Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Everything You Need to Know

We know just how stealthy cats can be in all aspects of their everyday lives. That said, if you happen to catch your cat eating dog food, there’s no need to worry. While dog food isn’t intended for our feline friends to eat, it doesn’t pose any immediate risks if they sneak in a nibble on occasion.

We spoke to two veterinarians who explain why cats shouldn’t eat dog food, foods they can—and should—eat, and ways to prevent them from eating from your dog’s bowl. 

What Happens If Cats Eat Dog Food?

Because dog food isn’t toxic to cats, there are no real concerns in the short term if a cat eats dog food.
can cats eat dog food: cat eating from food bowl


While its generally safe for a cat to eat dog food in small amounts, some cats may experience the following symptoms, according to Dr. Paula Simons, DVM, an Emergency and Critical Care resident veterinarian at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists (CUVS) and veterinary consultant at K9 of Mine:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pancreatitis (although, rare)

Eating dog food wont hurt a cat if its not a common occurrence. However, its best that they dont eat too much too often to avoid any unpleasant reactions.

If your cat has been eating dry dog food on a daily basis for months or years, though, this will likely lead to prolonged malnourishment with serious health consequences,” Dr. Simons says. This is due to the different amounts of protein, fats and carbohydrates that cats need than dogs.

Long-term effects of cats eating dog food may lead to:

  • Protein malnutrition
  • Heart disease
  • Eye disease
  • Organ damage
  • Weakened immune system

Why Shouldn’t Cats Eat Dog Food?

Cats are obligate carnivores. Dogs are omnivores.
can cats eat dog food: dog and cat eating in home


Dog food doesn’t contain any ingredients that are toxic to cats, making it technically OK to eat. However, just because they can doesn’t mean they should, as they have different nutritional needs from dogs, says Dr. Dan Su, MS, DVM, DACVIM-Nutrition at BSM Partners.

This is because cats are obligate carnivores, whereas dogs are omnivores. Obligate carnivores thrive on eating meat—and only meat—whereas omnivores can eat both meat and plants.

“Cats need diets with higher protein and need to obtain certain nutrients, like taurine, from the diet instead of making their own,” Dr. Su says.

If cats eat dog food long-term, they won’t get the proper nutrition needed to maintain their overall health, resulting in possible malnutrition and health issues.

What Do Cats Need to Eat?

Cats require a feline food specially formulated based on their life stage, size, activity level, reproductive status and health status.
can cats eat dog food: cat food in pink bowl


These factors will determine:

Taking these into consideration will help ensure you have a happy and healthy cat.

What’s the Difference Between Cat Food and Dog Food?

Pet food may look similar to us humans, but they couldn’t be more different!
pet nutrition


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and National Research Council (NRC) have nutrient requirements for dogs and cats, as well as diets formulated based on those requirements, says Dr. Su.

Cats can tolerate higher levels of certain nutrients than dogs and vice versa, leading to certain nutrients being included at different levels,” he says.Ingredients used in cat food differ from dog food because cats (carnivores) cant utilize certain nutrients like dogs (omnivores) can.”

For example, cats cant get their vitamin A from beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in carrots and sweet potatoes. Instead, they need preformed vitamin A either from supplements or animal livers.

Cat food is packed with more protein and nutrients, like essential amino acids, compared to dog food. (Again, based on their dietary needs.) 

Cat food is:

  • Higher in calories
  • Higher in fat
  • Made with Vitamin A
  • Made with Vitamin B (i.e. niacin)
  • Made with taurine
  • Made with fatty acids (e.g. arachidonic acid)

Can Cats Eat Dog Food in an Emergency?

Yes, its OK for cats to eat dog food in an emergency situation.

“Dog food can be mixed with cat food or be the sole source of nutrients if there is no cat food available,” Dr. Su adds.

What Can I Feed My Cat If I Run Out of Cat Food?

Did kitty finish their food faster than expected? That’s OK! There are, fortunately, dozens of options you can feed that may already be in your fridge.

If you’re in search of food to hold your cat over while you run out to grab more cat food, the following human foods safe to feed cats:

  • Salmon
  • Peas
  • Cheese (e.g. cheddar, Swiss and gouda)
  • Turkey (cooked)
  • Oatmeal
  • Berries (e.g. blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries)
  • Spinach
  • Yogurt (plain, whole milk)
  • Eggs (cooked)
  • Bananas
  • Chicken (cooked)
  • Pumpkin (plain, cooked)

There are plenty of other human foods that are safe for cats to eat. Of course, treating your cat to foods other than their usual cat food should be done sparingly. 

As with any human food, pet parents looking to incorporate new foods in their cat’s diet should consult with their veterinarian beforehand.

Treats should only constitute a small percentage of your cat’s daily food. Treats should not make up more than 10 percent of your cat’s diet (and if your pet is overweight, it should be even less than that). For example, if your cat needs 200 calories per day, they should have no more than 20 calories from treats. Feeding too many treats can lead to nutrient deficiencies. If your cat has health issues (including sensitivities to fats) or if you have any concerns, consult your cat’s veterinarian before offering any new treats.

Why Does My Cat Want to Eat Dog Food?

While most cats are creatures of habit, some will want to try everything due to their novelty or if the food has an appealing aroma or texture, Dr. Su says.
can cats eat dog food: cat eating food next to dog


Not all cats will want dog food, but a few will show interest in the dogs food and maybe even the humans food!” he adds.

If your feline friend seems more interested in what others are having than their own food, Dr. Su recommends to first make sure there are no underlying illnesses causing this behavior.

As tempting as it may be to let them chow down on some kibble, it’s best to stick with cat food and keep their taste buds happy with some catnip or a special treat made just for them!” he says.

I Have a Cat and a Dog.
How Do I Feed My Multi-Pet Household?

Mealtime can be a little tricky with a household of curious cats and inquisitive canines wanting to try the other’s food.
can cats eat dog food: cat eating from orange bowl next to window

Photo: Demidiuk

A few ways you can ensure your pets are eating their own food include:

  • Feeding them in their own designated area
  • Establishing different feeding times (and avoiding free feeding)
  • Using an elevated dog food bowl or automatic feeder
While eating small amounts of dog food from time to time is OK for your cat, it’s important that they’re getting the essential nutrients through their own food on a daily basis to stay healthy. Check out our guide on how to pick the best high-quality cat food to learn more about the different options available. If your cat continues eating dog food, consult a vet to find out why.

The post Can Cats Eat Dog Food? Everything You Need to Know appeared first on BeChewy.