Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

Katy Nelson, DVM
May 27, 2020
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There’s something about cat food that makes it virtually irresistible to a dog. Most dogs, regardless of breed, age, and how well-behaved they are, will sniff out and snack on cat food if it’s available.

But is eating cat food bad for a dog? Here’s what you need to know about dog nutrition and whether it’s safe for dogs to eat cat food.

What’s the Difference Between Dog Food and Cat Food?

Dogs are omnivores and therefore can consume a more varied diet that includes both plant-based and animal-based ingredients.

On the other hand, cats are true carnivores, meaning they eat solely animal protein and have greater protein and fat requirements than dogs.

Additionally, cats require 11 essential amino acids to be provided by their diet, whereas dogs require 10 amino acids. The additional amino acid required by cats is taurine.

To meet these greater nutrient requirements, commercial cat foods must provide greater protein, fat, and taurine concentrations than commercial dog foods. This implies that all commercial dog food is nutritionally deficient for cats.

For dogs, however, the greater protein and fat contents of cat food make it more tasty, fragrant, and therefore enticing, and allow it to meet or even exceed a dog’s nutrient requirements.

Is It Safe for a Dog to Eat Cat Food?

A dog eating their feline friend’s food—either as an occasional treat or even in place of their own food—is not necessarily “bad” for the average adult dog.

When Cat Food Is Safe for Dogs

In fact, for some dogs, like those battling cancer and experiencing weight loss, muscle wasting, and a poor appetite, cat food may be an ideal alternative to many dog foods.

Cat food tends to be more palatable, provide more calories per serving, and offer a more nutrient-balanced option compared to many home-prepared diets in these cases.

Likewise, cat kibble can make for healthier, well-balanced treats or training rewards compared to some human foods commonly used, like cheese, chicken, or peanut butter, which provide a concentrated amount of primarily one nutrient.

When Cat Food Is Harmful for Dogs

For other dogs, consuming cat food, even as an occasional treat, could become problematic if there are underlying reasons for why excess protein or fat is not ideal.

Examples:

  • A dog with a sensitive gastrointestinal tract may vomit or have diarrhea after eating cat food because the food is simply too rich.

  • A dog with kidney or liver disease needs to consume moderate amounts of protein, not excess, to promote optimal functioning of those organs.

  • An obese dog, or one with a predisposition for developing pancreatitis (e.g., many Schnauzers), must consume a lower-fat diet to promote weight loss or limit pancreatic inflammation.

For all of these dogs, feeding any amount of commercial cat food, whether it’s infrequent or on a long-term basis, could exacerbate health issues.

Ask Your Vet About Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs

So how “good” or “bad” cat food is for your dog’s health really depends on your dog.

For most healthy adult dogs, this means you no longer need to worry about your dog partaking in the occasional kitty treat.

However, if you have any questions, be sure to reach out to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist for advice as to whether commercial cat food, in any amount, may be right for your dog.

Featured Image: iStock.com/SolStock

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