Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
The answer's kind of complicated — here's why.
Ever caught your cat scarfing down your pup’s dinner?
If you have, you probably did a double-take.
After all, can cats even eat dog food?
To find out, The Dodo spoke with Dr. Megan Dundas, veterinarian and practice owner at Lincolndale Veterinary Center in New York, who explained why your cat would even want to eat your dog’s food in the first place, and whether you should be worried if he does.
Why your cat is eating dog food
Cats can be pretty particular about what they eat, so if you find your cat chowing down on your dog’s food, it could be because the food you got just isn’t doing it for him.
“Some cats may have a flavor preference,” Dr. Dundas told The Dodo. So, your cat might like the flavor of your dog’s food more than his own.
“Factors such as the size of the kibble may play a role,” Dr. Dundas said. “Your cat may prefer a different shape or size of their own kibble if this is a dry food issue.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to do with flavor or kibble size at all.
“Things as seemingly trivial as the location of the feeding area may play a part in the cat's decision to choose the dog's food over its own food,” Dr. Dundas explained.
For example, if your cat likes to keep to himself, he might not want to eat his food if his bowl is in a busy part of your home.
On the flip side, if your cat is more social — but his bowl is a bit isolated — he might want to eat out of your dog’s dish if it’s in an area with more foot traffic.
“Some cats may even eat the dog's food because they know this will result in more attention from their owners,” Dr. Dundas said.
Is it bad for your cat to eat dog food?
Is eating a bowl of dog food every once in a while going to seriously mess your cat up?
“In general, it won't be harmful to a cat if it eats a small amount of dog food occasionally,” Dr. Dundas said.
That being said, definitely don’t get into the habit of feeding your cat dog food.
“If a cat is eating dog food more consistently over a longer period of time, the cat may become deficient in one or more essential nutrients that their bodies cannot manufacture on their own,” Dr. Dundas explained.
So, while dog food isn’t inherently bad for cats, it’s not good for them.
That’s because a cat’s body and a dog’s body need totally different things to be the healthiest they can be.
Why cats shouldn’t eat dog food
This is where some science comes into play.
“As the saying goes: [Cats are not small dogs],” Dr. Dundas said. “They have different physiology, anatomy and, therefore, nutritional needs.”
For instance, cats need to get their protein and fat from meat sources.
Dogs, however, have more flexibility in their diets, and can successfully get nutrients from things like grains and vegetables.
“Cats have higher protein requirements, as may be expected of a true carnivore,” Dr. Dundas explained.
So the problem is that if your cat eats dog food, he probably won’t be getting as many protein-based nutrients as he needs, and will be missing some key ingredients, like niacin.
“A diet that would meet a dog's nutritional needs with plant and animal protein sources may be deficient for a cat's nutritional requirements, as plant-based proteins may not provide enough niacin,” Dr. Dundas said.
Plus, there are certain things that your cat has to have added to his food that dogs don’t.
“Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid that cats cannot create on their own and must be supplemented in their food,” Dr. Dundas said. “Dogs can create this fatty acid, and therefore, dog food does not typically have arachidonic acid added to it.”
Other things your cat needs that aren’t always included in dog food include:
- Vitamin A
Your cat can’t make taurine or vitamin A on his own, so it’s important that he gets enough of it in his food.
“[Vitamin A] is often a component of dog food, but may not be present in quantities high enough to meet a cat's nutritional needs,” Dr. Dundas said.
What happens if your cat eats dog food for too long
Again, eating a little bit of dog food every once in a while won’t really hurt your cat.
But if it goes on for too long, it could result in nutrient deficiencies, since dog food is missing several things that cats really need in their diets.
According to Dr. Dundas, if your cat has a vitamin A deficiency, he might show symptoms like:
- Dull coat
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of muscle mass
- Night blindness
Having low levels of arachidonic acid could also cause some health issues for your cat.
“Signs of illness associated with arachidonic acid deficiency are abnormalities [in] lab values associated with liver and kidney health, and skin disease in some cases,” Dr. Dundas explained.
How to stop your cat from eating dog food
Since there could be a bunch of reasons your cat might be eating your dog’s food, there are a bunch of ways to fix it!
If your cat simply prefers your dog’s food due to taste, kibble size or texture, find him something similar, but designed for cats.
“Try to feed your cat a food that uses the same protein sources and flavor profiles of the dog's food,” Dr. Dundas explained.
And if your cat’s really picky, you can give one of these cat food subscriptions a try.
“If your cat prefers larger kibble, consider a feline dental diet as they often are formulated with a larger kibble size,” Dr. Dundas said.
(Reminder: Before switching your cat’s food, make sure you consult with your vet!)
If your cat is eating your dog’s food because of where his own food is located, that fix is super easy.
Just switch up the spots!
“If the food bowl for the cat is in an area of high foot traffic, try moving the cat's feeding station to a quieter area in the house,” Dr. Dundas said. “Conversely, if your cat is a social butterfly and the feeding station is currently hidden away from where the action is, experiment with a new location.”
And if it’s attention your BFF is after, a little more playtime could help, too!
“Some extra one-on-one time with your kitty may solve the problem,” Dr. Dundas said.
And believe it or not, this issue might not even have anything to do with what your cat is eating, or where it is in your home.
Instead, it might be all about what he’s eating it out of.
“The size of a feeding dish may make a big difference with cats,” Dr. Dundas explained. “A larger bowl may help keep a cat eating its own food as the rim of smaller bowls may contact the cat's whiskers, which may be aggravating. If you suspect your cat is sensitive to the type of bowl it is fed from, you could even try a flat dish instead of a bowl.”
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