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Cat eating food on a wooden table

The essentials

  • A small amount is OK — Yes, your sneaky cat can steal a little from your dog’s bowl or be fed dog food in an emergency without the risk of toxicity, but serving it to them on a regular basis 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.

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.

The differences between dog food and cat food

Simply put, cats are carnivores, and dogs are omnivores. They are different species with different nutritional needs. 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, also contains grains and vegetables, which are not essential ingredients to obligate carnivores. Dog food also has higher carbohydrate levels than cat food, which can lead to obesity if your favorite feline consumes too much. Other things like tastebuds and texture play a role in the way cat and dog food is engineered.

What happens if your cat eats the dog food

If your cat has raided your dog’s dinner, or you ran out of cat food and don’t have time to make a store run before their next meal, you can rest assured that a small amount of dog food is not toxic to cats. Although it won’t provide enough protein, minerals, and other nutrient requirements, a little won’t cause any problems. But feeding a cat dog food regularly or long term can lead to deficiencies that harm their health over time.

A cat’s nutritional needs

Most commercial brand cat foods provide the nutritional needs specific to cats. Owners should look out for an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label on their cat’s food packaging that ensures the product meets these standards for their life stage. If you are considering giving your cat a homemade diet, familiarize yourself with foods considered toxic to them.

Here are the key nutrients cats need that dog food doesn’t offer:

  • Taurine. Cat food has added taurine, an essential amino acid that a cat’s body can’t produce naturally. A taurine deficiency can lead to vision loss or heart disease.
  • Vitamin A. Most dog food contains Vitamin A, but not enough for cats. Without it, your cat may experience poor coat health, vision impairment, and muscle weakness.
  • Arachidonic acid. Cats need to ingest this fatty acid, unlike dogs, that can create it themselves.

Another issue is that cats require more calories than what’s provided in most dog foods. Regularly feeding your cat dog food isn’t a good idea because it will deprive them of their required caloric intake, resulting in weight loss.

Why kittens need special food

Just as puppies’ nutritional needs differ from adult dogs, kittens and adult cats also have different dietary needs. Kittens must adjust for their increased energy and rapid growth rate with special formulas tailored to their life stage. Kittens that don’t eat a specialized diet may experience obesity, dehydration, compromised digestive system, or improper growth.

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. 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.

Frequently asked questions

Can cats and dogs share water?

So long as both pets are healthy, there is no risk with cats and dogs drinking from the same water bowl. That said, cats typically don’t enjoy sharing bowls and may not have their hydration needs met if they’re forced to split.

What foods are poisonous to cats?

Owners should consult their vet if they fear their cat ingested something toxic. Human foods that are toxic to cats include chocolate, avocado, onions, and grapes. Contrary to popular belief, cow’s milk is not advised for cats. Foods safe for cats include apples, bananas, blueberries, and cooked eggs.

Why do cats steal dog food?

If your cat is getting into your dog’s bowl, it could be because of a diet that’s leaving them hungry, not being fed enough, or wanting to mimic the dog’s behavior. Owners can take steps to cut off their cat’s access to dog food, such as feeding them in separate rooms and cleaning up leftovers.

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.

What is the risk of my cat eating dog food?

Cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements. In the short term, there is little risk associated with cats eating dog food, but pet parents who feed their cats dog food regularly or over an extended period put them at risk of not getting enough vitamins and animal-based protein, which can lead to heart problems, weight loss, and other medical conditions.