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Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Is It Bad? (Tips From A Vet)


Last Updated: February 26, 2024 | 7 min read | Leave a Comment

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British shorthair cat and Golden Retriever trying to eat cat food

Does your dog get excited every time you open a bag, can, or pouch of cat food? Dogs seem to love the stuff, but is it safe for them to eat? Feline foods are made up of many of the same ingredients that go into dog food, so one might assume it is safe for canines to eat. The reality is a little trickier, and while the ingredients are the same, and an occasional bit of kitty kibble may not hurt your pup, there are better options than feeding canines kitty food long-term. We jump into the details and discuss the difference between feline and canine nutrition and the effects eating kitty chow has on canines.

Canine vs. Feline Nutrition

Canines and felines do not have the same nutritional needs. For starters, cats are obligate carnivores. They require a diet that is high in animal proteins. While felines require a meat-heavy diet, canines are omnivores and eat plant material like fruits and vegetables, as well as animal proteins.

While both felines and canines require amino acids from their diets, canines need 10, and felines need 11. Cats need the amino acid taurine for proper development and body function. Taurine plays a very large role in cardiovascular function, digestion, immune system function, and vision, among other things. Because of this, kitty nutrition has much higher levels of animal proteins and taurine. The higher animal protein and fat make these meals irresistible to dogs because they smell and taste like juicy meat.

Cat food has a requirement for taurine, whereas dog food does not. Canines eat taurine but do not require nearly as much of it. They also need different amounts of fiber, nutrients, protein, vitamins, and other nutritional elements than cats. Kitty chow is formulated for healthy and balanced feline nutrition, and while it tastes good and is not toxic, it does not meet the specific dietary needs of any canine. Conversely, cats should not eat canine food as it does not contain enough protein, fat, or amino acids to sustain or keep them healthy.

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food (A Vet’s Expert Opinion)

Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS weighs in “It’s well-publicized that cats can’t eat dog food because it lacks taurine, which is an essential amino acid that cats can’t make themselves. However, it’s also true that dogs shouldn’t eat cat food. Because cats are obligate carnivores, whereas dogs are omnivores, cat food contains a higher proportion of animal protein and less of the grains, vegetables, and other components that dogs need to meet their nutritional needs.”

Dr. Godfrey points out, “A higher protein content is unlikely to cause damage to your dog’s kidneys if it’s just a one-off or very short term, but if your dog has existing kidney damage or disease, or you feed them cat food long term, you could cause kidney failure. It’s not just the protein that could cause an issue for your dog, though, cat food is also usually higher in fat and calories, which could cause your dog problems with obesity, gut upsets, or even pancreatitis.”

Dr. Godfrey adds, “I’ve had pet owners mention to me during conversations that they’ve been feeding their dog the cat’s food because they haven’t had time to get to the pet shop yet. It’s often not perceived to be a big deal. However, even though in the short term it’s unlikely to cause a huge problem, I always advise them to get hold of the dog food as soon as they can, as it’s not a good idea to chop and change your dog’s diet anyway, especially if they have a sensitive belly.”

Is Cat Food Bad For Dogs?

While not toxic, cat chow, wet or dry, is not healthy for canines. If your pup gobbles up a serving or two occasionally, it will not likely cause long-term harm. However, eating kitty chow in large quantities or regularly is unhealthy. In truth, dogs should never eat feline products, as they are not developed to meet their species-specific dietary needs. Feline chow is undoubtedly a better option than giving your pup a French fry or a stick of beef jerky, but that does not mean it is healthy for them.

Feline foods also have the potential to be harmful to pups who are suffering from kidney, liver, or stomach diseases. The same goes for pups with sensitive stomachs, dietary allergies, or other gastrointestinal issues. Kitty chow is not developed to be digested by dogs, especially the higher protein levels, which can lead to some difficulty if it becomes a regular habit.

Feline foods are also high in animal fat, which can lead to the development of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory disease affecting the pancreas, which produces part of the body’s digestive enzymes. When a dog suffers from pancreatitis, this organ becomes inflamed, which leads to a loss of appetite, pain, vomiting, swelling, and internal bleeding. Pancreatitis must be treated quickly to stop the pain and have a higher chance of recovery. Symptoms include lethargy, hunching over, arched back pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and overall weakness.

Some canine breeds have a higher likelihood of genetic susceptibility for pancreatitis, including Boxers, Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, and some Terrier breeds. For these dogs, the higher fat content of feline meals is a very unhealthy choice. Eating too much kitty grub also puts canines at a higher risk of weight gain and developing conditions like diabetes and poor heart health.

