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Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Dog bowls

If you own a dog and a cat, there has probably been a point in time where you have wondered if your cat could eat your dog’s food, or vice versa. Especially if you’re running low on one or the other and don’t feel like making the trip to the grocery, or if your cat is sneaking food from the dog’s bowl already.

You might even be thinking that it would be nice to only have to buy one kind of pet food for your house, and save a little money. Sometimes you might have noticed that your cat steals some of the dog’s food anyways. This could be because your cat is simply curious about whether your dog is getting better stuff in their bowls, or maybe your cat just likes to irritate your dog because it knows it can.

If your cat has eaten some of the dog’s food, you don’t need to rush him off to the emergency vet or anything. Every now and then is not really that big of a deal. But your cat shouldn’t be eating dog food on a regular basis, and especially not exclusively. There are differences in the dietary needs of cats and dogs, which means that the formulas for commercial dog and cat food contain different nutrients. A healthy cat needs food that is meant to fulfill feline dietary requirements. Here are some of the biggest differences between the dietary needs of a cat and dog.

Vitamin A

Cats need food that has active vitamin A in the formula. Vitamin A helps to keep your cat’s eyesight in good condition, improve the condition of their skin, and it boosts your cat’s immune system, to prevent them from getting sick. Dogs are able to create vitamin A by converting beta carotene into the necessary vitamin.

Cats evolved strictly as carnivorous, meaning in the wild they eat only meat. They don’t have the ability to break down nutrients from plants themselves. They have to eat their prey in order to take the processed nutrients they need. Dogs, on the other hand, evolved to be omnivorous, meaning they can eat both plants and animals in the wild. While most of the time dogs prefer to eat meat, their bodies are capable of breaking down nutrients and absorbing them through plant matter. As a result, most dog food does not contain the same high levels of vitamin A that cat food does. It just isn’t necessary for them.

So if your cat is only eating dog food, they won’t be getting enough of this essential vitamin in their diet.


Taurine is essential in a cat’s diet. It prevents them from getting a serious and potentially fatal heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is when the left ventricle of the heart becomes enlarged, and can eventually lead to heart failure. Other problems that can arise from not getting enough taurine in a cat’s diet can be blindness or deafness for your feline friend.

Taurine is an essential amino acid that is not found in plant cells, and can only be taken from meat. Here again, dogs are able to produce their own, because of their omnivorous evolution, while cats have to eat a diet that is high in protein in order to get the necessary amounts. Because dogs are able to produce their own taurine, this essential amino acid is not required to be in dog food. Dog food alone will not provide enough of this vital amino acid to sustain a healthy, thriving cat

You may also have heard that letting your cat eat fish is bad for them. This is because eating a high fish diet will not provide enough taurine for a cat. If your cat eats fish every once in a while, and still maintains an otherwise healthy and balanced diet, it will not hurt them.


This is an essential B vitamin necessary for all life. It helps to regulate cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Cats must get active niacin by eating their prey, and cannot get it anywhere else. Dogs, however, are able to convert Tryptophan, which is an amino acid, into niacin, so they don’t have to worry about eating as much of it. If a cat is eating a diet that is deficient in niacin, it can lead to death in as little as 2 to 3 weeks.

Arachidonic Acid

This is an essential fatty acid which helps to regulate skin growth. It also helps with blood clotting, which is important in case your cat ever gets a cut or scratch. It is also helpful with gastrointestinal and reproductive systems, keeping them regulated and running smoothly. Dogs are able to create their own arachidonic acid by converting it from linoleic acid.

Cats, however, must get this essential fatty acid by eating meat, since it is found only in animal fats. Dog food does not contain this acid, and cats that are eating too much dog food may not have enough of it in their diets.


Since cats are carnivorous and dogs are omnivorous, it goes almost without saying that cats will require more protein in their food than dogs will. In most commercial dog food, it is required by the Association of The American Feed Control Officials that there be at least 18 percent protein in the makeup. However, for commercial cat food, there needs to be at least 26 percent protein in the makeup. That is 8 percent more than the minimum amount of protein found in dog food. The protein in dog food is also often made up from plant matter, which is not as easily processed in a cat’s body as protein that is found in meat. So not only will the amount of protein in dog food be insufficient for your cat, but it will also be harder on his or her digestive system.

Because of this difference in the amount of protein, some dog and cat owners might discover that if their dog is eating cat food on a regular basis, that their dog might be getting a little overweight. Their bodies are just not built to handle such high amounts of protein in their diets.

How To Keep Your Cat From Eating Dog Food

cat eating

Generally, it seems that because cats are strict carnivores, they are a little more high maintenance than dogs in terms of dietary needs. Dogs evolved to be able to process plant and animal products in their digestive system, and anything that might be lacking in a cat’s diet, a dog can pretty much produce for themselves. Of course, anyone who owns both a dog and a cat would surely be able to tell that cats are most certainly the picky eaters between the two. Dogs historically eat anything they can get. Cats only seem to eat what they really want.

If your cat really seems to enjoy eating dog food and you’re worried about their health, there are some things that you can do to help prevent your cat from getting at the dog’s food. You can try feeding both pets at the same time. Your cat is not going to be able to get into your dog’s food bowl while your dog is chowing down. And hopefully, your cat will be more occupied with the fresh food in their own bowl while your dog is cleaning his bowl out.

Keeping your pets on a feeding schedule, as opposed to just setting out food for them all the time, helps to make sure that there are not many leftovers, which will cut down on the food that your cat is able to steal from your dog. It is also good for both pets because it can help to regulate their diet in a way that will hopefully prevent obesity, and keep them healthier and living longer, fuller lives.

Once your pets are finished eating, remove any leftover dog food in the bowl, so that your cat won’t be able to sneak off with the leftovers. Keep your dog food stored in a sealed container, so that your cat doesn’t use his or her wits to get into it when they aren’t supposed to. You can do this for your cat’s food as well, to keep your furry friends from getting into it between feeding times. It also helps to keep the food fresher for longer, which might help make your cat’s food more appealing to your cat, so they will be less interested in the dog’s food.

If your cat seems determined to get in the dog’s way while they are being fed, you could try distracting your cat with play and attention while your dog is eating. Anyone who has more than one pet knows that your pets crave individual attention. Your cat will be sure to enjoy getting some one on one time with you, and it will keep them out of the way of your dog while he or she is eating.


If your cat is eating dog food every now and then, don’t be alarmed. One kibble or two every now and then won’t hurt them. Just make sure that you’re keeping an eye on them, and don’t let it turn into a regular thing. Cat food and dog food are made as separate things for a reason, and not just as a way to get you to spend more of your money. Cats and dogs have different dietary needs, and should only be eating their own food in order to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

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