Can Dogs Eat Cat Food & Is It Bad for Them?
It’s there, sitting on the floor, exuding meaty goodness. Your dog’s mouth is drooling, so how can he resist diving into the cat’s food bowl, whether she is dining, simple to be nudged away, or not even in sight, enjoying a sunbath on a nearby window sill? But can dogs eat cat food?
Is it ok for dogs to eat cat food, or will cat food hurt a dog? Since my best buddy, Haiku, does not share his life with a feline (he does enjoy barking at cats in his ‘hood though), I felt compelled to reach out to the experts to answer questions people have asked me: “Can I feed my dog cat food? Is it bad for dogs to eat cat food? What happens if a dog eats cat food?”
Thinking back to high school biology, I remembered learning that amino acids are the building blocks of protein. A dog’s body, like our own, uses protein to build and repair muscles, cartilage, bones, skin, and blood. Protein also helps make hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals a canine body needs.
Two groups of amino acids, essential and non-essential, help protein accomplish all this. Non-essential amino acids can be produced in the body. However, essential amino acids can only be derived from food. Can you give dogs cat food, or will it not have the necessary amino acids and other nutrients your dog needs to be healthy and strong? Let’s see!
Cat Nutrition vs. Dog Nutrition
Humans, canines, and felines are three different species, and therefore, possess different nutritional requirements. Obligate carnivores, cats must have meat to extract vital amino acids for good health. Humans and dogs are omnivores, meaning their digestive system is equipped to handle meat, vegetables, and grains.
Unlike their wild wolf cousins, studies have shown that living alongside man has caused dogs to adapt to a less carnivorous diet and become accustomed to eating starches. There are differences, but dog food is quite similar to the human diet, whereas cat food is comprised mostly of protein and fat, lacking fruits and vegetables. Therefore, can dogs eat cat food? Probably not, but let’s keep digging.
Minimum AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines require:
|Dog Food||Cat Food|
|Protein||18%||26% (but some is in the 30-45% range)|
Dogs produce 12 of the 22 amino acids needed to keep them healthy and strong. The other ten must come from their food. Cats only produce 11 and cannot synthesize taurine, an essential amino acid found in animal flesh.
- 10 Best Grain Free Dog Foods in 2019 - A review of 10 of the best grain free dog food options on the market, complete with information on their ingredients, pros, and cons.
Without taurine, animals can develop dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), brain issues, and blindness. Taurine also slows down the release of adrenalin-decreasing anxiety. Dogs, however, can produce taurine, so you won’t find it added to dog food. Since cats cannot, considerably higher levels of meat protein exist in cat food.
Can dogs eat cat food? There’s more to uncover, but we’ve already discovered that cat food contains more protein than does a canine body good.
Dogs require less thiamin, niacin, folic acid, A and B vitamins than cats, and need just one fatty acid, linoleic acid, added to their food. The canine body makes arachidonic acid from vegetable oils.
Since cats can’t convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A (dogs can get it from carrots), cat food must be fortified with Vitamin A supplements.
Differing needs show that dogs and cats need different formulations to thrive, and compels me to answer the question “Can my dog eat cat food?” with probably not. Still, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to feline and canine nutrition.
- 10 Best Wet Dog Food Brands to Keep Your Pup Hydrated - This review of 10 of the best wet dog food brands to buy for your pooch features information on the food's ingredients, price range, pros, cons, and more.
Why Do Dogs Like Cat Food?
You may be wondering if there’s a difference between dry cat food and wet cat food when it comes to dogs. Can dogs eat wet cat food? Can dogs eat dry cat food? More importantly, why do dogs like cat food in the first place?
The overriding reason cat food is so tempting to dogs is that it is formulated for a cat’s higher protein needs. Meat smells strong, tastes good, and contains flavorful fat. Not only can dogs eat canned cat food, but it is also probably more detectable because it is closest to its natural state, not dried and formed into kibble. Yet, should dogs eat cat food?
Wanting to dive a bit deeper, I reached out to Pet Nutritionist and Founder of Ask Ariel, Susan Blake Davis, who told me,
“Dogs are typically scavengers. If cat food is left out and within reach, many dogs will eat it, however, if your dog is routinely looking for cat food, it could be that his dog food is lacking sufficient protein and/or too high in carbohydrates. High carbohydrate dry food diets spike insulin, making the pet hungrier sooner, whereas meat-based diets are higher in protein and regulate blood sugar more effectively.”
Maybe your dog isn’t getting all his body needs if he’s eating doggie kibble, and for that reason, your dog is eating cat food.
Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so can dogs eat cat food? They can, but should they? An occasional taste of cat food won’t hurt, but don’t let your dog eat cat food often or in large quantities. For some dogs, even a small amount of protein-dense cat food will result in vomiting and diarrhea.
If nothing bothers your dog’s stomach, be reminded that cat food does not contain the proper balance in terms of fiber, protein, and nutrients a dog needs, and overtime, cat food can be hard on a dog’s kidneys and liver.
Putting the shoe on the other paw, cats should not eat dog food because it lacks both taurine and arachidonic fatty acid that cats must have daily.
- Wet vs Dry Dog Food: Choosing the Best for Your Dog - We tackle the wet vs dry dog food debate and help you choose the best for your dog.
What Happens if a Dog Eats Cat Food?
So, is cat food bad for dogs? If your dog takes the occasional lick out of your cat’s food bowl, he could end up with an upset tummy, and may ‘clear the room’ with his flatulence, but can dogs get sick from eating cat food?
YES! If your dog eats cat food regularly, he:
- Won’t get the necessary nutrients a canine body needs;
- Will be more prone to pack on the pounds as protein-dense, higher fat cat food equals more calories!
- May experience digestive upsets;
- Can turn into a picky eater and refuse to eat his own food;
- Will be at risk for a life-threatening and painful inflammation of the pancreas known as Pancreatitis.
In addition to digestive issues (vomiting and diarrhea), your dog may develop weakness, abdominal pain, lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and a distended abdomen along with a hunched back. Get to your veterinarian at once!
Realize too, that although dogs can eat cat food, they shouldn’t because the poor kitty cat will then miss out on her nutrition! It’s key to remember that any diet that doesn’t meet a dog’s or cat’s nutritional needs places their health at risk.
How to Stop Dogs Eating Cat Food
Pet Nutritionist Blake Davis reminds us to,
“Take another look at your dog’s food label and be sure that it includes fresh meat, poultry or fish as the first ingredient on the label along with essential fatty acids such as fish oil.”
If your dog is getting what he needs, he may not go looking elsewhere. Still, whether your dog steals a taste from the cat’s food bowl or breaks into the food bag, you must do your doggone best to stop the behavior should you catch your dog eating cat food. Here are a few ideas:
- Hide the cat food bags. Kind of a no-brainer, but make sure the bag of kibble is kept in a pantry or behind a cabinet door that the dog cannot open.
- Feed your cat in a private location. Feed kitty on a screened porch, utility, laundry or bathroom, or in a crate that has a door too small for the dog’s head to enter.
- Use an automated feeder. Programmable feeders that only make food available when triggered by a tag on your cat’s collar could be the solution as long as the dog doesn’t nudge the kitty out of the way once she has triggered the meal.
- Elevate your cat’s food bowl. Cats like high places, so unless you have a counter-surfing pooch, try feeding your cat on the back of a countertop, cat tree, window sill, washing machine, or high shelf. Just make sure it is safe for the kitty! If your cat is a senior, or just less limber, make sure she has a ramp to reach her meal, but then again, make sure the dog doesn’t use the ramp.
- Put up a gate to cordon off a portion of the kitchen or other room. Find a gate that has a small opening allowing the cat to pass while keeping your dog out. Make sure he can’t jump over or knock over the gate.
- Feed pets at the same time and supervise them. Free-feeding your cat allows time for your dog to help himself. Feed on a schedule, monitor, and when the bowl is empty, pick it up to wash.
- Create a diversion. Take your dog for a walk, or distract him with play while your cat eats.
See if your cat will try a new flavor. It’s possible your dog loves the beef or chicken-flavored cat food, but may not go for the salmon recipe.
- Reward your dog for good behavior or teach him a new trick. Should you catch your dog eating cat food or even heading towards the dish, a simple “no” or “leave it” command would be an appropriate way to stop him in his tracks. If he listens, reward your pooch with a tasty treat and a “good boy or girl!” Repeat regularly and have patience.
It really isn’t, “Can dogs eat cat food?” but rather, “Should they?” In a PURRfect world, we’d all have the willpower to resist foods that aren’t good for us, but dogs don’t realize that what tastes yummy, may make them sick. Cat food might be tempting, but it won’t give your dog a nutritious diet, and over time, could have detrimental effects on his health.
Have you come up with an ingenious way to keep your dog away from cat food? Your solution could help other dog moms and dads who are struggling with this issue. Please share in the comments below.
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 »