant and animal amino acids.

  • Fatty Acids

    Essential fatty acids are those that cannot be synthesized in the body on its own, so it must be consumed in food.

    There are some fatty acids that cats cannot produce on their own, unlike dogs, and that’s why cat food often has a higher fat content.

  • Vitamins and Minerals

    Cats lack the ability to produce some forms of Vitamin B and Vitamin A, which are ideal for skin and eye health.

    While cats lack the ability to produce these vitamins, dogs are able to convert these pre-vitamin forms into their active forms. This is why cat food often contains higher levels of these vitamins than dog food does.

Why Shouldn’t Dogs Eat Cat Food?

Food for cats and dogs differ based on their dietary needs, and because of this, there are complications that can result from a dog consuming cat food. Some of these health risks include:

  • Weight gain: Cat food is often high in fat, protein, and calories. Because of this, continued consumption can cause rapid weight gain in dogs. Weight gain can lead to a number of conditions that can threaten a dog’s overall health.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Since cat and dogs have so many differences in their nutritional needs, you run the risk of a dog missing out on the essential ingredients that they receive from a standard canine diet.
  • Gastrointestinal upset: Due to cat food being so high in fat, some dogs will experience severe gastrointestinal upset after consuming cat food. Some dogs will experience vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and more severe gastrointestinal complications like pancreatitis.
  • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is a condition that is often brought on by the consumption of fatty food.

    In this condition the pancreas will become inflamed, leading to an improper release of digestive enzymes that can harm the pancreas and surrounding tissues. This condition is painful, and can be fatal when not treated effectively.

  • Kidney complications: If a dog frequently eats cat food, this can put stress on their kidneys. A feline diet is extremely high in protein, which can be harsh on a canine’s kidneys over time.

What If A Dog Only Eats Cat Food Short Term?

If you are wondering if you can feed your dog your cat’s food if you run out of dog food in a pinch, you are not the only pet owner that has wondered. Many multi-pet owners have offered their dog’s cat food in a situation like this, and of course their dog’s dove right in!

Though you may think that one small meal can’t cause any harm, this is definitely NOT true.

Most cases of gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis are the result of one abnormal meal and can wreak havoc on your dog’s health.

Just one meal can result in diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and more severe symptoms such as bloody stool and vomit.

If you suddenly forget that you are out of dog food and it’s their dinner time, it’s better to cook up lean meat and a bland carb than to resort to cat food. (chicken breast and white rice for example)

What To Do If A Dog Consumes Cat Food?

If you catch your dog sneaking a quick bite of cat food, it is not the end of the world. While cat food can result in an upset stomach and complications with long term consumption, it is not considered a toxin.

If you know that your dog only ate a small amount, then monitor them closely for any gi upset, and make sure to put the cat food in a place they cannot access.

However, if you think your dog ate a large amount of cat food, it’s best to contact your veterinarian. They can either induce vomiting if the consumption happened recently, or monitor your dog closely for any complications.

How Can You Keep Your Dog Away From The Cat Food?

A cat’s food is incredibly enticing for any canine, as it’s meaty smell is much stronger than their dog kibble. If your dog is showing a special interest in your cat’s food, it’s best to move it out of their reach before they have a chance to consume it. Some ways to keep their food out of reach include:

  • Feed your cat in a different room: By feeding your cat in a room that your dog can’t access, you run no risk of potential cat food consumption. This also helps to eliminate your dog’s exposure to the cat food, so they won’t even know that they’re missing out on something.
  • Feed your cat in an elevated spot: Cats already prefer to relax in high places in your home, so it would be no problem to move your cats’ food to an elevated spot as well. This will help give them some privacy while eating and prevent your pup from sneaking their food. Your elevated spot will, of course, depend on the size of your dog.
  • Create an obstacle: Cats are much more limber and agile when it comes to squeezing through tight spaces and obstacles. By constructing a homemade “fortress” for your cat’s food, you can keep your dog out of their feeding area. Some pet owners have cut cat-sized holes in clear tupperware bins and put the bins over their cat’s feeding area.
  • Schedule feedings: If your dog and cat have food available to them throughout the day, try switching to a set feeding schedule that makes them have to consume all of their food in one sitting. Scheduled feedings are also recommended in most cases, as it’s easier to monitor your pet’s eating habits this way.

How About Cats? Can They Eat Dog Food?

Occasionally, you may see your cat munching on your dog’s food as if it’s a new and tasty snack. While it may not be as harmful to them as cat food can be to dogs, it still is not sufficient as a balanced feline diet.

While a dog could survive on cat food long term if they absolutely needed to (though it is not recommended and comes with potential health risks), a cat could not survive on dog food alone. Dog food is lacking a number of ingredients that a cat needs to survive.

Dog food lacks sufficient levels of protein, taurine, and vitamin A that a cat relies on for survival. If they only consumed dog food each day, they could be in danger in a matter of weeks.

While it may not be fair to your dog, a cat’s occasional snacking on dog kibble is not as dangerous, and won’t likely result in GI upset the way cat food will for dogs.

Overall, it’s best to just keep their food separate and avoid any possible harm.

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food – Conclusion

While your dog may be eager to sneak a few bites of your cat’s food, it’s important to remember the potential dangers that come along with that snack.

Try your best to keep your dog and cat’s food separate, and contact your vet if you fear that your dog has consumed a large amount of cat food.