Can cats eat dog food?

Do you have reason to panic if you witness your cat chowing down on your dog's lunch, or is everything all good? What's the difference between cat and dog food, and can cats eat dog food safely?

Can cats eat dog food, or will they get really sick?
Can cats eat dog food, or will they get really sick?  © Unsplash/Tran Mau Tri Tam

We've all been there: Filling up the dog's food bowl, battling off a hungry kitty. Cats love to help themselves to other people's food – indeed, the only creatures more likely to steal the food from your plate is your uncle Bob (or your dog, of course) – but is it safe for them to eat your dog's dinner? Or will your feline friend get terribly sick if allowed to munch?

In this cat guide, TAG24 will take a look at the difference between cat and dog food. Can cats eat dog food, and if so, what dog food can they safely consume and how much? Let's dive in!

Important: We are not animal nutritionists here at TAG24. If you are concerned about your cat because it has eaten a bunch of dog food, or want to design a better kitty diet, talk to your veterinarian – they truly have all the answers!

What's the difference between cat and dog food?

Every animal, whether it be a cat, a dog, a monkey, a bear, or a frog, will need to be fed different things if you hope to keep it alive and happy. It only makes sense, then, that cat food and dog food contain very different ingredients, and are not meant to be consumed by the other species. Cat food has been designed for cats, and dog food has been designed for dogs.

Nevertheless, the differences between cat and dog food are a little less obvious than you'd think. For animals that are generally much bigger and more active, dogs require far less in their diet and can subsist on food containing far fewer nutrients. If a cat were to consistently eat dog food and nothing else, the cat wouldn't get the nutrition it needs.

Cat food typically contains protein-rich ingredients such as meats and other animal products. It is full of fats, minerals, and a variety of vitamins, and is far higher in calories than dog food. While dog food contains many similar ingredients, it's balanced differently and will include ingredients that may cause harm to your beloved kitty.

We all need to remember that cats are obligate carnivores, while a dog's diet is a little more complicated. Many believe dogs to be omnivores, and while animal scientists disagree over the matter, the fact remains that the food we feed our dogs has a far greater variety of ingredients than what is contained in cat food.

It's a complicated topic, but the crux of the matter is this: Cat food is higher in protein and designed for consumption by cats. Dog food does not contain all the nutrients necessary to sustain a healthy cat, and may even contain potentially harmful ingredients.

Can cats eat dog food?

In an interview with Meow Mix, animal nutritionist Dr. Donna Waltz made things pretty cut and dry: "Over time, if a cat were fed only dog food, then protein, amino acid and fatty acid deficiencies would be expected... In some cases, dog food may contain ingredients that are harmful to cats."

Cats and dogs have different needs. Dog food generally consists of meat and a variety of carbohydrates such as rice and spelt wheat, and it's this combination that makes it dangerous for our feline friends. While these sorts of carbohydrates won't do any serious damage in small doses, if your cat consistently eats them, they will cause health problems.

On top of that, with less protein found in dog food, cats won't get the basic things they need to stay fit and healthy. Over time, your feline friend will get weaker and weaker and will start to develop serious health issues. That being said, dog food isn't going to instantly hurt your kitty.

Scientists agree that it's okay if your cat has suddenly decided to stuff its face with your dog's dinner – it might get a bit of a funny stomach, nothing too serious – but it's not okay for your cat to exclusively eat dog food.

For your consumption: If you need help with your pet's diet, we have plenty of resources to assist you. We have guides on how to make the perfect cat diet and how to stop your kitty from eating too much. On top of that, we have resources on dry v. wet dog food and whether dogs can eat raw meat.

A cat's diet shouldn't be entirely dog food, but a little bit by accident won't hurt.
A cat's diet shouldn't be entirely dog food, but a little bit by accident won't hurt.  © Unsplash/Greeshma Gangadharan

Can cats eat wet dog food?

No, cats can't eat wet dog food in the long term. While they might chow down once in the while (probably by sneaking behind your back like a lil' rascal), if they ate exclusively wet dog food, then they would quickly develop health problems. That being said, wet cat food contains more of what your cat needs to survive than the dry alternatives.

Can cats eat dried dog food?

Cats should never eat dried dog food, as it can cause serious stomach problems, vomiting, and a great deal of discomfort. While it is perfectly okay for your cat to have stuffed its face once with dog food while you weren't paying attention, your kitty should avoid dry food as it contains potentially harmful chemicals and ingredients. After all, there's a reason why dog food is cheaper.

Luckily, cats are very unlikely to chow down on a bowl of dry dog food. It doesn't smell appealing to them, and your kitty should recognize it isn't something that they will enjoy. Don't worry too much, though. Your kitty is not going to be poisoned if it has a little nibble of dry dog food.

For how long can cats eat dog food?

Cats, dogs, and humans can be great friends, but they shouldn't really share food!
Cats, dogs, and humans can be great friends, but they shouldn't really share food!  © Unsplash/Noelle Rebekah

If a cat is given dog food continuously, it will quickly develop symptoms of vitamin and nutrient deficiency. This can be especially dangerous for pets with pre-existing conditions, for whom it can prove fatal when in the extremes. On top of that, dog food can cause cats to develop long-term conditions.

One such condition is taurine deficiency, which can cause vision problems and even blindness in cats. Dog food lacks taurine while cat food has contained high quantities of the stuff since the 1980s. Another example would be the gastrointestinal problems that can be caused by your cat's overconsumption of the carbohydrates found in dog food, with symptoms including nausea and diarrhea.

Ultimately, a handful of dry dog food or a small amount of wet dog food consumed every now and again, or by accident, won't cause any serious long-term harm. If your kitty eats anymore, though, you could be in trouble.

It's in the name: Dog food isn't for cats!

It's pretty simple: Dog food is for dogs; cat food is for cats. That being said, you don't need to worry if your cat gets sneaky and eats a little bit of your dog's dinner every now and again. It wouldn't be great if it were its long-term diet, but a one-off won't cause too much harm.

While pet food can be very pricey at times, it is important to get it right and make healthy choices for the sake of your kitty. It might cost you an arm and a leg, but if you make neglectful food choices, then your cat will suffer and its life expectancy will be reduced. Be careful, and get vet advice if you're worried!

Cover photo: Unsplash/Tran Mau Tri Tam

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