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Can a Cat Eat Dog Food?
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Nutrition is essential for your pet. However, if you have a house of pets, you might wonder whether it's safe for them to share food. For example, can cats eat dog food? Ultimately, if you catch your cat nibbling on your dog's kibble or wet food, it's unlikely to cause them any physical harm. That said, your cat shouldn't eat dog food as a replacement for their meals because cats and dogs have very different nutritional requirements. Instead, cats should regularly eat cat food designed for their life stage.
However, if you've landed here after catching your cat enjoying some of Fido's food, don't fret. While dog food isn't nutritious enough to meet your cat's daily needs, it shouldn't cause harm. So, can a cat eat dog food? Technically, it's okay for them to have a taste from time to time, but dog food shouldn't be part of their regular diet.
- Cats & Nutritional Needs
- Is It Safe For Cats To Eat Dog Food Long-Term?
- The Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food
- What If My Cat Accidentally Eats Dog Food?
- Quality Food For Your Cat Is Essential
- Final Notes
Cats & Nutritional Needs
Can cats eat dog food? Technically, cats can eat dog food because it's non-toxic, but it shouldn't be a regular habit. Cats are obligate carnivores, so they need a diet primarily of meat. Meanwhile, dogs are omnivores and need diets that consist of meat and vegetables.1 Cats are natural-born hunters who require high amounts of protein, moderate fat, and minimal carbohydrates.1
Meanwhile, dogs evolved from wolves, who get nutrition from plants and animals. Therefore, cats and dogs require different diets, and dog food typically contains a combination of plant and animal nutrients, often with less protein than cat food. Ultimately, dog food can't meet your cat's nutritional needs, and over time, it can become dangerous for them if they're not eating food specifically designed for cats.2
Is It Safe For Cats To Eat Dog Food Long-Term?
Is dog food bad for cats? Again, cats and dogs have different nutritional needs, which commercial diets take into account. We've already discussed that cats are carnivores, but they also have higher amino acid requirements. They can't make the active form of vitamin A or adequate quantities of niacin, so their foods typically contain these nutrients. Meanwhile, dogs require fewer amino acids and have a metabolic process to create the active form of vitamin A and niacin.3
Therefore, your dog and cat need different foods for optimal health. Cats cannot survive on a dog food diet, and if they continue only to eat dog food, they won't have enough nutrients to support their health, leading to malnutrition and even death.2
Dog and cat foods are made of different nutritional components to suit the needs of each animal. However, if your cat likes to eat your dog's food, having a small bite of kibble now and then won't cause serious health issues unless they're replacing their regular cat food with it. Therefore, if your cat seems to love dog food but eats too much of it and isn't hungry for their own meals, you may need to separate your pets' food bowls.
The Differences Between Cat Food and Dog Food
As we've mentioned, cat and dog food are not the same and have different nutritional components because dogs and cats have different dietary needs. So is it ok for cats to eat dog food? An occasional nibble of kibble won't harm your pet. Still, it doesn't give them any nutritional benefit because they should already get all the essential protein and vitamins they need from their cat food. A few differences between cat and dog food include the following:
Felines don't have taste buds to taste sweetness, but dogs do.4 However, there are other differences between these two species. Overall, cats taste things differently and have fewer taste buds than dogs. Of course, while they may taste less than dogs, that won't stop them from becoming interested in dog food and eating it from time to time. If your cat constantly eats your dog's food, it could be dangerous for both of them. For example, your cat could get too full from your dog's food to eat their own meals. Meanwhile, your dog will have less food, which means getting fewer nutrients that day.
What do cats eat? Cats are carnivores that require more meat in their diets than dogs. While dogs love meat, they're omnivores and require a healthy balance of meat and vegetables. Whether wet food or kibble, dog food contains much less protein than a cat needs. Therefore, feeding a cat dog food instead of cat food can be quite dangerous for them because it means their bodies aren't getting enough protein to function properly.
Both dogs and cats require taurine, an amino acid found in animal proteins crucial for vision and eye health, digestion, heart health, and immune system function. Cats can't make taurine, so they must get this essential nutrient from their diet to prevent weakened hearts, vision loss, and digestive problems.5
Taurine is a non-essential amino acid for dogs because they produce it independently. For this reason, dog food doesn't contain enough taurine for cats. While taurine is abundant in animal proteins, dog food doesn't contain enough meat to provide cats with the necessary amount.
