Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? The Dietary Differences of Dogs and Cats

6 Minute Read
 | Amy Dyck
Updated December 23, 2022

Can dogs eat cat food? If your dog seems a little too curious about what's in your cat's bowl, then it's important to know if it's safe for your dog to give your feline's food a little taste test. 

One of the age-old questions that frequently puzzles dog owners is whether it's acceptable for dogs to indulge in cat food.

To answer - is cat food bad for dogs? - you'll need to gain an understanding of the distinct dietary needs of dogs and cats and their more varied diet requirements.

Yes, dogs love cat food, but it should never be a part of a healthy adult dog’s diet. A dog eats cat food because it tastes good (especially wet cat food), but that doesn't mean it's beneficial for a dog's health. Even human food is better for dogs than dry cat food.

So, before you let your dog sneak a taste from the cat's dish, let's shed light on the intriguing matter of dogs eating cat food.

This article will help you decide whether feeding cat food to your dog is truly a good choice or if you should stick to dog food.



Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

We often get asked, "Why can't I just give my dog and cat the same food?" Most dogs like cat food, right? 

Typically, we would say no, your dog shouldn't eat cat food, but it's a slightly more complicated answer than you might think. 

The true answer is that it depends on the food. Common commercial pet foods, like kibble, are very different between species. In this case, dogs shouldn't eat cat food.

These diets are often too high in fat and calories and are not properly portioned for dogs, leading to digestive issues, pancreatitis, and unwanted weight gain when fed regularly. Wet cat food is often formulated similarly. 

Raw dog and cat foods may be a little different. Yes, there are some dog and cat-specific formulas, but many whole-prey raw diets are suitable for both dogs and cats.

Brands like Big Country Raw and Carnivora offer single protein raw formulas are meet the needs of any carnivore. 

Dietary Differences Between Dogs and Cats

how-to-introduce-dogs and cats

There are many differences between the dietary needs of dogs and cats, but there are also similarities. It starts with how and what they are designed to eat.

Kitties are generally more adept at self-regulating their food, with only a few bites here and there of cat food. They prefer to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. In contrast, dogs eat dog food usually twice a day.

Carnivore vs. Omnivore

Felines are obligatory carnivores, which means their diet must primarily consist of animal-based proteins. When you introduce cat food, you must make sure it meets the high meat-based protein needs of the feline.

In the wild, cats hunt and consume prey animals, and their bodies have evolved to efficiently process and derive essential nutrients from animal tissues. The cat tree of evolution hasn't changed much with your house kitty.

On the other hand, your dog is an omnivore, capable of digesting both animal and plant-based foods. Their digestive systems have adapted to process a wider variety of nutrients, including carbohydrates.

Protein Requirements

Due to their carnivorous nature, cats have a higher dietary protein requirement compared to dogs. Protein provides vital amino acids that felines cannot produce on their own, making it essential for their overall health and well-being.

Doggos also require protein but typically at lower levels compared to felines, or they will experience weight gain.

Taurine in Cat Food

Taurine is an amino acid that is crucial for felines but not required in significant amounts for dogs. Kitties cannot synthesize sufficient taurine in their bodies and must obtain it from their diet. A taurine deficiency can lead to severe health issues in cats.

Only cat food ingredients focus on taurine as a necessity in your cat's food bowl. This is why when cats eat dog food, they can become dangerously ill.

Vitamin A in Dog Food

Unlike dogs, cats cannot convert beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) into the active form of the vitamin. Therefore, cats need to consume preformed vitamin A, which is found only in animal tissues.

Canines, on the other hand, can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, making plant-based sources a potential source for them in dog foods.

Arachidonic Acid in Cat Kibble

Another essential nutrient for cats is arachidonic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid found primarily in animal tissues. Kitties cannot efficiently produce this acid.

Doggos can synthesize arachidonic acid from linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid found in various plant oils.

Carbohydrate Tolerance

Canines have a higher tolerance for carbohydrates in their diet compared to cats. While dogs can derive energy from carbohydrates, felines are less efficient at utilizing them and primarily rely on proteins and fats for energy.

Cutting back the carbs does not always promote weight loss. Healthy adult dogs require a balance.



Frequently Asked Questions

Can dogs eat cat food?

Avoid feeding your dog cat food because it is generally not recommended. While the occasional small amount may not be harmful, cat food is formulated specifically for the dietary needs of cats, which differ significantly from those of canines.

Consistent consumption of cat food by dogs can lead to nutritional imbalances and potential health issues. Even human foods and home-prepared diets are better for canines.

Is cat food bad for dogs?

Cat food is designed to meet the unique nutritional requirements of obligate carnivores, like felines, which necessitate higher levels of protein and certain essential nutrients like taurine and arachidonic acid.

Dog food, on the other hand, is formulated for omnivores with different dietary needs, including a balanced mix of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. A cat-based diet food will lead to a gastrointestinal upset in doggos with sensitive stomachs.

What are the potential risks of dogs eating cat foods?

The primary risks associated with dogs consuming cat food revolve around nutrient imbalances. Cat food tends to be higher in protein and fat, potentially leading to obesity and kidney strain in dogs.

Additionally, felines require more taurine, which can lead to a taurine deficiency in dogs if they consume cat food as a staple.

Pet parents who have a dog battling cancer to entice appetite and meet nutritional needs. Appetite is often renewed after a dog switches to cat food, but this is a quick fix. Long term, the dog's diet of feline food can lead to liver disease, upset stomach, or intestinal discomfort if fed frequently.

Can a small amount of cat food harm my canine?

Occasional, small amounts of cat food are unlikely to cause significant harm to most dogs.

What should I do if my dog accidentally eats cat food?

If your dog accidentally consumes a small amount of cat food, there's usually no need to panic. Keep an eye on your dog for any signs of digestive upset or discomfort. If you notice any unusual symptoms persisting, seek immediate medical attention.

How can I prevent my dog from eating cat food?

To prevent your dog from eating cat food, ensure they have their designated feeding area. Use a tall baby gate or a sturdy baby gate to keep the pooch away from the kitty's food. Keep the cat's food out of the dog's reach with a small cat flap.

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Written by

Amy Dyck


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