I have yet to meet a dog that wouldn’t go to great lengths to wolf down as much cat food as possible before he is caught. Cat food is highly appealing to dogs, but there are reasons why cats eat cat food, and dogs eat dog food.
Cats vs. Dogs: Nutrition
Cats and dogs have different dietary requirements. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means the main ingredient in their diet is meat (it's a biological necessity). Dogs, contrary to some beliefs, are omnivores, and need a wider diet than just meat alone to meet their nutritional requirements.
Cat food is much higher in protein than dog food, thanks to its higher percentage of meat. This might be why cat food is so appealing to dogs, since the smell and flavor are stronger than dog food, but just because dogs crave it doesn’t mean they should eat it. Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, DACVB, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, in an article for Vet Street, compares cat food and dogs to cake and humans. “It’s not necessarily the best thing for our diet, and certainly if we ate nothing but cake, we’d become really sick. But as an occasional treat, it's not going to hurt us.”
So are there any benefits to cat food? Dr. Crowell-Davis uses cat food as a high-value training treat for dogs that have shown a tolerance for it, and since most dogs will do anything to get their paws on cat food, it is a safe bet that cat food is a motivator. Training aside, unless your veterinarian recommends otherwise, the best food for your dog is dog food, not cat food.
Complications of Feeding Cat Food to Dogs
If your dog eats a lot of cat food on a regular basis, or if you are feeding your dog a diet of cat food instead of dog food, complications may arise.
Feeding cat food to dogs full-time is not advisable, as cat food does not have all of the nutrients dogs need to stay healthy, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies may develop as a result. Dogs can certainly survive on cat food in a tough spot, but the nutrient imbalance often leads to gastrointestinal upset, obesity, and pancreatitis. Even if your dog wolfs down cat food with gusto and suffers no obvious ill effects, the high protein levels in cat food can be hard on their livers and kidneys.
My Dog Ate Cat Food – What Do I Do?
Dogs get into cat food all of the time. Some steal from the cat food bowl, others break into food bags and containers. Eating cat food is not going to kill your dog, and the results of eating cat food vary from dog to dog. Dogs with guts of steel might not show any signs of stomach upset from their food raid, while others might exhibit signs of GI discomfort, like vomiting and diarrhea. If symptoms persist, call your veterinarian, and try to prevent consumption in the future.
The largest risk of your dog eating large amounts of cat food is pancreatitis, which can be life threatening if left untreated. Signs of pancreatitis include:
How Much Cat Food Can I Feed My Dog?
When fed as an occasional treat or a stolen snack, cat food is safe for dogs to eat in moderation, as long as your dog does not show signs of stomach irritation. As with any new food item, feed your dog small amounts of cat food—a few kibbles at a time—to make sure he can handle it, and don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian for information about serving size and canine nutrition.
As a general rule, try to discourage your dog from eating cat food unsupervised by placing cat food out of his reach, and make sure you keep an eye on your dog's waistline to prevent canine obesity whenever you introduce a new treat.
Can Cats Eat Dog Food?
If you are a dog lover who also shares your home with cats, there is one more thing you need to know. Dogs might be able to eat cat food without too many consequences, but cats cannot survive on dog food alone. Dog food lacks sufficient vitamin A and taurine, two nutrients cats need to live healthy, happy lives, and dog food is also deficient in arachidonic acid and lacks adequate protein levels.
To get more informed about what to feed your dog, check out our video below!