Diet problems

Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 20, 2018
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

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Having a cat and a dog in the same home will bring up a lot of different issues. The first time you introduce them to each other can be a difficult affair as they will need time to get acquainted and have a sense of their bearings when around one another. Once they are settled in, however, you might see they start to develop a strong and unique bond. They will share lap space, snuggle in the same bedding and even vie for the same scraps when you're cooking in the kitchen. Unfortunately, when they start to share the same food bowl, it might be a cause for concern.

AnimalWised looks into whether cats can eat dog food and what might happen if they do. To do this we'll need to look at the differences between feline and canine nutrition as well as what you can do to stick to their own scran.

You may also be interested in: Food You Can't Feed to Ferrets
  1. What is dog food made from?
  2. What is cat food made from?
  3. Is it bad for a cat to eat dog food?
  4. Can I feed my cat dog food in an emergency?
  5. How to prevent a cat from eating dog food

What is dog food made from?

Both dog and cat food comes in different formulations with various ingredients and flavors. There are also specially designed recipes for dogs depending on their health status, age, breed and size. Despite the fact they are created with these variations, the food for a cat is formulated differently to cat food.

Dog food contains a higher amount of high concentrations of beta-carotene, something crucial for proper canine development. This is due to the need to be converted into vitamin A. In older dogs beta-carotene is particularly important as it can specifically restore immune responses which have been wakened by age[1]. Canine food is also characterized by being rich in vitamins, fiber and being lower in proteins and fat than cat food. The last difference is due to a dog's tendency to gain weight more easily if these constituents are elevated, something which will happen if you let a dog eat cat food regularly.

For this reason, it is better for a dog not to eat cat food. Their species, breed and age needs to be considered and cat food will not meet these specific needs, especially over a prolonged period.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food? - What is dog food made from?

What is cat food made from?

Contrary to the diet of a dog, cats need food rich in protein and fat. It also needs to be lower in fiber. Felines need added vitamin A as they are an organism which is unable to metabolize it on their own. The same happens with taurine, an amino acid which cats in the wild get from eating raw meat, especially offal such as the liver or heart. As commercial cat food is not raw and doesn't always contain these elements, it must be added to the food during production. We should not underestimate how important taurine is to the health of our cats. A diet sufficiently deficient in taurine will lead to various health problems in cats including heart disease. This is something which needs to be considered if you are thinking of providing a raw food diet for cats.

When you are considering your cat's diet and nutritional needs in general, you need to remember that they are obligate carnivores. This is why they require so much protein in their diet. If they don't have sufficient amounts of protein, they will not have the energy they need to carry out their physical activities throughout the day. Although cats might seem like lazy animals at times, in actuality they burn a lot of energy during games or when hunting. If a cat has protein deficiency, they will not only become lethargic, but can develop severe illnesses.

Another necessary element in the feline diet is arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid which is necessary for a cat's health[2]. Dogs will produce this naturally from their food, but cats will not.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food? - What is cat food made from?

Is it bad for a cat to eat dog food?

Many people put their different pet's feeding bowls in the same place for practical and sanitation purposes. If we don't keep an eagle eye on them, it is not uncommon for one to snap up the other's food. It could be because they have finished their own and are still hungry or they're simply curious. Some people might panic and worry if there is a chance of food poisoning.

The truth is, there is no grave concern if a cat eats dog food or if a dog eats cat food. Over a prolonged period, either animals will not be able to get the sufficient quantities of nutrition they need. If you were to make it a common practice, the cat or dog will become ill and could develop some severe long-term health issues.

If you have have been feeding your cat dog food for any significant length of time, you will need to look at their behavior and physical well-being. If you see signs or symptoms such as discomfort, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss (alopecia) or related issues, it is likely you are dealing with a nutritional deficiency. In the long run this could lead to malnutrition, kidney failure or liver disease. If left untreated, these conditions can be fatal for cats.

Can I feed my cat dog food in an emergency?

There are some circumstances where you may not have any cat food at hand. Maybe you live in a remote area and miss the only shop for miles before it closes. Maybe you have a dog which got into the parlor and managed to snaffle up the last of the cat food before you could get to it. Maybe you simply forgot to buy some. If this is the case, then you may wonder if you can feed your cat dog food in an emergency. The answer is yes. While the cat will miss some essential nutrients in the long run, there are enough nutrients in the dog food to help the cat until you can get some more. It will be better than starving in most cases. Whether the cat will choose to eat it may be a different story.

However, even though a cat can eat dog food in an emergency, it may not be the best option. Instead, you can make some homemade food for cats which will satiate their hunger and be more likely to provide the nutrients they need.

Can Cats Eat Dog Food? - Can I feed my cat dog food in an emergency?

How to prevent a cat from eating dog food

If your cat regularly seems more interested in the dog's food than their own or are simply greedy, you may want to find some ways to avoid it. Here are some tips to help you keep themselves to themselves:

  • Use differently designed bowls: dogs and cats have the ability to distinguish between shapes and sizes, so having two bowls which look too similar can make it difficult for them to distinguish which is which. Different colors may not be enough. Buy differently sized food dishes or even go for completely different shapes.
  • Establish feeding schedules: whether or not you spend all day at home, having a feeding schedule for both animals is crucial. Cats and dogs are creatures of routine, so they will learn what time is feeding time. By controlling when they eat and encouraging them to eat at specific times, they will be less likely to go searching for the other pet's food.
  • Serve the food in different places: you dog and cat may be on the same eating schedule, but if you place their feeders in different places, they will be less likely to go to the others for food.
  • Discipline: using positive reinforcement, you can train both dogs and cats to only eat from their dish. Giving a firm ‘no’ if you see them eating from the other's bowl can be helpful, but only if they are in the act. If you scold them after the fact they will not understand and it can cause them stress.

Another way to ensure your cat only eats from their own dish is to use a high tech method. Microchips can be implanted to help recover them if they get lost. This same chip can be used on an electronic feeder which only opens when the right chip passes in front of it. This means the feeder will open when the dog approaches, but not when the cat does.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Cats Eat Dog Food?, we recommend you visit our Diet problems category.

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Can Cats Eat Dog Food?