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can cats eat dog food?

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Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Your Question Answered

Katelyn Son

By

Medically reviewed by

Ivana Crnec, DVM

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Is it Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food?

can cats eat dog food

Yes, it is safe for cats to eat dog foods. However, this can only be a random situation.

Namely, although dog food is not directly dangerous to cats, it does not meet the nutritional needs of cats. Cats need diets with high protein content and specific nutrients (vitamins and fatty acids). Therefore, continuously eating dog food can harm the cat’s health – leave it unwell, malnourished, and lethargic.

So, can cats eat dog food? Yes, an occasional bite will not hurt. However, long-term feeding of dog food to cats is highly inadvisable, meaning you should keep the cat away from the dog’s bowl.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food Long-Term?

No, cats cannot eat dog food on a long-term basis.

Dogs are omnivores, while cats are obligate carnivores. Plus, dog food lacks certain nutrients cats need on a daily basis. Eating dog food (kibble or wet food) causes health problems in the long run.

There is a reason pet food is species-specific. In simple words, cats and dogs have different dietary needs and their foods are formulated differently.

How is Cat Food Different Than Dog Food?

Cat food and dog food are formulated to cater to completely different nutritional needs. They have different ingredients and different amounts.

Namely, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) says that cats need 41 essential nutrients, while dogs need 37. Plus, cats have shorter intestines and are less efficient in digesting plant-based ingredients.

Let’s take a closer look at how cat food is different than dog food.

Protein Content. Cats need food formulas with a high animal protein content. Dog formulas have an “As-Fed” protein amount of 18-26%, while cat food has a high protein content of 30-34% or even 40-50% protein in wet canned formulas. Therefore, regular use of dog food in cats leads to protein deficiency.

Amino Acids. It is not just the protein content that matters – the types of amino acids in the food are important too. Unlike dogs, cats do not have the enzymes necessary to make some amino acids like taurine and arginine.

Taurine deficiency in cats leads to several health issues such as vision troubles, impaired digestion, reproductive problems, and heart conditions (dilated cardiomyopathy). Arginine deficiency leads to brain damage and cognition issues.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), cat food formulas must contain taurine and arginine. Wet food and dry dog food do not have to have these amino acids.

Carbohydrates. Dogs can use carbs to make energy which is why dog food contains 18 to 26% carbohydrates. On the other hand, cats have shorter GI tracts and are not very efficient in digesting carbs.

Even easily digestible carbs like rice and corn can be an issue for cats. Carbohydrates are added to cat food to reduce the production cost. However, the high-carb content in cat food is an indicator of low-quality food.

Fatty Acids. Fatty acids are essential for cats. Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid cats cannot produce. Therefore, it must be included in the cat’s diet.

Low levels of arachidonic acid in cats lead to impaired organ function. Arachidonic acid deficiency also results in skin disorders.

Vitamins. Cats cannot synthesize vitamin A. Dog food contains vitamin A supplements but in low amounts. Cats suffering from a lack of vitamin A develop poor quality coats, muscle weakness, and possible night blindness.

Vitamin B3 (niacin) is another vitamin cats cannot produce. The lack of niacin in cats causes health problems during all life stages. The signs of niacin deficiency are non-specific and include digestion troubles, retard growth, weakness, and poor appetite. The best source of niacin is raw meat.

Calories. Cat food has more calories per pound than dog food. This is because cat food is higher in protein and fat, and even the best dog food is not a match in terms of caloric content. Feeding dog food to cats on a regular basis will lead to weight loss and malnourishment.

Palatability. Because of the high-protein and high-fat content, cat food is palatable, which is vital since cats are often picky eaters. This is because cats have only 47 taste receptors, while dogs have 1.700 receptors. In simple terms, dog food is less palatable and less enticing for cats.

Kibble Size & Shape. Finally, dog kibble is much different than cat kibble in terms of both size and shape. Dog kibble is usually bigger and comes in various shapes to suit jaw types in dogs. It would be uncomfortable for a cat to nibble on dog food.

From the above-explained, it is easy to understand why dog food is not beneficial to cats and vice versa. It is best for the two species to stick to their own food in their food bowls.

Does Dog Food Have Nutritional Value for Cats?

Dog food has some nutritional value for cats. Dog food can be satiating, but it will not satisfy the cat’s needs. Cats have specific dietary needs, and in the long run, they cannot be met if using dog food formulas.

According to the Patrick Mahaney, DVM cat formulas should meet the following criteria:

  • Natural, whole-food ingredients
  • High-quality animal proteins (at least 30%)
  • Healthy, animal-based fats (about 15% to 20%)
  • Digestible carbohydrates and fiber
  • Essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids
  • No by-products, fillers, or artificial additives.

Cat nutrition and dog nutrition are two separate focus areas. Just like cats shouldn’t eat dog food, dogs shouldn’t eat cat food. To be precise, if dogs eat cat food, they are at risk of pancreatitis and obesity.

What Happens if a Cat Eats Dog Food?

can cats eat dog food

If your cat happens to eat dog food once or twice, there is nothing to be worried about.

For example, if you do not have cat food, it is safe to serve dog food as a last resort. Also, if your cat stole a few kibbles from the dog’s bowl, the accidental feeding is harmless.

However, if your cat has been consuming dog food for a while, it is best to take it to the vet and disclose the situation. In addition to switching the cat back to a feline diet, the vet may prescribe certain dietary supplements to compensate for the missing essential nutrients.

What Should I Do If My Cat Eats Dog Food?

If your cat is keen on eating dog food, mealtime can be challenging. Namely, you will need to get creative and organize different mealtimes for the cat and the dog. Sometimes, it is even advisable to feed them in separate rooms.

In general, it is helpful to keep the dog’s bowl on the floor and the cat’s bowl on elevated surfaces. Unless your dog is a skilled jumper, it will be unable to reach the cat food. On the other hand, cats prefer high spots and are less drawn to spend time on floor-level positions.