Can Dogs Eat Cat Food? Should They?

dog eat cat food
Chendongshan/Shutterstock.com

Written by Shaunice Lewis

Published: October 15, 2022

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You may or may not be surprised to find your dog scarfing down your cat’s bowl of cat food, but you may have wondered whether or not it was safe. Can dogs eat cat food? The simple answer is no, a dog should not eat cat food even though they may often attempt to. Read on to learn more about why dogs should not eat cat food and what happens if they do.

Dogs Have Different Nutritional Needs Than Cats

The first reason why a dog shouldn’t be allowed to eat cat food is that they have different nutritional needs than cats do. The main difference between cats and dogs when it comes to dietary needs is that cats are obligate carnivores which means that they need to eat meat in order to survive. On the other hand, dogs are omnivores. This means that they eat both meat and vegetables. Because of this, their diets will be more varied than a cat’s will and will result in them having different dietary requirements.

Since cats need more meat in their diets than dogs do, cat food has higher levels of meat-based protein. Many times, this is what draws dogs into eating from the cat’s bowl. The smell of the food and the flavor are very appetizing to them. However, this does not mean that it’s okay for them to eat it.

Good quality food that’s made specifically for dogs will have all of the required nutrients that they need and in the right proportions. Even though some of the nutritional requirements of cats and dogs may overlap, cats ultimately need a different amount of those nutrients than your dog will. This means that if a dog were to only eat cat food, instead of food that’s meant for dogs, it will likely not get enough of the nutrients it needs, or in some cases, too much.

cat food

Since cats need more meat in their diets than dogs do, cat food has higher levels of meat-based protein. Many times, this is what draws dogs into eating from the cat’s bowl.

What Happens if I Feed My Dog Cat Food?

As mentioned above, a dog has different nutritional needs than a cat does, so if you choose to feed your dog cat food, it will not get the right amount of nutrients it needs to remain healthy, and in some cases, it may get too much of a nutrient that it needs less of. For example, if fed cat food on a regular basis, a dog will not receive the correct amount of nutrients like fiber and protein. These are important nutrients that dogs need to maintain their health. Cats need them too but just in different amounts.

If you’re in a pinch and there is no other option but cat food, you could technically get away with feeding your dog a small amount, but this is definitely not something that you would want to do on a regular basis. This would lead your dog to develop nutritional imbalances and could also cause an upset stomach and other gastrointestinal distress. Over time, your dog could even develop more serious health issues like diabetes and pancreatitis—which is a serious health condition that requires immediate care from a veterinarian.

Even if you don’t notice any symptoms of an adverse reaction to your dog eating cat food, it doesn’t mean that it is not having an impact on its health. The higher amounts of protein found in cat food can actually cause damage to your dog’s kidneys and liver if fed on a recurring basis. Again, this is because dogs don’t need as much protein as cats do.

Because dogs don’t need as much protein as cats do, letting your dog repeatedly eat cat food could lead to GI problems, as well as pancreatitis and diabetes.

What Do I Do if My Dog Ate Cat Food?

If you caught your dog chowing down on your cat’s food, there is usually nothing to worry about. It’s common for dogs to sneak some of the cat’s food from time to time and as long as it is only an occasional occurrence there is nothing to worry about. If your dog has gotten into your cat’s food, you may notice that it has an upset stomach afterward and experiences vomiting or diarrhea as a result. Some dogs may show no signs of discomfort at all and appear to be very happy. However, if your dog is feeling ill after eating cat food, you should get in touch with your veterinarian and let them know what happened. They will advise you on what should be done.

If you find that your dog regularly eats your cat’s food, it would be best to take measures to separate their feeding areas or the times that they are fed. For instance, you may consider keeping your cat’s food bowl in a place where your cat can easily reach the bowl but your dog cannot. This may mean elevating the food bowl to a higher surface since cats can climb and dogs cannot.

Why Does My Dog Eat My Cat’s Food and How Do I Make It Stop?

If your dog makes regular attempts at eating from your cat’s bowl you may want to schedule an appointment to see the vet. Sometimes dogs may try to eat a cat’s food if they are dealing with excessive hunger and do not feel satisfied with their own food. This could be for a number of reasons including underlying health issues that cause excessive hunger or nutritional deficiencies. Your vet will be able to let you know if your dog is suffering from any health issues and advise you on the steps that should be taken.

In some cases, eating from the cat’s bowl is not brought on by any health issues, but is more a result of behavioral issues. If your dog is bored, it may try to eat from the cat’s bowl or get into the cat’s food as a means of stimulation. Dogs will exhibit behavioral issues in many different ways and will sometimes do things they know they shouldn’t as a way of provoking an interaction.

This could be because the dog is lacking in mental stimulation and attempts to draw its owner’s attention by doing something it knows it may get in trouble for. To reduce these behavioral traits, make sure that you are giving your dog plenty of attention and care. This could also help distract the dog while your cat is having its food and allow the cat to eat undisturbed.

You can also check to be sure that your dog has plenty of other fun things to do that will keep its attention away from the food and on other things. Exercise is also a great way to keep your dog healthy and active. You can try to take your dog out for regular walks to give it the mental and physical stimulation it needs as well as to allow your cat time to eat its food.

If timed correctly, you can put your cat’s food out, take the dog on a short walk, and be back by the time the cat is finished eating. An alternative would be to give your dog a treat or other toys while the cat eats its food, or as mentioned before, place the cat food outside of the dog’s reach on an elevated surface.

Another reason your dog may be eating from the cat’s bowl is if the bowls look very similar or are the same. In fairness, it can be hard for your dog to tell the difference between what’s meant for it and what’s meant for the cat—especially if the bowls look the same and both the cat and dog eat dry kibble.

You can try making the bowls more distinguishable by having a different size or color bowl for each pet so that they can learn the difference and your dog can better understand which one is meant for it. If you have placemats underneath the bowls, you should be sure that those are distinguishable as well.

You can also train your dog with commands when you see it eating from the cat’s bowl. Within a few weeks, your dog should learn to leave your cat’s food bowl alone and only eat from its own bowl.

Man walking dog on the beach at dusk

Timing your dog walks with cat-feeding times could help you avoid your dog eating cat food.

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About the Author

Freelance writer specializing in natural health and wellness.

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