Can dogs eat cat food?

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Although cats and dogs supposedly get on about as well as, well, cats and dogs... Plenty of pooches and pusses live together perfectly happily. (We've got a full blog all about why dogs and cats supposedly hate each other here!). But one problem almost all combined dog and cat households have is one pet eating the other animal’s dinner. We’re not pointing paws here, but, we are willing to guess that normally it’s the dog snuffling the cat’s food. But can dogs eat cat food?

It can be a big problem since most cats are free-fed some food throughout the day. Meanwhile, dogs should not be free-fed and stick to regular mealtimes like people. But if your pooch sees any food out, then they are probably going to try and eat it regardless of who it’s meant for. So is it safe for dogs to eat cat food, and what should you do if they tuck into someone else’s dinner?

Can dogs eat cat food?

If you suspect your pup has eaten the cat’s dinner, try not to worry. If they’ve only eaten a little bit of food they should be fine. Cat food shouldn’t contain anything that is toxic to dogs, so it is considered “safe”. Which means technically, yes, a dog can eat cat food, but they definitely should not eat a lot of it, or eat it instead of their own dog food.

In short, just because they can eat cat food, does not mean they should.

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What happens if my dog eats cat food?

What happens after your dog eats cat food will depend on how much they have eaten, and if it is a one-off or if this has been happening regularly.

If your dog has managed to steal a little bit of food just this once, chances are, not much will happen. Cat food shouldn’t contain anything that is toxic to canines, so you don’t need to worry about them being poisoned.

However, if they manage to eat a lot of cat food, even if it only happens once, there is a significant chance that they will get sick. Unsurprisingly, cat food is not formulated with doggy digestion in mind, so it is very likely that eating a lot of it will cause gastrointestinal upset. After eating a lot of cat food, your dog might suffer from vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and flatulence. Dogs with sensitive stomachs are more likely to be sick after eating cat food, and they can become ill after eating a smaller quantity of cat food.

If your dog eats cat food and shows any signs of illness, you should contact your vet for advice.

Meanwhile, dogs definitely should not eat cat food regularly because it can contribute to certain health problems. So if you own a dog and a cat, you will need to work out how to prevent your pup pinching the cat’s food.

What happens if dogs eat cat food regularly?

Dogs and cats have different food for a reason. Each different food is formulated to suit the specific animal’s needs and biology. So if your dog is regularly eating cat food it can cause havoc because, funnily enough, cat food is balanced according to a feline’s needs and not a canine’s.

Your pooch can actually have a far more varied diet than cats because canines are omnivores. Although they need a lot of protein and fat in their diet, they don’t need as high proportions of it as a cat does in their diet. Cat food has a much higher amount of both fat and protein because cats are true carnivores, and it means their food is hard for a dog to digest. It might sound barking mad, but a dog really can have too much protein. (While too much fat can cause pancreatitis.)

Annoyingly, while a cat is less likely to find dog food appetising, a dog will probably wolf down any cat food they find. That’s because cat food is developed to be more appealing to cats and their limited taste buds. Dogs have more than double the number of taste buds as a cat, so to your pooch, cat food is highly flavourful and near irresistible. But your dog should not be allowed to eat cat food regularly because it will probably have a detrimental effect on their health. For example...

Your dog might pile on the pounds

Dogs who eat cat food regularly are more likely to become obese because cat food is more calorie-dense and has a higher fat content. Pooches are more prone to piling on the pounds compared to cats, so it is im-paw-tent they are fed a balanced diet and exercised regularly. Otherwise, obesity can raise your dog’s risk of contracting secondary conditions like cancer or diabetes, and on average shortens a pup’s life expectancy by 2.5 years.

At risk of pancreatitis

The higher fat content of cat food also means that your pooch is at risk of developing pancreatitis, paw-ticularly if they are eating it regularly. If your pooch develops pancreatitis, they will need prompt veterinary care. They will also need to be on a low-fat diet for the rest of their life to prevent future flare-ups of the condition.

The balance of vitamins isn't suitable for dogs

Since cats require far more nutrients from their food, it does mean that the levels of some minerals found in cat food can actually be dangerous for your pooch. Vitamin D is vital for both dogs and cats to be healthy. However, cat food has far higher proportions of vitamin D in the food, and ingesting too much of this vitamin can make your dog sick. Excessive amounts of vitamin D can lead to kidney failure and even death, which is why it is so im-paw-tent to make sure your pet eats a diet that is formulated to their own biological needs.

Even certain brands of dog food were recalled in recent years because they contained toxic levels of vitamin D, leading owners to opt for a natural diet rather than a fortified one.

If your dog is fed cat food regularly and does not eat their own food, there is some potential they might develop a dietary deficiency. Not having the proper balance of nutrition will also mean that your dog is more likely to become ill and you may notice symptoms such as a thinning, dull coat.

Can dogs eat cat treats?

Again, technically, yes. Cat treats shouldn’t contain anything toxic, so it is unlikely that your dog will get sick should they hoover up a cat treat or too. But again, they’re meant for cats and they aren’t very healthy. That being said, you can find treats that are suitable for both species of furry friend, and Pure offers some healthy treats that are paw-fect for both cats and dogs.

The best treats to offer your dog are healthy dog treats that are not highly processed or some safe low-fat human foods you can offer your pup, like chicken or carrots or fruits like apples and strawberries.

Can cats eat dog food?

For basically the same reason, no, your cat shouldn’t eat dog food.

Although dog food shouldn’t be toxic and is unlikely to cause them serious harm in the short-term, dog food is not made with felines in mind. If your cat only eats a little dog food once, they should be okay. But if they eat a lot, it might cause them some short-term illness.

Your cat should not eat dog food regularly though. It’s actually even more important that your cat eats a healthy, biologically appropriate cat food because their dietary needs are far stricter than a dog’s.

This is because cats are obligate carnivores or true carnivores. Because they have evolved to be exclusively meat-eaters, their nutritional needs reflect this.

For instance, cats require 11 essential amino acids from their food which their body cannot produce, but these acids are essential for their bodies to be able to create new proteins.

Meanwhile, dogs can produce a limited amount of amino acids, and only have 10 essential amino acids that are required from their diet.

Cats are also especially vulnerable to malnutrition, and many serious conditions can be caused by their diet lacking any of the vitamins and minerals they require even just for a short period of time. For instance, they can develop dilated cardiomyopathy (a serious heart disease) if they don’t eat enough Taurine.

The logic is the same for a cat stealing dog food as it is for the dog scoffing the cat’s dinner. A one-off incident shouldn’t cause any cat-astrophes, but they definitely should not eat the other animal’s food regularly.

Recap: Can dogs eat cat food?

If your dog has stolen a little cat food, don’t worry, it won’t hurt them. But just because they can tolerate cat food, does not mean they should eat it.

If your dog eats a big helping of cat food it might make them sick. Your pooch definitely should not eat cat food regularly, because although many ingredients are similar, the balance of nutrition will be completely different and ill-adapted for a dog’s digestion and needs. Eating cat food regularly can cause problems like obesity, and potentially pancreatitis.

Meanwhile, the same goes for your cat. Although dog food shouldn’t be toxic, they definitely shouldn’t eat a lot of it or chow down on dog food regularly instead of healthy cat food.

Instead of feeding your dog cat food, why not feed them dog food. Even better, feed them a nutritionally balanced, healthy and wholesome dog food such as Pure. Pure offers dogs delicious nutrition to help keep them happy, healthy and always excited for mealtimes.