Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

Updated: 2/2/20242-4 minutes
dog eating out of bowl while cat watches

If your family includes both canine and feline members, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of American pet owners share their homes with both dogs and cats.

You’re also in good company if you’ve caught your dog digging into your cat’s dinner and wondered, “Is it safe for dogs to eat cat food?”

The Question Isn’t Whether Dogs Can Eat Cat Food…

Because as any dog owner knows, they likely will. Many dogs won’t turn down the opportunity to sample the food the family cat is enjoying. The more important question is, should they?

The answer is that cat food is not a healthy substitute for dog food, because it’s not formulated to provide the nourishment a dog needs. And vice versa.

To nourish good health, all animals need a combination of these nutrients

  • Vitamins 
  • Minerals  
  • Protein  
  • Fat  
  • Carbohydrates 
  • Water

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

What’s the Difference Between Dog and Cat Food?

Cats and dogs are very different animals (as anyone who lives with both knows all too well). In addition to many other aspects, they also have different nutritional needs.

As obligate carnivores, cats require a more protein-rich diet. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores who need their own distinct blend and balance of nutrients to support overall health.

 

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

Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs? 

While sneaking an occasional morsel from your cat’s bowl shouldn’t be harmful to your dog, a regular diet of cat food can have unfavorable effects on their health.

For example, if a dog eats only cat food, which tends to be higher in protein and fat, this can cause weight gain, in addition to other health issues. Cat food may also be formulated for cats with higher amounts of certain vitamins (e.g., Vitamins D & A). While these higher levels are safe for cats, they can be too high for dogs.

Why Do Dogs Like Cat Food?

The reason why dogs like cat food is the very reason they shouldn’t have too much of it. The meaty, high-protein and high-fat composition of cat foods, along with their enticing, meaty aroma and flavor, certainly makes them attractive to dogs. But when consumed too often, these protein- and fat-rich diets can also cause digestive issues, weight gain or pancreatitis in dogs if their bodies are sensitive to fat levels.

Can Dogs Eat Cat Treats? 

Just like cat food, your dog would likely be delighted to gobble up a delicious cat treat or two. Or more. But like cat food, those treats are not made with a dog’s nutritional needs, or digestive system, in mind. This is why treats made for dogs are the better way to treat your dog.

How to Keep Your Dog from Eating Cat Food

Your dog ate cat food—you’ve just caught them in the act. Depending on how much was eaten you’ll want to make sure they don’t suffer from any digestive upset, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms, if any, should be minor and quick to resolve. If not, be sure to contact your veterinarian.

However, now that your dog has had a taste of what’s in your cat’s dish, how do you keep them from becoming repeat offenders, and coming back for more?

Feed a High-Quality Dog Food

First, make sure your dog is eating a quality food they enjoy—one formulated to help dogs live long and healthy lives. Purina offers a wide variety of foods to satisfy every dog’s unique tastes and needs, including yours.

Create Separate Feeding Spaces

To minimize opportunities for your dog to scavenge your cat’s food, multi-pet families should physically separate pets (and their foods) at mealtime. This helps ensure that each pet gets their own food, from the feeding dish that belongs to them.

If you are feeding a dog and a cat, this might mean placing each animal in their own room. This will allow each pet to enjoy their meal undisturbed and keep your dog from gulping down their food and moving over to your cat's dish.

If your cat is accustomed to having a supply of dry food available for free feeding, another option is to keep their dish where your dog can’t reach it. A table top or counter can provide a safe place for your cat to eat. Or, use a cat door or dog gate to prevent your dog from accessing the room or area where your cat eats.

Can Dogs Eat Wet or Dry Cat Food?  

 

If your dog is like most, they will certainly try. That’s why they need you to make sure they get the nutrition they need, from a diet that’s right for them. 

Choosing the right dog food is another important way to give your dog the right nutrition. Be sure the food you choose is formulated to provide optimal nutrition for their life stage, size and lifestyle.

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

 

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