Cat Behavior, Cat Food

Can Cats Eat Dog Food: Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Can Cats Eat Dog Food: Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

If you live in a multi-species household, the wide world of food can get a little muddied. I mean, all that kibble can start to look interchangeable. And the wet food? Cripes! It all pretty much looks the same, and if you peek at the ingredients you might be tempted to buy the bulk-sized dog food and leave it out for everyone! I'm only kidding, of course, but if you've ever seriously pondered the question, "Can cats eat dog food?" then you might want to give this article a quick read.

Important Things That Cat Food Has (and Dog Food Doesn't)

So when answering the question "can cats eat dog food" it is important to note that dog and cat food is quite different. But why are these two seemingly similar, meat-based foods so different? Well, to start, cats are what you call obligate carnivores, while dogs are omnivores. Simply put, a dog does well when eating a variety of substances, while a cat thrives on a single substance - that is, meat. Unlike the omnivore dog - whose body is capable of producing certain important vitamins and amino acids - cats are unable to create these nutrients naturally, and as a result, require meat to provide such things as arginine, taurine, thiamine and vitamin A in its pre-formed state.

So can cats eat dog food that is rich in these nutrients? Well, therein lies the problem. Most commercial dog foods simply do not posses these nutrients in a sufficient quantity to sustain your cat over time. Furthermore, because of their status as obligate carnivores, felines need quite a bit more protein than their canine counterparts. This is partially because of those all-important amino acids, but also because our kitties break down said amino acids at a significantly higher rate than other creatures, and unlike those creatures, they are unable to alter the rate at which protein breaks down.

Finally, it is important to note that our kitties just don't digest plant materials that well. Although they are able to tolerate a small amount of many vegetables and fruits, their stomach's simply aren't built for all of that raw roughage. Because dogs are - and I know I sound like a broken record here - omnivores, most commercial brands offer foods with less meat than kitty comestibles, and more of the green and leafy stuff.

Short Term Effects

So you walk into your kitchen one day, and gasp! the cat is eating dog food! You might panic a little, I mean... after everything said above, surely this can come to no good. But the truth is, in the short term, an occasional nibble of dog food isn't really all that bad. Nor is it all that good. So, can cats eat dog food sometimes? Well, think of it like this: you, the household human, eat a spectacular diet filled with plants, good proteins and fats, lots and lots of vitamins and minerals coming in from all angles... then you eat a cookie. Will that small treat destroy all of the hard work you've put into your diet? Well, it's not exactly the healthiest thing you could have eaten, but a cookie now and then isn't going to totally derail all of your efforts. The same holds true here: if you find your kitty gnawing a single piece of kibble every now and then, it's almost certainly not going to ruin his diet - provided, of course, that he isn't suffering from any allergies or food-adverse health conditions.

Long Term Effects

Now, let's say that you walk into your kitchen and find your cat riffling through the dog bowl... every day. This is where things can become just a little more problematic. Although it isn't a massive deal to feed your kitty a small bowl of dog food in, say, an emergency, giving it to him every day can create some terrible - and potentially deadly - side effects. Though there are few things in dog foods that are inherently bad for felines - aside from some less-than-digestible items - there is a lot missing. Because of that, over time, your cat will become malnourished in certain critical nutrients - for example, the amino acids and vitamins mentioned above. Some of the milder complaints include a dull coat, and gastrointestinal issues - due namely to an incorrect balance of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and carbohydrates. More severe problems can include heart disease, vision and hearing loss, lethargy, seizures, and death.

So... Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

This is actually a more common complaint among those living in a multi-species household. Dogs just seem to adore the taste of cat food, but is it safe for them to eat it? The answer to this is pretty much the same as the answer to "can cats eat dog food?" Assuming your pup doesn't have any underlying health issues, an occasional snip of cat chow isn't likely to cause any real issues. In fact, technically speaking, because of a dog's magical ability to digest and extract nutrients in a way that most felines simply cannot, cat food is pretty nutritionally sound. However, it is also fantastically dense - higher levels of proteins, much too much fat, and calories galore! So although all of the vitamins and minerals might be in place, the amount of everything else makes this a bad long term choice for your dog.

It is also important to note that some canines simply don't have the stomach for such rich food, so eating it will often result in issues like diarrhea and vomiting. Long term use can also lead to weight gain - which, in and of itself can cause a whole slew of additional problems, like heart and respiratory diseases, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis - and in some instances, a potentially life-threatening condition called pancreatitis.

How to Keep the Cat Out of the Dog Bowl... and Vice Versa

If you cannot keep your critters out of each other's bowls, the best way to prevent it is simply to keep their respective dishes out of sight. If your pets are used to free feeding, it might be time to switch over to scheduled meals. When performing this, it's best to feed each pet at a different time, and out of view from his cohorts. Of course, it's also essential that you keep their food securely locked up - after all, no amount of careful culinary planning will make up for an easily accessible kibble bag!


So... can cats eat dog food? Yes and no. In the short term, the biggest potential problem is kibble being a little too big for your kitty's petite mouth. However, long term dog food consumption is highly discouraged. No matter how similar the two foods may look, the reality is that cats and dogs eat differently and require very different things - which, over time, can cause some serious issues in your cat's health. So what are your thoughts on kitties sneaking dog food? Let us know in the comments!

Feature image by bambe1964 via Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0. / Cropped from original.

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