Can Dogs Eat Cat Food?

Dog eating cat food from a bowl and the cat is not happy

There’s something about the taste of cat food that dogs seem to love. But is this food for felines safe for your pup to eat?

Dogs can eat cat food in emergencies, but consuming it as a regular meal may lead to health issues. Cat food lacks vital nutrients dogs need, especially from vegetable and grain-based ingredients. So over time, eating it can cause your dog to develop digestive problems, obesity, and pancreatitis.

You undoubtedly want your pets to be as healthy as possible. So to help, this article explains why you should avoid feeding your dog cat food—and some healthier alternatives you can try.

Why Dogs Shouldn’t Eat Cat Food

Cats are known as hypercarnivores, meaning that they consume almost strictly meat. Meanwhile, dogs are omnivores who require a balance of vegetables, meats, and grains.

Because of these differences, cat food lacks several nutrients that canines need—and has an excess of others that dogs don’t want.

Here are some issues that eating cat food can cause dogs:

  • Malnutrition: Cat food lacks grain and vegetable-based nutrients that are vital for canines. As a result, eating it instead of dog food may cause health problems related to malnutrition.
  • Weight gain: Since cats are strict carnivores, their food is very high in fats. Unfortunately, that means dogs will quickly gain weight from ingesting it.
  • Digestive issues: Most cat foods are rich in several nutrients that dogs don’t need or want. As a result, consuming too much may upset your pup’s stomach.
  • Pancreatitis: The high-fat content of cat food makes it more likely for your dog to develop pancreatitis. So call your vet if you notice your pet hunch their back or repeatedly vomit.

What Do Dogs Need In Their Food

Domestic canines are known as omnivores. In other words, your dog’s optimal diet includes meat, vegetables, and even grains.

As a result, dog food needs a balance between macronutrients. Most name-brand varieties are anywhere from 40 to 75% carbohydrates, while protein will make up around 25% of the ingredients. 

Fats, however, should make up only around 10% of a canine’s diet. Too much more than that increases a dog’s risk for obesity and pancreatitis.

This nutritional balance is exactly why cat food is generally unhealthy for dogs. While your dog’s diet is primarily carbs, cats require high amounts of fat. 

Below is a table comparing their nutritional needs:

MacronutrientPercentage of Canine DietPercentage of Feline Diet
Carbohydrates40%-75%10% or less

Eating a little cat food here and there won’t usually cause a dog any problems. But as you can see, canines and felines have very different dietary needs. So try to feed your pup only treats meant for dogs.

The Differences Between Dog and Cat Food

Dogs need a much broader range of nutrients for a healthy diet than cats. As a result, it makes sense their foods have some crucial differences.

Here are some examples:

  • Carbohydrates: Dogs typically burn much more energy than cats. Because of that, their food has a higher carbohydrate content.
  • Protein: Since cats are strict carnivores, their food has a higher balance of protein than dog kibble. 
  • Texture: Dog food is typically harder to chew and crunchier than cat food. This is because dogs have bigger, stronger mouths.
  • Flavors: Cat food is almost always strictly meat-flavored because cats are carnivores. Meanwhile, dog kibble often includes vegetable and grain-based tastes.
  • Size: Pieces of dog food are typically bigger than bits of cat food. While this isn’t a problem for canines, the size of dog kibble poses a choking hazard for cats.

As you can see, there are significant nutritional and practical differences between food for canines and felines. 

It’s okay if your pup accidentally eats a cat treat. However, cat food should never become a regular part of their diet.

Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Food?

If dog food is healthier for our canines, why do they go after cat food?

As it turns out, cat food is downright delicious to your furry pal.

Most of the flavors are meat-based, which dogs love. Plus, many canines enjoy the juiciness of wet cat food varieties. So if your dog is always eager to devour your feline’s meals, they probably just like the taste.

But that being said, there are other reasons your pup might go after this snack.

