Can Cats Eat Dog Food? What Happens if They Do?
By Sierra Koester
When I was growing up, my dad lived in the country. We always had a lot of cats who lived outdoors on his farm. My dad fed them dry cat food mixed with dry dog food to make the cat food last longer and save money. I always wondered, can cats eat dog food? Is it bad for cats to eat dog food?
If you feed a feral cat colony or have both a dog and a cat living in your home, you may have some similar questions. You may wonder, can cats eat dog food? Is dog food bad for cats? Can cats eat dog food for a day, a week, a month, or longer? Is it OK to feed a cat dog food in an emergency? Let’s delve into these questions.
What Do Cats Need for a Proper Nutrition?
To answer the question, “Can cats eat dog food?” we must have a basic understanding of what cats need in their diet. A cat’s diet must address their unique nutritional needs.
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that they must eat meat to survive. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores.
Cats require taurine in their diet since their bodies cannot produce enough of the amino acid on their own. Without sufficient taurine in their diet, cats can develop dilated cardiomyopathy (a heart condition), suffer from retinal degeneration, or become infertile.
A cat’s diet must also contain arginine. A cat’s body can only use arginine to make ornithine, an amino acid that binds ammonia, which is created by the body when it breaks down protein. Ammonia is toxic, and an excess amount of it in the body can lead to death. Dogs have alternative ways of making ornithine.
A cat’s body is also unable to make the active form of vitamin A. Not only does this vitamin support healthy eyes and skin, but it’s also necessary for turning fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy. As opposed to cats, a dog’s body can turn beta carotene into vitamin A.
Cat Food vs Dog Food: Main Differences
Now that you know what a cat needs in their diet, we can answer the question, “Can cats eat dog food?” So, let’s take a look at the main differences between cat and dog food.
While cat food contains a sufficient amount of taurine for cats, dog food typically does not because a dog’s body can make its own supply of taurine. Additionally, while there are some high-protein dog foods available on the market, most do not contain the amount of protein a cat needs for optimum health.
Cats need three times the amount of thiamine that dogs do. Thiamine deficiency in cats can lead to gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms. Cat food also provides cats with the arachidonic acid they need, while dog food does not. Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid necessary for a cat’s body to produce an inflammatory response.
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Why Do Cats Eat Dog Food?
Have you ever noticed your cat wander over and take a few bites of your dog’s food? Why is your cat eating dog food when he has his own food? Your cat may be attracted to dog food for a few reasons.
As mentioned earlier, cats are obligate carnivores. If your dog’s food smells particularly meaty, it may entice your cat to eat it. Texture may also play a role in why your cat is eating your dog’s food. Your cat may prefer the texture of your dog’s kibble or canned food over their own.
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
Can cats eat wet dog food? Can cats eat dry dog food? Is it safe for cats to eat dog food in an emergency? Even the best cat owners can accidentally run out of cat food. While a cat can eat dog food for a meal in an emergency, cats shouldn’t be fed dog food regularly due to a cat’s unique nutritional needs.
If a cat eats dog food regularly, they won’t get the nutrients they need, and health problems can surface as a result.
What Happens if a Cat Eats Dog Food?
Now that we’ve answered the question, “Can cats eat dog food?” we must look at what will happen to your cat if you feed them dog food. Your cat should be fine if they have to eat dog food for a meal in an emergency, but they shouldn’t eat dog food all the time.
As previously discussed, dog food lacks many of the nutrients cats need to remain healthy. Dog food doesn’t contain taurine, for instance.
So, a cat fed dog food on a regular basis is likely to become taurine deficient. A taurine deficient cat may develop the heart condition dilated cardiomyopathy, which can be fatal if not treated.
Dog food doesn’t contain the vitamin A a cat needs in their diet, and, as a result, a cat who eats dog food regularly will develop a vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A deficient cats possess poor skin and coat may develop night blindness and will suffer muscle deterioration and weakness.
Dog food is also lacking in other nutrients cats need to stay healthy, such as protein thiamine and arachidonic acid. A lack of these nutrients can lead to other significant health issues for cats.
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How to Prevent Cats from Eating Dog Food
Can you feed cats dog food? Yes, for a meal or in an emergency, but it’s not good for them on a regular basis. Given this information, you may be thinking, “My cat eats dog food. How can I prevent them from doing so?”
To keep your cat from eating the dog’s food, feed your cat and dog on a schedule. Feed your pets small amounts of food several times a day and pick the food up when they’re done eating. Feeding your pets in separate locations at mealtime may also help.
Puzzle toys are another excellent option for keeping your cat from eating dog food. A cat typically won’t want to play with a dog’s toys. A puzzle toy not only protects your dog’s food but also provides your dog with mental stimulation at mealtime because he’ll have to work for his food.
To sum up, the answer to the question, “Can cats eat dog food?” is yes, but they shouldn’t on a regular basis. A cat who routinely eats dog food is likely to develop health problems because dog food doesn’t contain the nutrients cats need in their diet to maintain good health. If your cat insists on eating out of your dog’s bowl, try feeding your pets on a schedule in separate locations.
Do you have both cats and dogs in your home? How do you keep them from eating each other’s food? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section!
DENISE FLECK is an award-winning author, animal care instructor and radio show host. She was named one of Pet Age Magazine’s “Women of Influence” for 2018, a “Most Inspiring Story” in 2017 by Voyage Atlanta Magazine and has been nominated for 6 Dog Writers Awards to be announced in early 2019.Read more »