With more than one pet species in the house, mealtime can become confusing. Cat food that is left out for grazing purposes might be consumed by the dog, and vice versa. But can cats eat dog food? And can dogs eat cat food? Find out why it isn’t ideal for your dog to eat cat food—and why your cat definitely shouldn’t eat dog food long-term.
How the nutritional needs of cats and dogs differ
While dogs are considered omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores and have a higher requirement for meat-based proteins and animal fats.
Unlike dogs, cats can’t synthesize certain essential amino acids, such as taurine and arginine.
- Without enough taurine in their diet, cats will likely develop heart conditions, experience vision problems, contract UTIs, and have other health issues. Cats must ingest taurine through their diet, which can only be found in animal sources.
- Lacking arginine, cats cannot produce another amino acid, orthinine, which regulates the amount of ammonia produced during the breakdown of protein. Too much ammonia in the body can result in death.
Dogs, on the hand, can get nutrients from both plant and animal sources. Dogs are also able to manufacture certain essential fatty acids and vitamins that cats cannot, including arachidonic acid, vitamin A, and niacin.
Bottom line: Cats have more specialized nutritional requirements than dogs.
So, can cats eat dog food?
As you can see, cats and dogs have very different nutritional needs—which means that cat food and dog food are formulated to have very different nutritional components.
Because cats have such specific dietary requirements, your cat should not eat dog food. A bite of dog food here and there probably isn’t harmful. But a steady diet of dog food will leave your cat extremely malnourished.
Here are some key nutritional differences between cat food and dog food. As compared to dog food, cat food includes:
- A higher protein count (30-34% vs. 18-26%)
- Added taurine
- Supplemented arachidonic acid
- More vitamin A supplements
- Animal-based niacin (as opposed to plant-based)
The good news: Your cat probably isn’t interested in dog food, anyway.
Another interesting difference between cat food and dog food? The taste! Dogs have almost 4x the amount of taste buds that cats do. So while cat food is engineered to be highly palatable for our feline friends, dog food just doesn’t compare. Your cat will most likely find dog food bland and unappetizing.
And can dogs eat cat food?
In essence, dog food is more detrimental for cats than cat food is for dogs. Yet the question "can dogs eat cat food?" is probably more relevant than "can cats eat dog food? "
Why? Because dogs are far more likely to eat cat food. In fact, the greater protein and fat contents found in cat food make it irresistible to most dogs!
That said, you shouldn’t allow your dog to regularly consume cat food. Due to cat food’s excess in protein and fat, dogs may experience vomiting and diarrhea after eating it—it is simply “too rich” for most dogs. Cat food may even be outright harmful to dogs with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts, kidney or liver disease, or pancreatitis. Finally, cat food’s nutritional formulation is likely to contribute to obesity in dogs.
How to prevent your dog from eating cat food
The most surefire way to prevent your dog from eating cat food is to keep the cat feeder or food bowl out of your dog’s reach. You can also cut back on opportunities for your dog to snack by not allowing your cat to “free feed,” sometimes known as gravity feeding. Instead, feed your cat a smaller measured amount of food several times a day.
Don’t have time to feed your cat small amounts throughout the day? (Who does!) Try an automatic pet feeder like the Feeder-Robot. With the Feeder-Robot, you set your preferred number of portion-controlled meals per day. For instance, for cats you’ll most likely want to set a feeder to dispense a quarter cup of food twice a day, or even an eighth cup of food four times a day. The Feeder-Robot can also be used for dogs.
So, can cats eat dog food? And can dogs eat cat food? Now you know why neither species should be eating the other’s food!