Can Cats Eat Dog Food?

Learn if it poses any health risks

Dog and cat eating food from a bowl
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Is it safe for cats to eat dog food? You may have wondered if there is any harm in cats eating dog food. Perhaps you accidentally fed your cat some dog food or your cat snuck a bit of food out of the dog's bowl. Fortunately, small amounts of dog food will usually not harm a cat. However, long-term feeding of dog food to cats can cause complications. Although cat food and dog food seem similar, there are some important differences.

Nutritional Needs of a Cat

Cats are considered obligate carnivores. This means they require animal protein to thrive. Dog food does not contain the proper amounts of protein, taurine, and other vitamins and minerals needed to support cat health. In addition, the content of calories, fat, and water in dog food may be inappropriate for cats.

An organization called the Association of American Feed Control Officials has established guidelines for animal feed and pet food. AAFCO works closely with the Food and Drug Administration to determine which pet food are considered complete and balanced for a particular species and life stage. Foods with the AAFCO seal are considered complete and balanced for the life stage indicated.

Only cat food with the AAFCO seal should be fed to cats. Look closely at the food label for information about life stage recommendations. If you have a kitten, pregnant cat, or nursing cat, you should choose a food labeled "for growth" or "for all life stages."

What Food Should Cats Eat?

There are several different types of commercial cat food available for purchase, including dry, canned, and raw. These are markedly different in composition to dry, canned, or raw dog foods.

Many experts now recommend feeding some or all wet cat food to help maintain hydration, minimize carbohydrate intake, and promote a healthy urinary tract. Cats do not need carbohydrates to thrive and cat food is generally considerably lower in this macronutrient than dog food.

In fact, a high carbohydrate intake in cats is associated with diabetes and obesity. In addition, cats don't tend to drink enough water to stay well-hydrated, This can lead to problems with the urinary tract and kidneys.

Despite the reported benefits of wet food, some cats prefer dry food and will not eat enough wet food to stay healthy. Some cats even become addicted to dry food and need to be gradually transitioned to wet food for health benefits. Your veterinarian can help you decide if your cat needs to begin eating wet food rather than dry kibble.

Raw food has become increasingly popular among many cat owners. Those who support raw food for cats claim that the diet mimics the way cats eat in the wild. Many cats enjoy raw food and can thrive on it. However, there are always safety risks when feeding raw meat. Many cats will be able to digest and tolerate food-borne pathogens in raw food, but cross-contamination can expose humans in the home to these dangerous pathogens.

If you want to learn more about feeding raw food to cats, talk to your veterinarian for advice. Also, be aware that pre-prepared raw food diets for cats are lower in plant-based ingredients and higher in amino acids than their doggy counterparts.

What to Do If Your Cat Eats Dog Food

If your cat eats a few bites of dog food every once in a while, you probably have nothing to worry about. Monitor your cat for problems like weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, poor skin/coat condition, inappropriate urination or defecation, or other signs of illness. Be sure to contact your vet if your cat is not doing well.

Eating dog food may be more problematic if your cat has an allergy, a sensitive stomach, or a certain health problem. Make a note of the type of food your cat ate and talk to your vet about potential complications.

If you find that your cat has been eating large amounts of dog food on a regular basis, then you should contact your vet for advice. Your cat may need an examination and lab tests to evaluate overall health and check for the effects of malnutrition.

Take steps to prevent your cat from finding dog food by keeping the food out of reach. Avoid free-feeding of all pets in the home and pick up bowls of leftover food.