Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Updated: 12/17/20232-4 minutes
grey cat eating from bowl

The four-legged siblings in your household might share a lot of things, including their love for play, cuddles and sleep. But one of the things they don’t have in common is food.  

Whether your cat is always curious about what’s in the dog food bowl or you’re running low on time and cat food, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Is dog food bad for cats?” 

If you’ve got a cat and a dog living together under the same roof, here’s what you need to know if you’ve caught your kitty sampling some food from your dog’s dish or showing interest in your dog’s treats.  

Is it Safe for Cats to Eat Dog Food? 

Even though at times they may act as if they are related, cats and dogs come from distinct parts of the animal kingdom and have different dietary requirements.  

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means their diet must contain ingredients from animal sources, while dogs are considered omnivores and, therefore, can enjoy a much larger variety in their menu. 

Even though a cat may dabble in grains and vegetables, dog food isn’t the best way to get them because it won’t provide enough of the amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins to match a cat’s nutritional needs. In a pinch (say, if you run out of cat food), your cat can have a meal or two of your dog’s food. Or, if your cat sneaks a few bites of your dog’s food, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. But eating dog food as an everyday diet will not support your cat’s optimal health, and can even cause death in certain cases.  

In terms of the nutritional support your cat needs to thrive, it’s not a matter of cat food vs. dog food. Your cat needs a protein-rich food formulated for cats with the right nutrient blend to promote their best health and life.  

What’s the Difference Between Cat and Dog Food? 

Food that is 100% complete and balanced for cats is formulated to provide your cat with optimal amounts of these nutrients. The same is true for food that is 100% complete and balanced for dogs. However, the definition of “optimal amounts” varies by species. So it’s not the same for cats and dogs.  

This is why cat food and dog food are not formulated in the same way by nutrition experts. There are different nutritional needs they have to keep in mind, which is why your cat can have a taste of your dog’s food but turning it into a habit isn’t recommended. Here are some of the key differences between the two types of pet food. 

  • Proteins. Certain amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), such as taurine and arginine, are unique requirements in a cat’s diet. Because a cat’s body lacks the enzymes to make their own, it’s important for these amino acids to be included in their diet. Don’t forget that taurine deficiency in cats can lead to serious health problems such as blindness or an enlarged heart. The same is not true for dogs. Their bodies are able to synthesize taurine, which is why their food will not always be formulated with cat-appropriate taurine levels in mind. Cats also need more protein than dogs to achieve the level of energy they require for a happy and healthy life. This is why feeding a cat dog food on a daily basis will lead to protein deficiency, which can result in serious health consequences. 

  • Vitamins. Vitamins are another essential nutrient that cats and dogs need in different proportions, particularly vitamin A, which cats don’t have the ability to produce like dogs can. Vitamin A has important functions in maintaining your cat’s eyes, skin and coat health. Cat food will often include higher quantities of vitamin A compared to dog food. 

  • Arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid which can’t be produced by cats. Therefore, it needs to be provided by their food. Dog food won’t usually be supplemented with arachidonic acid since their bodies can create it. 

  • Calories. Cat food is higher in calories due to their extra requirements of protein. This is another important reason why dog food is bad for cats in the long term—it won’t provide the calories cats require to thrive. 

  • Size. Size is yet another way dog food can differ from what your feline is used to. Cat food tends to be smaller in portion size, and it’s important not to overfeed them with large portions of dog food. 

Why Do Cats Like Dog Food? 

In this respect, the adage about cats and curiosity applies. If your cat is interested in your dog’s food, it’s more likely that they find it enticing because it’s different rather than delicious. 

Cats have fewer taste buds than dogs, only 470 compared to a dog’s 1,700. Also, they lack the ability to taste sweetness. This is one reason cats can be so finicky about food (another reason being that they are, of course, cats).  

It’s also why cat foods are formulated to be so highly flavorful. For this reason, cats commonly don’t find dog food very appetizing, while dogs are definitely drawn to flavor-rich cat food.  

Can Cats Eat Dog Treats?  

The answer to this question is basically the same as the answer to the questions: “Can cats eat wet dog food?” or “Can cats eat dry dog food?” 

While your cat might be intrigued by the idea of a dog treat, and might even decide to nibble on one, remember that like dog food, dog treats are not made with a cat’s nutritional needs, or digestive system, in mind. This is why treats made for cats are a better option for your feline family member.  

How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Dog Food 

If your cat ate dog food, or you’ve caught them trying to sneak a bit from your dog’s bowl more than once, there are a few things you can do to make sure the food they have access to is the one that meets their dietary requirements. 

Set Spaces and Mealtimes 

The “out of sight, out of mind” rule can be useful in helping cats to focus only on the food meant for them. Put enough distance between the cat and the dog food bowls to stop your little feline from being tempted into trying your dog’s dinner. 

Having your cat and dog in different rooms at mealtime can also help. In addition, avoid free feeding—serve your pets their meals at regularly scheduled times, and pick up all food bowls when mealtime is over.   

Feed a High-Quality Cat Food 

Make sure your cat is eating a quality food they enjoy—one formulated to help cats live long and healthy lives. Purina offers a wide variety of quality cat foods created to nourish and delight cats at every stage of life.  

Keep Your Cat From Straying to the Dog Dish 

While dog food is not harmful or poisonous for cats, it is important to make sure it doesn’t become the default meal for a cat curious to try new things at dinnertime. By keeping them eating food that’s formulated for them, you can be sure they get the nutrition they need. 

For more expert tips on feeding your cat, explore our other cat feeding articles 

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