You’re probably here because you have a cat who won’t stop eyeing your dog’s food. Maybe they even snuck a few bites — or stole the entire bowl from under their nose. But can cats eat dog food? We all know cats are curious, but will this food curiosity kill your cat? Not necessarily.
You may have noticed that your cat starts eyeing your dog's food once they're done chowing down on their own breakfast. The food smells sort of similar. It looks sort of similar (just a bit bigger bites). Your cat obviously wants to give it a try. But should you let them? Can cats eat dog food? The short answer is: Yes, but only for a very short amount of time or in emergency situations.
Why is Dog Food Bad for Cats?
Cats and dogs have different nutritional needs and dietary requirements. Dog food is missing a lot of the nutrition that cats need in order to remain healthy and active.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need to consume nutrients only found in meat. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can digest meat, grains, and vegetables to obtain their essential needs. For this reason, a canine’s food isn’t solely focused on meat. While their food may look and smell similar, there’s actually a big difference in the ingredients and nutrients.
What Ingredients Are in Cat Food?
Since cats need to consume nutrients derived from animal-based items, their diets tend to have a high proportion of animal proteins. When reading ingredient labels, keep in mind that a term like, “meat,” indicates the ingredient may come from beef, pork, goat, or lamb, while, "poultry," can be chicken, turkey, or duck.
If you want to have a better idea of individual animal sources your cat eats in its food, keep an eye out for more specific terms like beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, or salmon. The order in which ingredients are listed on a label is based on the descending order by weight. So, the first ingredient is in the diet in the highest amount.
But that is not the complete story. Wet ingredients, like chicken, actually contribute more water and fewer nutrients than a dry ingredient, like chicken meal, which contributes more nutrients and less water. A balanced diet is based on the combination of nutrients provided by the entire mixture of ingredients, not just the first couple of ingredients on the list.
Another mandatory ingredient for cats is taurine since cats don't produce enough of this amino acid on their own. A diet deficient in taurine leads to heart disease and retinal degeneration in cats, so most cat food has included taurine for the past few decades. Research has shown that the minimum daily taurine requirement for adult cats of about 10 mg per kg body weight/day is sufficient.
Cats are obligate carnivores and if eating a diet similar to natural prey, consume very few carbohydrates. Still, carbohydrates are often included in commercially produced cat diets, with canned products generally containing less than dry foods. By design, dry food needs to have a certain amount of carbohydrates to maintain kibble shape and texture. Diets designed to avoid excess weight gain may also have a higher carbohydrate content via fiber to reduce the calories offered in each portion of food.
Consider Canned Food
If you can, consider feeding your cats canned food to naturally increase their water consumption. Water is an essential nutrient that must be consumed in order to meet daily needs. Canned diets contain at least 65% water and will help your cat meet this goal with little additional effort.
A cat’s food also contains fat sources such as chicken fat or oils, as well as vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A and Vitamin E. Diets that are high in fish require vitamin K supplementation too.
What Ingredients Are in Dog Food?
Like cat food, dog food also contains protein. Although, generally not as much since cats require approximately twice as much protein in their diet compared to dogs. Dogs are also able to derive more of their essential nutrients from vegetables and grains, so their diets are often higher in these ingredients versus cat foods.
Dog food is not required to contain taurine, one of the main reasons that cats should not be fed dog food for a long time. Similar to cat food, diets for dogs are often supplemented with various B vitamins and vitamins A, D, and E, although the amount required differs. The minerals found in dog food provide skeletal support and help with muscle functions.
Related: Is Organic Dog Food Better?
What Happens if a Cat Eats Dog Food? (Once vs Often)
Cats cannot survive on a dog food diet alone long term. Without the right amount of protein and taurine, cats will lose their muscle mass and become lethargic. Taurine deficiency causes eventual problems with their vision, digestion, heart function, and immune system.
For queens that may have a litter of kittens in the future, taurine is needed for proper fetal development. But can a cat eat dog food here and there?
Can Cats Eat Dog Food For a Day?
You may be clicking on this article because your cat already snuck some dog food here and there. You're also likely hoping it hasn't harmed your feline companion in some way! Don't worry. Cats can eat dog food for a day, whether it be an emergency situation or because your cat just wants to show the dog who's boss.
Related: How to Calm an Aggressive Cat
Dog food isn't inherently dangerous to cats short term; it just isn't nutritious. Your cat won't become ill from scarfing down some dog kibble, but keep in mind that the sudden change in diet could cause them to have an upset stomach, which may lead to cat diarrhea or vomiting.
How to Stop Your Cat from Eating Dog Food
You can own a cat and a dog without them chowing down on each other's food. You just have to make a few adjustments to your feeding routine and setup.
Cats are not pack animals and don't mind eating alone. In fact, some cats may prefer it. It could greatly reduce the risk of them claiming the dog's leftovers if you give each pet their own feeding space a bit further from each other. When your cat realizes where their feeding occurs, they will naturally hang out around that area while waiting for their next meal. Pretty soon your feline should forget all about the dog's bowl across the room.
Try giving your cat treats in that area as well, encouraging them to stay in that area in hopes that more food is coming their way. If your cat still decides to venture to the dog's eating area, remove them immediately and even say "no" in a sharp tone. When they start to see that hanging around the dog's area gets them nowhere they won't be so fond of that place as much as their own.
If you have a dog that’s a bit of a pushover, try raised food bowls or automatic feeders. This will make it more difficult for a cat to budge their way in while the dog is eating since they can’t reach the food as easily.
So Can a Dog Eat Cat Food?
Cats are a bit more particular than dogs when it comes to the food they can eat. Even though dogs may not seem too picky about their diet, eating a lot of cat food can lead to gastrointestinal problems, sickness, and diarrhea. Long-term cat food scarfing can also lead to obesity since those little kibbles often come with high-calorie content. While dogs should definitely not be fed a cat-food heavy diet, dogs can eat some cat food and it's highly unlikely it would be fatal.
How to Stop Your Dog from Eating Cat Food
This might be a bit easier to deal with than cats, since — let's face it — cats do whatever they want. Especially if they know they won't be caught. Cats are also a bit more mobile, able to jump onto surfaces they shouldn't and open things they shouldn't.
If you want to immediately stop your dog from having access to cat food, keep the bag of dry food in a high up cabinet or on a high up shelf. You can also start feeding your cat on higher surfaces, like atop a cat tree or built-in cat shelf. This would also become your cat's safe space and food territory, making them less likely to venture down for some of the dog's food.
You can also try implementing automatic feeders. Some automatic feeders can only be accessed by a pet with the right collar or microchip. That means your other pet won't be able to activate the feeder, ensuring they're not given an opportunity to try out the wrong food. This is especially useful for cats since some will eat slowly throughout the day and you don't want the leftover food to be consumed by your dog.
Don’t panic if your cat has nibbled on some leftover dog food. Or, if your dog has eaten a bowl of cat food when you forgot to pick up a new bag at the store! In these one time instances, your pet should be fine. But cats should never be fed dog food long term. The same can be said vice versa since they may be missing nutrients and diet staples that help them stay healthy and active.
Remember: cats need more protein and added taurine for a variety of functions. And if you think they've eaten a fair amount of the wrong food, don't hesitate to bring them to the vet. Read more here.