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Dog and cat eating from the same bowl

The essentials

  • A small amount is OK — Your crafty cat can steal a nibble of kibble without harm, but serving it to them regularly will lead to health issues.
  • Dog food lacks the essential nutrients cats need — Cats and dogs are different species with different dietary requirements.
  • Separate feeding areas can help — Creating distance between where your cat eats and where your dog eats can reduce the temptation for thievery.

It’s more than a matter of taste — there’s science and health to consider when it comes to what your cat can eat. From the key differences between dog and cat food to understanding what nutrients your kitty needs at various stages of their life, we’ve got the scoop.

Can cats eat dog food?

While the short answer may seem like an obvious no, if your household has cats and dogs, chances are you’ve found yourself looking this up for one reason or another.

Whether it’s because your kitty has finagled their way into your dog’s leftovers, or you’ve run out of cat food and are wondering if it’s OK to dip into Fido’s supply until you get more, understanding the different nutritional values these foods provide can give you a better sense of the risk associated with your particular situation.

A little won’t cause any problems. But it won’t provide enough protein, minerals, and other nutrients cats need, which can lead to deficiencies that harm their health over time.

The differences between dog food and cat food

Simply put, cats are carnivores, and dogs are omnivores. Cat food is much higher in meat-based proteins and animal fats than even specialized high-protein dog food.

Dog food, on the other hand, contains more ingredients that are not essential in the diet of obligate carnivores. Dog food also has higher carbohydrate levels than cat food, which can lead to obesity if your favorite feline consumes too much.

Owners should look out for an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label on their cat’s food packaging, which ensures the product is complete and balanced. It’s also critical to find a food that is WSAVA-compliant, which means the brand doesn’t just look good on paper — they do the research behind their food and may even have vet nutritionists on staff that test and verify its absorbability and digestibility.


Taurine, an essential amino acid for cats, plays a critical role in heart health, vision, and reproduction. Unlike dogs, cats cannot synthesize enough taurine on their own and must obtain it from their diet, making it a non-negotiable component of cat food. Taurine deficiency can lead to severe health issues, such as an enlarged heart.


Like taurine, cats can’t produce arginine naturally, so they need to get it from their food. Dog food doesn’t contain enough arginine to satisfy a cat’s requirements, and without this crucial amino acid — which cats use to remove waste from their bodies — they can become very sick.

Vitamin A

Unlike their canine counterparts, cats require pre-formed vitamin A in their diet because they lack the ability to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. This nutrient is vital for maintaining good vision, skin health, and overall growth and development.

Arachidonic acid

Found in animal fats, arachidonic acid is another nutrient cats cannot produce themselves. It’s essential for maintaining coat health, reproductive health, and aiding in the formation of cell membranes.

Protein levels

Cats require higher levels of protein in their diet than dogs. This reflects their natural carnivorous behavior, emphasizing the need for high-quality animal proteins to support their energy levels, muscle maintenance, and overall health.


Dogs can benefit from a diet with a moderate level of carbohydrates, utilizing them as an additional energy source. Cats, however, have a limited ability to process carbohydrates and therefore require diets lower in carbs to prevent obesity and diabetes.

Dietary fiber

While some dogs may benefit from higher fiber diets for weight management and digestive health, cats typically require lower fiber levels. Excessive fiber in a cat’s diet can lead to digestive issues and hinder the absorption of essential nutrients.


Cats usually need fewer calories than dogs because they’re often smaller and spend a lot of time napping.

However, the calories in cat food are packed with more meaty goodness, giving cats the right kind of energy they need. Dog food isn’t as calorically dense and may not give cats the boost they require. It could even make them gain too much weight if they eat it instead of cat food.

Tips for keeping your cat out of the dog food

The best way to keep your cat out of your dog’s food is to keep your dog’s food out of sight. Feeding your cat and dog in separate rooms will help remove your cat’s urge to saunter over to the dog food bowl for dessert.

Most cats prefer eating in privacy anyway and don’t enjoy communal eating anyway. In addition to feeding in different rooms, owners can also pick up their dog’s leftovers to cut off access when their cat is on the prowl.

If your cat is still going after your dog’s food, consult your veterinarian to ensure their nutritional needs are being met or work with a trainer to curb the habit.

The right food at the right time

Choosing the perfect meal for your furry friend isn’t just about picking the tastiest option off the shelf; it’s about understanding what nourishes them at every twist and turn of their lives. Just like kids need different foods as they grow up, so do our feline friends.

  • Kittenhood. Little explorers need lots of energy for growth and play. Kitten-specific food — rich in protein and fat to keep up with their speedy development — provides the right balance to support their bones, muscles, and fur as they grow.
  • Adulthood. As they settle into adulthood, cats need a well-rounded diet that maintains their health and keeps those energy levels high. Keep an eye on their intake to prevent obesity — a common issue in adult cats.
  • Senior years. Older cats may have sensitive stomachs and lose muscle mass due to conditions such as arthritis. Foods with easily digestible proteins can help. Look for foods that support joint health, keeping your senior cat spry and comfortable.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if my cat eats dog food?

If your cat sneaks a few bites of dog food, there’s no need for immediate concern — it’s not toxic. However, dog food doesn’t provide all the essential nutrients cats need. Regularly eating dog food can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health issues for your kitty.

Can cats eat dog food for a couple of days?

In an absolute pinch (think emergency situations), your cat can manage on dog food for a very short period. However, this should not extend beyond a day or two. Cats have specific dietary needs that dog food doesn’t meet, so it’s crucial to switch back to cat food or find an alternative as soon as possible.

How do I get my cat to stop eating my dog’s food?

To keep your cat away from your dog’s food, try feeding them at separate times or in different areas of your home. You can also use baby gates to restrict access or feed your dog in a crate. Consistency is key — ensure your cat has access to their own food when they’re hungry.

Can I mix cat food and dog food?

No, owners should only mix dog food with dog food and cat food with cat food. Make sure the foods being mixed are balanced for the same life stage and have an AAFCO label to ensure there are sufficient nutrients.

Is there food for both cats and dogs?

While the idea of a universal pet food might seem convenient, the truth is that cats and dogs have very different nutritional requirements. As such, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all food that’s appropriate for both. It’s best to feed each pet a diet specifically formulated for their species to ensure they receive the right balance of nutrients.