Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Is Cat Food Safe for Dogs?

If you share your home with both dogs and cats, then it’s likely that your dog has, at some point, found an opportunity to steal a tasty bite of your cat’s food. Is there any harm in this, and should this be something you need to put a stop to right now?

What if you forgot to pick up dog kibble at the grocery store, but you have plenty of cat food? Is it okay to substitute cat food?

The short answer of whether it’s safe for dogs to eat cat food is that it’s not going to cause any problems if your dog eats cat food occasionally. But it’s not something you should make a habit of or encourage in any way. Let’s look at why.

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The difference between cats and dogs

We all know that cats and dogs both have four paws, adorable ears, and cute little tails, but is that where the similarity ends?

In terms of their dietary needs, cats and dogs are a world apart. The digestive system of a dog is designed to process both meat and vegetable matter, so they thrive on a diet that includes both of these components.

Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores. They’re designed to survive on meat and meat alone. While it’s true that some cat foods do indeed contain vegetable matter, this is more to provide fiber or even to bulk out the feed, rather than as something essential for your cat’s health and wellbeing.

As a result, cat food is higher in protein from meat sources than dog food. This, in itself, can make cat food seriously appealing to your dog.

pug eating cat food
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The AAFCO guidelines for nutrient profiles of dog and cat food recommend a minimum of 18% protein in dog food designed for adult dogs. In contrast, adult cat food should have a minimum of 26%. Dog food should contain 5.5% fat and cat food 9%.

For both protein and fat content, that’s quite a jump and demonstrates that while cat food and dog food may look similar to us, the nutrient profiles are different.

Of course, the amounts of individual proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals are also going to vary based on the food being designed to provide the best nutrition for two different species with different digestive systems.

Why you should not feed cat food to your dog

As mentioned, it’s not going to do your dog any long-term damage if they sneak the occasional bite of cat food. But as responsible pet owners, we shouldn’t allow them to do this regularly.

Allowing your dog to eat cat food too often can result in unpleasant health conditions. First, the balance of nutrients in cat food isn’t going to match what your dog needs to stay strong and healthy.

The higher levels of protein in cat food can lead to your dog developing kidney and liver problems, especially if they’ve been eating cat food long term.

bowl of wet cat food
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Obesity can also be an issue, which can put extra strain on your dog’s joints. As your dog grows older, they may develop arthritis if they’re carrying too many extra pounds.

Your dog may also suffer from gastrointestinal issues from eating cat food. They may vomit or suffer from diarrhea or constipation.

Lastly, pancreatitis is a serious health condition that can be caused by a diet too high in fat. Eating a large portion of calorie and fat-dense cat food in one go could certainly be a trigger for your dog developing pancreatitis. Symptoms include:

  • Hunched back
  • Painful abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • High temperature
  • Lack of appetite

If you notice your dog displaying any of these signs, particularly after eating a portion of cat food, then it’s best to seek immediate veterinary advice.

black dog eating cat food
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How to stop your dog eating cat food

If you notice that your cat’s food bowl is constantly empty, check to see if your dog has been helping themselves. If so, take action to prevent this from becoming a habit.

It’s a good idea to get into the routine of feeding your dog and cat separately. Make sure your dog can’t gobble their food and then run off to finish off the cat’s bowl before you have a chance to intervene.

Many of us leave dry cat kibble out during the day for our cats to nibble on, so if you do this, make sure it’s placed somewhere your dog can’t reach. But beware: Once you’ve left the house, some dogs can be surprisingly cunning and agile in how they can reach cat food that appears to be in a safe spot!

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Dog food is for dogs…and cat food is for cats!

While the odd bite of cat food isn’t going to do your dog any harm, it’s certainly not going to do them any good either. The nutrient profile of dog and cat foods are completely different and are designed to suit the species they’re created for.

That’s the main point: Dogs and cats are a completely different species. While it’s sometimes easy to consider them both as “pets who live in the house,” it’s our responsibility as the owners of those beloved pets to remember that they are, in fact, different species and don’t require the same sort of food as each other.

golden retriever trying to eat cat food
Image credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Allowing your dog to help themselves to your cat’s food regularly is not a good idea. The health problems that it can create in the long run are definitely not worth the risk.

So, do your dog and cat both a favor (your dog may not thank you for it, but your cat probably will!), and make sure to feed your pets separately. Don’t leave cat food where your dog can reach it and keep an eye on your dog’s behavior if you think they may have indulged in eating cat food before you had a chance to change your system.

As responsible pet parents, it’s up to us to make sure that we feed both our dogs and cats a species-appropriate diet. Sorry, dogs, but that means no more sneaky cat food snacks!


Featured Image Credit: fantom_rd, Shutterstock