In rare cases, your dog may be trying to show domination over a cat. This is particularly likely if your canine can easily reach your cat’s bowl. Or if the kitty is a new addition to your household.

Additionally, obsessing over cat food may indicate nutritional deficiencies in your pooch. So double-check that you’re feeding your dog the proper portions for their size. And if they seem disinterested in their kibble, try a different brand or flavor.

How To Stop Your Dog From Eating Cat Food

Dogs can occasionally develop a taste for cat kibble. When that happens, your pup may ignore their food to go after your kitty’s bowl. Or try breaking into the pantry when you’re not paying attention.

But don’t worry—there are several ways to discourage this behavior:

  • Elevation: Keep your cats’ bowls on a counter or table when possible. While your cats will be able to reach them, your dog probably won’t.
  • Staggered feeding: Feeding your pets at different times can prevent them from bothering each other’s food. This tactic is helpful if your cats are timid around your pooch.
  • Move your cat’s bowl: If your dog is intent on cat food, consider feeding your felines in a different room. If it’s out of sight, it will also be out of mind for your pup.
  • Training: Determined canines may need some training to stop them from eating cat food. Tell your pet “no” and move the kibble away when they go after it. And when they listen, reward them with a dog treat.
  • Chicken broth: If your dog is disinterested in their kibble, consider adding some warm chicken broth to it. Doing so provides a meaty flavor and more moisture—making the dog food taste similar to cat food.

How Long Can Dogs Live On Cat Food?

During an emergency, you might not be able to get dog food for your furry friend. And in that case, you may wonder how long your pup can live on solely cat food.

As it turns out, your dog can survive on cat kibble for days or weeks if absolutely necessary. While felines require a strict meat-based diet, canines are much more flexible. Your pup will miss vital nutrients, but it’s better than going hungry.

However, that doesn’t mean you should feed your dogs any cat food.

Cat food is rich in nutrients dogs don’t need. So even just one meal may upset their digestive system. And if your dog’s stomach is sensitive, that could mean vomiting or diarrhea. 

Consuming cat food regularly also poses several long-term health risks. For example, the high-fat content makes it more likely for dogs to develop obesity and pancreatitis.

So if dog kibble is unavailable, feed your dog rice, veggies, and unseasoned meats instead. This more basic diet will generally pose fewer risks than eating cat food.

Risk Factors For Dogs Eating Cat Food

Most dogs can eat a little cat food without getting sick. However, your canine may have certain conditions that put them at higher risk for experiencing problems.

Here are some health issues that make eating cat food potentially unsafe:

  • Obesity: If your dog struggles with weight gain, feeding them cat food may exacerbate the issue.
  • Sensitive stomach: Canines with sensitive tummies might vomit or get diarrhea after ingesting cat kibble.
  • Pancreatic issues: Dogs with a history of pancreas problems shouldn’t eat cat food. Otherwise, the high-fat content can cause their condition to worsen.

Healthy Treats For Dogs Who Love Cat Food

Does your dog love the taste of cat food? If so, there are thankfully some healthier alternatives you can try feeding them.

Below is a list of delicious treats for dogs who like cat food:

  • Jerky: Jerky is an excellent protein-based snack for dogs. However, ensure you buy brands meant for pets specifically. And if you make your own, don’t add salt or seasoning.
  • Cucumbers: Many canines love the crunch of this super-healthy veggie. It’s also full of moisture like wet cat food is, making it a great source of hydration.
  •  Eggs: Eggs pack tons of delicious protein for your pup. You can cook them however you want as long as you don’t mix in salt, oil, or butter.
  • Green beans: Few foods are as chock full of nutrients for dogs as green beans. You can serve them in any form, but ensure they’re not salted.
  • Carrots: These rooty vegetables are delicious, full of vitamin A, and have a satisfying crunch that dogs enjoy.

Final Thoughts

You can feed your dog some cat food in emergencies. However, you should avoid making it a regular part of your canine’s diet.

Eating cat food poses several long-term health risks for dogs, such as pancreatitis and obesity.

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