Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs: cat sitting on dog laying down

Is cat food bad for dogs? It’s not recommended, as it could mess with your dog’s digestive system. Consider this: Would you feed your cat dog food, or your hamster bird seed? Most likely not. Pet food is not interchangeable, and not all pet species can live off of the same diet. Therefore, it is not recommended to give your dog cat food or even let them sneak bites off their feline sibling’s meals.

Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs. As a result, dogs cannot simply rely on cat food for their long-term dietary needs and vise versa. Our pets need to eat food that is tailored to their species, digestive systems, and nutritional requirements. Read on for more information about why dogs shouldn’t be eating cat food.

Why Cat Food Is Strictly for Cats

dog sniffing black cats ear while laying down

Dr. Patty Khuly of PetMD spells out why dogs shouldn’t eat cat food: “You shouldn’t feed dogs cat food because the caloric density, high protein levels, and heavy doses of fat aren’t ideally suited to all canine gastrointestinal tracts –– or to their waistlines.” Dogs who regularly eat cat food have a high risk of obesity, and, as over 50% of dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese, we should be cautious of contributing factors.

Unlike dogs, who are omnivores, cat diets require high levels of protein and fat levels because they are obligate carnivores, meaning they cannot survive without consuming meat. As omnivores, dogs can survive off of non-meat food groups like veggies and carbs.

Cat anatomy also differs from dog anatomy in that cats’ digestive tracts are shorter than dogs’ digestive tracts. In other words, their bodies can more quickly process raw meat, so they do not get upset stomachs. Dog stomachs are not built for processing such large amounts of raw meat and extra-high protein content.

Cats need so much more protein because proteins are made up of amino acids. The key amino acid cats require that dogs do not is called taurine. Taurine plays an essential role in cat diets, as they cannot produce it on their own. According to PetMD, felines who lack this essential amino acid can go blind and suffer from tooth decay.

Think of cat diets like the modern diet craze for humans called the “keto diet” (keto is short for ketogenic). Like feline diets, the keto diet is high in protein and fat but very low in carbohydrates. Dogs need a more balanced diet than just meat and fat.

Not All Protein Is Created Equal

We can all agree that protein is a healthy component of everyone’s diet, but how much protein is too much? In the case of dog and cat diets, there is a fairly big difference in what kind of protein levels are healthy.

As mentioned before, cat food has much higher protein levels, because cats are strictly carnivores. They cannot survive off of non-meat food groups. Because dogs are omnivores, they need kibble that is part of a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat rather than just protein alone.

Guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) call for 18% protein content for adult dog foods. Adult cat foods, on the other hand, must contain at least 26% protein content.

If a dog eats too much protein on a regular basis, this can lead to excess weight gain. Dogs can become obese, as proteins, especially the high protein content in cat food, are very calorie-dense. Obesity leads to early arthritis and a shorter life span for your pooch.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Ashley Gallagher of PetMD also warns, “If a dog has kidney or liver issues, consuming too much protein can increase the workload on these organs and upset the balance of nutrients, leading to exacerbation of disease.” As a result, it is pertinent to protect dogs with pre-existing kidney or liver issues from consuming as much protein as cats eat.

Cat-Specific Nutrition

In addition to protein, taurine, and high fat content, cats require Vitamin A (also called retinol) and arachidonic acid. Unlike dogs, cats cannot produce their own Vitamin A, so they must eat pre-formed, active Vitamin A. According to Vetinfo, dogs who overlook their own food bowl and eat too much from a cat’s bowl could be susceptible to Vitamin A toxicity. Symptoms of Vitamin A toxicity in dogs include appetite loss, bone spurs, lethargy, limping, stiffness, constipation, and weight loss.

Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid both dogs and cats need, but unlike cats, dogs can produce this on their own. Cats require the real thing and can only get it through their carnivorous diets. Too much of this fatty acid will only add to the obesity risk for your dog if they love cat food.

My Dog Ate the Cat’s Food — What Now?

Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs

If your dog was tempted by that meat-y scent and snuck some cat or kitten food, there is no need to panic. Since dogs are not used to such protein-dense diets, let’s go over what to expect if they chow down on kitty kibble.

“Some dogs will get an upset stomach — vomiting, diarrhea — from eating cat food, while some other dogs with a tougher stomach can handle cat food,” says DVM Sharon Crowell-Davis of Vet Street. “If your dog breaks into the bag of cat food, is it going to kill the dog? Absolutely not. But if your dog does vomit or have diarrhea, make sure the dog can’t get [into] the cat food again, because it’s obviously one of those dogs whose GI system reacts badly to cat food.”

Ultimately, as long as your dog doesn’t consume a large amount of cat food on a regular basis, it is a non-life threatening situation. If you dog experiences symptoms beyond stomach upset like difficulty breathing, prolonged diarrhea, or a combination of the symptoms of Vitamin A toxicity, contact your veterinarian for advice.

If your dog constantly gets into the cat’s food, try feeding them in different rooms. You may also try feeding your cat on an elevated surface like the kitchen counter or table that your dog cannot reach.

Is Cat Food Bad for Dogs? The Bottom Line

So, is cat food bad for dogs? At the end of the day, it’s really not recommended. Remember that dogs and cats have different nutritional needs. Dog food is designed to meet the dietary needs for dogs, just like cat food is designed to meet the dietary needs of cats. They are not interchangeable.

That being said, your dog will ultimately be OK if they decide to be a little naughty by sneaking a bite of the cat’s food once or twice, but they need that balance of protein, carbs, and fat that their regular dog food provides. As always, if you have further concerns about how much cat food your dog may have gotten into, or if they are displaying more severe symptoms, contact your veterinarian.

Would you like to learn more about your dog’s diet and nutritional needs? Want more great content about your pooch’s health and wellness delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the Wag Insider newsletter today.