Vitamins for cats and dogs also vary in different foods. For example, cats can't make vitamin A on their own, so it must be present in their diets.3 Meanwhile, dog food may contain vitamin A, but it doesn’t contain a high enough amount to provide cats with this essential nutrient because dogs make vitamin A on their own. Since vitamin A is crucial for vision, growth, and immune health, cats that eat a dog food diet may have symptoms like loss of vision, weight loss, and muscle weakness.6
Cat foods contain niacin, which cats can't make on their own.3 Animal proteins are a significant source of niacin, so foods containing more vegetables and lower meat content, such as dog food, will not give cats enough niacin.
What If My Cat Accidentally Eats Dog Food?
If your cat accidentally eats dog food, it's unlikely they'll experience any health issues. However, they may experience minor GI issues like vomiting and diarrhea. However, since dog food does not contain enough meat or nutrients for cats, you should ensure it doesn't become a regular habit.
Eating dog food can be dangerous for some cats because they may have an allergy to certain ingredients or health problems that require the proper nutrients. Additionally, your cat may eat so much dog food that they ignore their own food, putting them at risk of health complications. When your cat eats dog food in favor of cat food, they won't get the essential nutrients they need for optimal health, which can contribute to various health issues ranging from weakness and muscle loss to loss of vision.
If your cat accidentally eats dog food, continue to monitor them to ensure it doesn't happen again. While dog food isn't inherently dangerous, it should never replace your cat's regular food. Additionally, if your cat eats both the dog's meal and their own meal regularly, it could contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and associated health problems. Therefore, you should ensure your cat is only eating their own food.
You can also use automatic feeders or have different feeding times for each pet and remove their bowls when they've finished eating. However, if your cat likes to steal food from your dog now and then, it's unlikely to cause long-lasting complications.
That said, cats can't survive on dog food, so pet parents should be careful of the foods they give their cats. If, after monitoring your cat, you realize they continue to steal your dog's food, you'll need to come up with a solution to feed multiple pets. The easiest way to prevent your cat from eating dog food is to establish regular feeding times and separate their feeding areas. Keep food dishes in different rooms if possible, and monitor your pets throughout the day to ensure they're not stealing food from one another.
Quality Food For Your Cat Is Essential
A healthy, balanced diet is crucial for cat health. There are several commercial cat foods, including dry, moist, and canned food. These are formulated for cats to provide them with the protein, amino acids, and vitamins they need regularly.
When choosing cat food, look for a balanced diet of nutrients and calories.1 You can read the nutritional label to compare various products and brands to help you make the right decision. However, while it's essential to avoid feeding your cat dog food on a long-term basis, you should also consider your cat's life stage. For example, kittens have different nutritional requirements than adult and senior cats.
Cat foods are labeled based on your cat's life stage, so pay attention to the labels to ensure you're feeding your cat the correct diet. Additionally, since cats require a protein-rich diet, you should always check the ingredient labels to ensure meat products are among the first ingredients.1
Additionally, while quality food and a healthy diet are crucial, you should monitor how much your cat eats. Eating too much can contribute to weight gain and diabetes, which are very common in domestic cats, making them susceptible to various health issues and lower quality of life. Consult a vet if you're unsure how much your cat should eat based on age, weight, and overall health.
Cats have different nutritional requirements than dogs. Occasionally stealing some dog kibble won't cause serious harm, but can you feed cats dog food regularly? Eating dog food instead of cat food long-term can be dangerous for cats. Ultimately, dog food doesn't provide cats with enough nutrients for their health. Instead, your cat should eat regular cat food, whether dry, moist, or canned, to prevent serious health issues.
As a pet parent, you must ensure your cat meets their nutritional requirements. The only way to ensure your cat gets all the protein, amino acids, and vitamins they need is to feed them cat food based on their life stage. Consult a Dutch vet today to discuss cat nutrition and ensure your cat is eating a healthy diet, or read some of our other resources for cat owners.
"Feeding Your Cat." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 20 July 2018, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feeding-your-cat.
"Can Cats Eat Dog Food?" PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/nutrition/can-cats-eat-dog-food.
"Cats vs. Dogs: 5 Differences in Nutritional Needs." Pet Food Institute, 17 Aug. 2022, https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/blog/cats-vs-dogs-5-differences-nutritional-needs/.
Admin. “Do Animals Have the Same Taste as Humans?” Pet Health (a Division of Avrio Pharmacy), 22 July 2020, https://www.pethealthrx.net/do-animals-have-the-same-sense-of-taste-as-humans/.
“Cat Food For Thought.” VMBS News, 11 Mar. 2022, https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/cat-food-for-thought/.
The National Academies Press. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/resource/10668/cat_nutrition_final.pdf.