Dog and cat snuggling together on the floor

Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Understanding the Risks and Nutrition Differences

Dogs are often considered to be revered members of the family. That’s why we know that their health and safety is one of the most important things to you.

One common scenario is seeing your dog with their nose in your cat’s bowl. Maybe they’re sniffing it, or maybe they’re gobbling it up like it’s an extra treat you laid out just for them. You wonder to yourself ‘can dogs eat cat food?’. The answer should not come as a surprise to you.

The answer is ‘no’ they cannot eat cat food. Will they begin convulsing immediately, requiring an expensive emergency vet visit? That answer is also ‘no’. But it’s important to note that long-term exposure to a cat food diet is not only ill advisable, but over time, can become dangerous to your dog’s health.

At Westmonte Animal Clinic we are dedicated to providing you with the knowledge and resources needed to ensure the health and well-being of all of your pets. Read on for more information into cat vs dog food, why it’s not safe for dogs to eat cat food, and the implications of allowing your dog to indulge too much.


Understanding the Dietary Needs of Dogs and Cats

Dogs and cats have evolved with distinctly different dietary requirements. This is influenced by their ancestral diets.


Cats are obligate carnivores. They rely almost exclusively on meat to fulfill their nutritional needs. Their food often contains additives and supplements that their bodies need. Cats are designed to digest and use nutrients from animal meat efficiently, intaking high protein, essential fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals that are not naturally in their bodies.


Dogs are omnivores. This means that they survive not only on meat, but other food sources as well. This includes human foods such as vegetables, fruit, and grains (and sometimes grass!). Commercial dog foods are formulated to provide a well balanced diet that includes a broader range of nutrients that cat food does not include.

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Protein: The Building Block of Life

When you think of dogs and cats of the past, you probably think of them gnawing on a meat or bone of sorts. Meat, aka protein, plays a pivotal role in the diets of cats and dogs. It’s the required level of protein that makes up the stark contrast between dog and cat food.

Cats eat much more protein than dogs because of their strict carnivorous diet. Dogs also require protein but in much lower amounts. A diet excessively high in protein, like that found in cat food, can strain a dog’s kidneys, liver, and cause gastrointestinal upset. This is especially true if a dog already has prior issues with their internal organs or underlying health conditions.

Essential Nutrients: Taurine, Arachidonic Acid, Vitamin A, and Niacin

There are certain nutrients that are crucial for cats but not for dogs and cat foods are typically formulated to include them.

Taurine – Taurine is an amino acid that is important for cat’s heart health, vision, and reproduction. Dogs make this nutrient themselves and therefore do not require the higher level that cat food needs.

Arachidonic Acid – This is a fatty acid that is found in animal tissue that is essential for cats but not for dogs.

Vitamins – Cats are unable to convert beta carotene into Vitamin A and therefore must obtain it directly from their food.

Is Cat Food Bad?

Of course not – If you’re a cat!

If you find that your dog sneaks a bite of cat food, there is no need to panic. An occasional nibble here or there will not cause significant harm. However, making a habit of a dog eating cat food or purposely feeding it to them because it was a good sale, can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health issues for dogs.

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Long-Term Health Risks of Feeding Cat Food to Dogs

Feeding your dog cat food as a regular part of their diet can eventually lead to several health issues. Each species requires different quantities of protein and fat and too much or too little of one or the other can lead to problems for dogs.

  • Obesity – Cat food is higher in fat than dog food which leads to weight issues for dogs. Dogs who are overweight face much riskier health implications than dogs of a healthy weight.
  • Dull Coat – Dog food is typically fortified with fatty acids that contribute to moisturized skin and a healthy coat. Cat’s hair requires different nutrients to keep their fur healthy.
  • Skin Problems – Hand in hand with coat problems, a dog’s skin could become either too greasy or too dry if they are eating cat food long term. Cat food can also cause a dog’s allergies to flare.
  • PancreatitisPancreatitis is usually caused by a dog eating something they shouldn’t. In other words, cat food. As we said, occasional indulgence won’t do anything, but too much may create a problem.


The Role of Your Veterinarian in Your Dog’s Nutrition

Whether you have an adult dog or a fresh new puppy, the amount of choices at the store when it comes to dog food is overwhelming. That’s where your vet comes in.

If your vet is like us at Westmonte Animal Clinic, not only do we want the best for your pets, but we want to ensure they live a long and full life too. That’s why we share our expertise and will help you figure out the best food for your dog based on age, breed, activity level, and any preexisting health conditions.

We are committed to working with pet owners to navigate through the complexities of dog nutrition. Each dog is unique so we are more than happy to discuss different food brands, pros and cons, and any other concerns you may have.

Best Practices for Feeding Your Dog

While it may seem harmless for your dog to indulge in cat food occasionally, making it a regular habit could be catastrophic to their health. The significant nutritional differences between dog and cat food means that feeding your dog cat food can lead to health issues over time.

Sticking to a high-quality dog food that meets their specific dietary needs is vital to their overall longevity and quality of life.

If you’re unsure about the best food for your dog, or if your dog has been eating cat food (don’t worry we won’t judge – we are here to help!), then don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Our team is here to provide you with expert advice. Make an appointment today!