Is Wet Cat Food Bad For Dogs?

Wet cat food is not toxic or poisonous for canines, but it is unhealthy for them. Eating it once in a while is not likely to cause any long-term or noticeable effects unless your pet suffers from an underlying disease or nutritional deficiency. Eating feline-focused meals over long periods and eating large amounts can lead to gastrointestinal dysfunction. These conditions include painful gas, diarrhea, and indigestion. Additionally, there is always a risk that a pup could be allergic to something contained in the recipe, as these formulas are not tested for safety nor developed to be consumed by dogs.

Sometimes, a veterinarian may recommend that a dog eats wet cat meals for a short time. This can occur when a pup is fighting a serious disease that affects the appetite or digestion, including cancer. Kitty grub tends to taste better due to its higher fat and protein content. A vet may recommend this over a home-cooked diet if dogs are having difficulty digesting the carbohydrates and fibers found in commercial pet foods. However, it’s best to discuss your dog’s dietary needs with the vet, including any problems or concerns you have, rather than switching them to a feline formula on your own.

Is Dry Cat Food Bad For Dogs?

Dogs may be drawn to dry feline-focused kibble for the same reason they seek out wet foods. Kitty recipes taste great and smell like meat. The high protein and fat content make it taste very meaty, which our canine companions cannot resist. Canines can easily crunch up dry cat kibbles and treats, and they will likely digest them, but they are not healthy. While crunchy in texture, they are designed for thin feline teeth, not bigger canine teeth. The crunch has no cleaning benefit, and the kibble will likely break down quickly. Additionally, there is the potential for pieces to get stuck in the mouth and teeth.

Can Puppies Eat Kitten Food?

Puppies should not eat kitten chow if possible. While it tastes good and does offer protein, it does not have what puppies need to develop correctly. They can eat it in a pinch but do not make a habit of this. Stick to breed and size-appropriate puppy kibbles and wet foods. These are much healthier for your pup.

Is Cat Food Bad For Dog’s Kidneys?

Eating a lot of this can be bad for a canine’s kidneys, especially those with kidney disease or dysfunction. In some cases, dogs with kidney issues even need to go on a prescription diet. Dry kitty kibble is much worse than wet foods for animals with kidney disease because they contain little moisture. Kitty chow can also be risky for dogs suffering from liver disease. Foods high in copper, including organ meats often included in cat meals, can be particularly hard on the liver.

Can A Dog Die From Eating Cat Food?

A canine is unlikely to die from eating feline foods. If snacking on cat chow becomes a regular habit, it can lead to stomach upset, weakness, vomiting, or diarrhea. If this happens, it is best to call your vet. In some rare cases, your pet may develop an allergic reaction to the ingredients. Pups eating this diet long-term stand a much higher risk of developing pancreatitis, which can be fatal. Eating too much of it over an extended period of time can lead to very serious and sometimes life-ending medical conditions.

If your pup eats kitty chow, wet or dry, and is in any kind of distress or pain afterward, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food In An Emergency?

Yes, a pup can eat kitty chow in an emergency but only for a short time. They will enjoy the taste and new textures. While it will be enough to sustain them for a few days, it is not a good habit to get into. The potential for long-term health issues is far too great. While your pup may enjoy the taste and think this is a tasty treat, it is not a very healthy choice in the long run. If your dog is overweight, diabetic, suffer from kidney or liver disease, or has other long-term health conditions, it is best to use caution when giving them feline products. Even in an emergency, this may not be the best option.

Personal Experience With Dog Eating Cat Food

I have a pup now that loves to eat kitty food. He likes it so much he will get upset if he sees me feed the cats, as he thinks they are getting a treat that he is being left out of. I am not sure why he likes it so much because he is fed a high-quality diet, but he is always very interested in it. If he happens to get into the room when the kitties are eating, he will chase them off, especially if they are eating canned or wet meals. To combat this, I feed all my animals in different locations.

Looking For Healthy Dog Food Options?

High-quality, healthy, balanced dog food is always a better choice than kitty kibble or other kinds of cat foods. Fortunately for owners and their canine family members, there are a growing number of healthy dog food options to choose from. Freeze-dried foods, as well as fresh, human-grade options, are becoming more and more popular. There are several fantastic delivery options available. Along with that, owners can choose raw food or a holistic diet. Always speak to your veterinarian about your dog’s health and nutritional concerns. This includes adding in any supplements or vitamins. Always use caution when making significant dietary changes, especially if your dog has any underlying medical concerns.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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